Mick was a true spadesman and in his hands that tool acted like something bewitched. He never put a foot to it.
He inserted it behind a stalk and, with a jabbing fling made it shudder and out came the stalk. Flipping out potatoes all the while he levelled the earth in a zig-zag pattern back towards his boot while nudging dead stalks and weeds into his ruler-like row.
Then as if accidentally, his spade clanged against the steel toe-plate of his boot to knock off the clinging mould. All was as fast and as dexterous as the swerving flight of a swallow or the dart of a trout in a pool.
He bought a new spade as selectively as one would buy a horse. They used to ask him in a jocular way whether he took it to bed with him as well.
For the digging too, when a coat was required, he wore an outsize one that wouldn’t catch him under the oxters. Two patches were sewn, one on each knee. A spade-shaft knaws cloth. When the patches developed ‘kidney trouble’ as he called it, he simply had them renewed.
He would be upset too if he accidentally sliced a potato. That reflected badly on him. He was a craftsman of the spade.