At the beginning of this year, I had the biggest rats-nest of garden hoses I have ever accumulated.
So enormous was it that the tap had disappeared beneath it. So ratty and nesty I couldn't figure out where the end of the hose I needed was, and even if I had been able to locate it, extracting it with any hope of actually watering something with it would have tied the knots still tighter.
This was partly an accident of history: our last garden required two hoses joined together, especially if we wanted to top up the pond at the other end (yes, I know, you're supposed to use rainwater: but this ignores the unavoidable fact that ponds only need topping up when water butts are empty).
And I also had an allotment: 70ft long, with another 70ft or so to go between the gate and the tap. This demanded the mother of all hoses: in fact so big was my allotment mega-hose it needed two hosereels to hold it all. Luckily, it being an allotment, a certain amount of shabby chic allowed, so I was able to leave it out most of the time.
Both ex garden hoses (disconnected from each other by now) plus the allotment hose were stacked hopefully by the garden tap behind the house on moving day. And that's where they stayed, completely baffling my attempts to organise them and as the record-breaking drought of April 2011 kicked in, reducing all my poor gasping patio plants to the occasional watering can full when I could spare them from dousing the greenhouse.
About the same time, an email dropped into my inbox from a nice man offering me a free hose reel to try out in the comfort of my own home, if I should be inclined to write about it in return.
Luckily, it didn't seem to put him off when I told him that if it didn't work, or isn't quite right, or I didn't like something, I reserved the right to say so. And within a week a very large package arrived on our doorstep: by this time it hadn't rained for about five weeks, so it wasn't a moment too soon.
The hosereel in question is the Hozelock Autoreel: a megalith of a hose reel if ever there was one, and I spent the tail end of that drought-ridden spring testing it to the limit. I tugged it from one end of the garden to the other, mercilessly dragging it to its 40m limit. I left it out for the puppies to chew; flapped the hinged wall bracket back and forth relentlessly; took it out and put it away again more times than I can remember.
I had a damn good try at breaking the autowind stop mechanism, too: this is like a spring catch which only works as you pull the hose out. So you pull the hose to a certain length, and when you let it go, it catches so the hose is held at (more or less) the length you've chosen. Pull it again, and the catch comes off, allowing the hose to spring back automatically to the start.
But though I verged on the irresponsible with the way I let the hose whack back to the catch, it hasn't broken yet. This is one tough customer: it needs to be, with the way I treat my garden gear, and I've been pleasantly surprised by what it will put up with. Besides, anything that puts itself away is a winner in my book.
Niggles: such a behemoth of a creature needs a Proper Bloke to fit it to the wall. I'm pretty handy with a drill and some screws when required, but even I had to come over all girly and get the hubster to do it.
He said something obscure about a template being needed to screw the back plate onto the wall straight: not entirely sure what he was on about, but then it probably means more to perfectionist carpenters than slapdash gardeners.
And you need two people to lock the hose in place if you don't want to use the catch mechanism described above. There is a locking switch on the main casing (see picture left), but you'd need someone to stand by the lock to turn it when you get to the point you want the hose to stay: if you let go the hose to run back and fix it with the lock, it gaily sprints along by your side, racing you back to the start as that auto-wind kicks in. Maybe I was missing something, but this was one of the few design features I couldn't see the point of.
I'm not too keen on the bright green thing it's got going on, either: why on earth does Hozelock have to choose such utterly garden-unfriendly, plasticky colours for its brand livery? Nobody, I can assure you, would choose the garden hose as a focal point, however wonderful it might be to use. Fortunately mine's tucked away nicely out of sight behind the house so that doesn't matter.
But these are small complaints: my shiny new hose has entirely revolutionised my watering life. I love that it's on a hinge, so you can pull it two ways: ideal for me, when the same hose has to be threaded along both directions of a narrow passageway.
The hose itself is as tough and beefy as the casing. It's satisfyingly heavy, so it doesn't kink and lies where you put it unlike most hoses, which have an annoying habit of flipping across your prize dahlias as you're watering.
Nor does it disappear back into the casing: a sturdy business-like ball (see second picture) strapped to the hosepipe just behind the end takes care of that. This reel is full of sensible, practical design ideas like this: it's the tidiest, most well-organised thing in my garden.
My poor chaotic old green, red and yellow hoses - all three of them - have been made entirely redundant and have been put out to grass in the garage while I decide what to do with them. If anyone out there fancies a few hours unknotting hosepipes, they're yours.