A Long Way To Grow.

There’s a break in the labour (and I do mean sweat-breaking labour here!). The angry bucket-of-wasps whine-buzz of the concrete saw is gone. The pale dust settling and carpeting the disturbed top-soil and cut slabs like fairy dust. There, then gone; just an irritation of the nostrils left behind; similarly the antique-tractor chug-chug of the generator driving the cement mixer.


And he could hear the distant hum of traffic on the motorway across the hedges and fields. The baby-cowboy whoop of the train ride attraction at the garden centre up the hill and along the road a ways. Feel the autumn’s coming breeze that gently caressed the elm hedge and his forearms.

There was a small, dull pain in the small of his back as he lowered himself onto the concrete posts, accepting the offered mug of hope-fully strong and sweet tea.

Beneath his booted feet a couple of toadlets and a pale grey woodlouse spider crawl and tumble, undoubtedly disturbed from a temporary sanctuary beneath the old-brick pile they had been breaking to use as hard-core. Dry-skinned and frantic the immature toads wrestle their small bulks against gravity and the low, strong sunlight; the progeny of a wild-life haven pond somewhere on the allotment site.  Earlier he had carefully carried a full-grown toad and released it under his own plot shed. To eat the slugs and snails that, if not controlled would decimate his hard-labour crops. But these tiny creatures would be the prey of hedgehogs, visiting cats and, perhaps, birds for a while yet. They had a long way to grow.

He smiled grimly. This was a side of keeping an allotment he hadn’t considered: the community side. Getting roped in, however willingly, to helping build the raised beds had seemed a pic-nic when it was first suggested. The hard landscaping side; phew hard work with capital letters!

Now, after disputes over leadership, arguments over design and lack of support from the authorities – during which he had begun to lose faith in humanity – it was good to be getting on with the work, to be getting somewhere. Small step by small step. As part of  a team … of course.

Frank re-appeared, some wrapped up parcel in his arms. He was smiling broadly. A fairly lonely guy Frank was heartened by the task and now unwrapped a couple of bottles of home-made wine.

“Red currant …” he beamed around the group: Robot Dave, Alison, Ted the Fireman-Who-Was, Jim and Mrs Jim and Jack. Jack was the gaffer on this job: a plot holder who was also a landscape gardener and knew what he was about. The rest were content to follow jack’s careful instructions. Jack was patient, reminding himself that these people, unlike his professional work-fellows,  had no background or knowledge of techniques. The work was slow, but – as they all felt – would be worth it in the end.

And this was a bonus: the working together, the banter, the talking with people. The subject matter was, to be brutally honest, irrelevant. Football, crops, weed-control, recipes, current affairs (not to be mis-spelled and used for wine making) last night’s TV, memories (embroidered or not) just helped communication … built the community aspect of the site. Which should be a big aspect of allotment life.

And usually ended in some light-hearted tomblaggery, usually lead by Robot Dave. It was said, by some that he was a retired police officer, by others that he still carried a warrant card. But all agreed he had a wicked sense of humour.


Sandwiches and chocolate biscuits arrived and the sun sailed in a high cloud sky in which a pair of buzzards circled once again. Needless to say these and  the wine, rich and fruity slowed proceedings and attracted a pair of bright-jacketed wasps.  Ted didn’t sample the wine, claiming he needed to be alcohol free for two weeks on his dentist’s orders. Jack had none because he was working the saw and was rather attached to his fingers.

Then a companionable silence fell across the party. Until Mrs Jim noticed something and, nudging her husband, whispered:

“Throw some bread down. Our robin is back …”

Dutifully and in slow-motion Jim peeled off an edge of his butty and threw the crust onto the earth. Out of the hedge, alighting briefly and cheekily on the heads of tall nettles the robin hopped onto the ground. He cocked his head and eyed each of the people patiently, then dipped to the food.

When he fluttered away, some moments later, they all sighed … rose and picked up where they had left off. Slabs to be cut, bricks to be sledged, barrows to be loaded, trenches to be filled, soil to be shifted, a community to be built on borrowed land, left for posterity.

A long way to grow yet…


2 responses to this post.

  1. thanks for the link to our blog
    hope the baby toads are surviving?


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