So I did it. I took the plunge, made the commitment, promised to be a better person, signed on the dotted line, forsook the ideas of lazy Sundays and made a step in the direction of …what? A new level-headed earthiness? Fingernails that are never clean again? So many vegetables I develop an allergy to Vitamin C?
For I’ve just signed myself up to become an allotment holder – or to become one when I finally get to the top of the waiting list. This is an announcement that has created an handful of reactions from my family and friends that have ranged from the horrified head in the hands (my Dad, no doubt imagining his own Sundays ruined as I call in a panic because the fruit cage has been breached and the bean poles have fallen down).
Some have just found it in equal parts funny and incomprehensible: “you did..what..wait..hang on..hahahaha…what?” One very close friend sent me a series of messages throughout the week:
“You’ll need one of those little padded waistcoats with a billion pockets.”
“There’s some horse poo in the lane, want me to collect it for you?”
“Soot perhaps? I could loosen some from the chimney.”
“I’ve got a sagging deck chair you could have for outside the shed.”
“What colour are your wellies? It’s no good trying to impress the old boys with spotty ones”
Others have taken it more seriously and with a surprising degree of enthusiasm, offering seeds, raspberry canes, spare shovels and advice.
If I’m honest, I don’t entirely know why I’ve done it – the act of filling in the form was one I carried out in my usual decision making state of eagerness, lack of thought and gung-ho determination that an idea of mine will obviously pan out alright in the end. It was a response to the urge I’ve been having for nearly a year now. A need to feel reconnected to the ground and seasons in a way in which, ironically, I only ever was in a passive sense when I lived in the countryside. A need to feel part of a community, settled and rooted (quite literally). A desire that I couldn’t really put a name or coherent explanation to: I want to grow things.
I want to grow the raspberries and beans and new potatoes and rhubarb that I love. I want to sit in the doorway of my shed with an enamel mug of tea, aching and blistered from turning over the neat rows of raised beds. I want to exchange seeds and watch them come slowly up from the ground. I want to commiserate with others about the weather or the carrot fly (what is carrot fly?) and join in the communal metaphorical fist shaking at pesky squirrels. I want to feel the soil under my fingers, smell the tomato plants in the sunshine and hear the sound of a spade thunking into the ground. I want to sit in the sun, patiently slicing beans into matchstick pieces like my Grandad did. I want to stand at a potting table, crumbling compost into seed trays, daydreaming. I want to plan for a year ahead. I want to have the hope that I’ll be in this place for another year.
Given my almost complete lack of experience, the visible and audible signs of disbelief and horror are understandable. My parents remember my sullen co-operation during the Summer of the Wallflowers where their pick-your-own scheme turned out to be a send-the-teenagers-out-to-pick-them scheme. I was 13 and they were trying to make their acre of ground pay for itself by growing wallflowers which people could then stop and buy. Few of the people stopping had the right shoes to deal with a field of mud and vegetation, so my sister and I would be sent out there, plastic bags and little trowels in hand. “Make sure they get good ones!” we’d hear some instantly detested Rover driver bray. I’d mutter dark thoughts in their general directions in the way only a teenager in the countryside, dressed to impress at the village youth club, can.
So I am sort of prepared for disaster. It’s entirely possible that what will happen is that I’ll blacken my thumb trying to hammer together a fruit cage that is more bird friendly than the open sky, and the nail will fall off; the heavens will open and my water butt (why is it called a butt?) will leak, or there will be a drought. I’ll put my back out digging the plot over and the previous tenants will have specialised in growing vine weevils and bindweed. I’ll forget to pinch out the tomatoes so they’ll crochet their roots and branches together in a stroppy mass of non-fruit-bearing vegetation.
I’ll discover a spider the size of my hand in the shed and not be able to go in there for 6 weeks. The raised beds will collapse. I’ll be warned by the allotment committee for inappropriate language as, for the umpteenth time, I mis-step and fall down the slope into the canal.
In a freak of nature and engineering, the canal will flood for the first time in its near 200 year history.
But until the day I move up to the top of that allotment list, I can dream and read, research and plan. I will know the right names for things and I will be able to empty a slug trap without squealing “ewwwwww ohmigod what fresh hell is arrrrghgghhhh”. And at least my wellies will be the right shade of murky, gardener green.