If you have access to a copy of The Countryman from the early 1970s, or failing that a volume of The Rose Annual from the same period, turn to the back pages. Here you may very well find an advert for a garden tool called The Minihoe. It was in fact no more than a traditional “spud”, a small blade on the end of a stick, only in the case of the Minihoe the blade was of stainless steel, and the handle was a chestnut walking stick. This tool was designed by father, but made, marketed and despatched by me. I even drew the illustrations for the ads.
I will return to the Minihoe later, but while you are perusing those adverts at the back of the Countryman you will also find advertised the Ballbarrow. This became a symbol of the seventies (like the Spacehopper and Chopper bike) in a way that the Minihoe never did. The Ballbarrow has another claim to fame in that it was among the first products designed by James Dyson. In those far off, pre-Dyson days the name would have meant nothing to most people, but it would have meant something to me, as we were at the same school in Norfolk, and his mother had taught me French in Lower Second. But I was as ignorant as everybody else, and did not learn the provenance of the thing until after he was famous.
The Minihoe lasted a couple of years or so, pressed out by me on fly press which we bought through Exchange and Mart from a garage in Cambridgeshire, loaded into the boot of a Daf 44, and finally set up in a basement in Norwich. It enjoyed steady but unspectacular sales and it became clear that it was never going to make a fortune. In the end I carved some little wooden animals – mice, squirrels, snails and woodpeckers, attached them to the remaining stock of walking sticks, and gave them away to friends and relations. I was watching GMTV one morning in February 2004, and
in a feature about retirement there was a genuine minihoe
being used to till a remarkably weed-free rose bed!
One was bought for (but not I think by) the historian of the BBC Asa Briggs, and one, I believe, by the Duke of Wellington. I know it is not a great claim to fame, but it does show that all sorts of people read the Countryman.
“ No, I never met the Duke of Wellington, but I did sell a garden tool to him by mail order”.