Gardening raises its head in unexpected places. I've been buried in Castle Gay recently. By John Buchan, it's a boy's own type of adventure, set in the Scottish Highlands. Husband likes Buchan very much and, as I'd already disappointed him by not getting enjoying Huntingtower, the previous volume in the three books featuring Dickson McCunn, I had another go.
I was arrested within a couple of pages by the description of aforesaid Dickson, a retired grocer with a thread of romance in his soul:
It was his habit to wear a tailed coat and trousers of tweed, a garb which from his boyish recollection he thought proper for a country laird, but which to the ordinary observer suggested a bookmaker. Gradually, a little self-consciously, he had acquired what he considered to be the habits of the class. He walked in the garden with a spud; his capacious pockets contained a pruning knife and twine...
Now, why, I mused, would you, as an aspiring country gentleman, expect to promenade your paths clutchng a King Edward? Husband passed me the dictionary. Sure enough, a spud is not a potato (which as slang surely wouldn't have appeared in narrative in 1930) but a "small narrow digging tool with a spadelike blade".
And, I hazard, looking at the enormous amount of long-rooted corn parsley that I've foisted on myself, jolly useful. I went looking.
Spud seems to be a term more familiar across the Atlantic than here, which might well tie in with Scottish emigration to North America. It also covers a multitude of implements.
From Oshkosh it's along the lines of a digging bar, with a long narrow blade, 3 1/2 inches wide, welded onto a steel pipe.
Hoover Fencing Company agrees and describes it as indispensable for "impossible" digging jobs, prising or cutting through rocks, roots, or frozen soil. I guess it comes in particularly useful when digging fences, and I can certainly imagine a few burly pioneering sheep farmers annoying their cattle-ranching neighbours by wielding one of these. In fact, How to Hand Dig a Post Hole in Tough Ground shows this type of spud in action.
But there are other spuds. A rare Rat-Tail Spud is described by Jim Maus, from his collection of early American Indian artefacts. Here, it's an odd celt-like tool, but with no discernible gardening connection, although you could certainly argue a similarity with the Beet Spud pictured, collected by Peter Dorrington, shown on the fascinating Antique Farm Tools website.
Neither the six-foot digging bar, nor the rather short ancient implement seems quite right for Dickson, however. So I looked further for a modern equivalent of what he might have had. Lazy Dog Tools, who produce idiosyncratic-looking equipment for organic farmers, offer a spud-weedhook, with the helpful addition of an extra hook to draw thistles out from under hedges. Maybe.
Perhaps a long-handled trowel would fit the bill, but I think the handle's too short. Sneerboer's Narrow Spade - at around 4 inches wide - would do. But I've been grabbed by the rather odd Grampa's Do It All, demonstrated below by Hayloft Plants. It's long-handled, narrow, and with an almost triangular blade. To be honest, I don't think it's much like anything Dickson would have had to hand but, told that it was an ancient tool, revered by our forebears, and I think Dickson would have gripped it with the fervour of a convert.
Incidentally, Castle Gay, not having so much dialectic speech, is much more fun than Huntingtower, with elements that fans of The Thirty-Nine Steps will recognise. Don't be put off by the extraordinarily lengthy description of a rugby match in the first few pages. It's easily skipped and you're soon thrown into an absorbing plot involving kidnap, deception and agent provocateurs.