A jangle of hoes

Every noun should have its own collective term. As in ‘ a murder of crows’ [ All This Time. The Soul Cages 1991]  – Sting was an English teacher, too.  So I propose, for my collection of hoes,  either ‘a tangle’ or a ‘jangle’. It describes the result of gathering up an armful of them, prior to assaulting some part of the garden. I rarely use a fork or a spade now – but I do seem to need about four hoes on each job.

Late last year I thought I’d better stop adding to the pile – so I took this photo of them artfully arranged on the house-well [ and showing off one of our mosaics.]

hoe collection

There are 12, counting the fork-hoe. But addictions and obsessions are hard to throw off, particularly when neighbours find out, and offer me their rusty scrap-iron for inclusion. So now there are 17.


Now many of them are so worn that I may never re-square and resharpen them – and others have functions so obscure that it may be years before I ever grow the plant that calls for their particular talents. That long one for example. It’s 1ft. 8 ins. long. And weighs 4lb. 4oz. [2kg. and 50cm.] It would take a giant to wield it – and nobody around here has a clue as to its use.

The three along the top row on the left are in frequent service – the big rectangle [ called le cantonnier, after the road-mender, employed by every canton before roads were paved] for breaking new ground – and then the leaf-shaped pair for shaping into furrows. The other two on the top row, right, can move large heaps of stones or gravel with ease – or spread and level great quantities of earth.

I never came across such variety in West Cork, back when I worked on a smallholding – hoes weren’t used at all. Here in France there’s a bewildering diversity, each with regional variations :

hoyau (long thin flat hoe), essade (your standard hoe), essadon (narrow-shouldered, widening and flairing out at cutting edge), essadonet (narrow flair), foussoir ( de Savoie – a hoe), rabassiere espagnol (wide and shallow), picole (narrow and long with curved shoulder), piquelle (pointy, leaf-shaped), bigorne, and bigard of Provence – also known as crocs (fork-hoes), and bigot (all flat two-toothed rake-hoes) – rascle (wide flat rake-like tool), râteau à remblais ou tirebillon (wide flat rake-like with 3 teeth), binette (small narrow light hoe), sape Sartene (leaf-shape like a piquelle but straight-shouldered), sape de Bonifacio (more hoe-like, but narrow at cutting edge which is concave . . .) houe de Bastia (standard hoe, but flairing in at cutting edge and angled shoulders), houe de Saone et Loire (same width and angled shoulders, but longer), houe lorraine, plain rectangular, mègle or meigle a pointed hoe of Burgundy, marre, wide and flat for onions in Brittany and in Médoc. And the bêchoir or bêchard, the féchou, the écobue,  the besoche, the déchaussoir, the moutardelle – and lastly the trinque, our local slang term here in the Midi, from the sound of it hitting the stoney ground . . . otherwise known as le cantonnier – the man and his heavy hoe an ubiquitous figure, keeping the ways serviceable for cart, and carriage – the poor and the rich alike.

le cantonnier louviers

There is a famous children’s song from the early 19th. century ‘Sur la route de Louviers’  –

sur la route de louviers

– which later gained an infamous  and lewd version, featuring a Roadmender who shagged anyone, and a Fine Lady – who also . . .

LA BELLE ET LE CANTONNIER    chanson paillarde [crude country song]
(Musique : Sur la route de Louviers)

Sur la route de Louviers (bis)
Il y avait un cantonnier (bis)
Et qui baisait (bis)
Et qui baisait comme un voyou
Au lieu d’ casser des cailloux

Un’ bell’ dam’ vient à passer (bis)
Dans un beau caross’ doré (bis)
Elle y baisait (bis)!
Elle y baisait comme un voyou
A en fair’ craquer les roues.

Elle aperçut l’ cantonnier (bis)
Dans le fond d’un grand fossé (bis)
Et qui baisait (bis)
Et qui baisait comme un voyou
Un’ fillette aux cheveux roux

Ell’ lui dit: “Brav’ cantonnier (bis)
Avec moi veux-tu monter? (bis)
Pour me baiser (bis)
Pour me baiser comme un voyou
Le préfet est mon époux”

A ces mots, le cantonnier (bis)
Laiss’ la rousse dans le fossé (bis)
Et va baiser (bis)
Et va baiser comme un voyou
La bell’ dam’ plein’ de bijoux

Le lend’main par arrêté (bis)
Fut nommé chef cantonnier (bis)
Parc’ qu’y baisait (bis)
Parc’ qu’y baisait comme un voyou
Au lieu d’ casser des cailloux

Voici la moralité (bis)
Dans la vie pour arriver (bis)
Il faut baiser (bis)
Il faut baiser comm’ des voyous
Les bell’s dam’s qui ont des sous !

Now, this may all be quite entertaining and educational – but it’s only half the story. There’s the handle or shaft of the hoe to consider and the crucial question of its length – but that’s for another post.

In the meantime – check for handle lengths in the Hoe in Art and History, and The hoe at work Pages, right. If you’ve nothing more worthwhile to do, or are similarly obsessive.

This entry was posted in hand-tools, hoes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A jangle of hoes

  1. Hi,
    I note from our research that we have received a few hits on our website from a link in your blog.
    Your comments and research into the “Digging Hoe” were very interesting.
    Its aways good to get feedback,good or bad.

    Therefore this is just a line to thank you for your kind comments on our products (Chillington Hoes).

    I did note that you said you lived in France.

    We are at the moment looking at branching out into France.Therefore I would be very interested in talking to you if you can spare the time.

    I can be contacted via the website enquiry form.

    Thanks again.

    Lawrence Askey


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s