How To Start A Fight In Sunderland ?

As a child it always seemed much colder after bonfire night. I don’t know but maybe gathering wood from the local hedgerows and copses was the last real excuse before building snowmen for venturing outside. After the communal friends-and-relatives-fire maybe I just hunkered down in the house – habitually spreading out on the floor in front of a roaring coal fire – until the snow came … and I missed the gradual turning from one to the other.

But we are now faced by about six weeks of “longer darknesses”: then the sun gradually getting higher in the sky. Christmas is coming, snow will make the world seem brighter with reflected light of a different quality.

Meantime there are tasks to get done.

Clearing up the bonfire after a few days of rain (and work) gets priority. The brilliantly efficient fire has, inevitably, left some metal ware (door furniture, six inch nails, part melted beer cans and discarded sparkler wires) that need picking up. The sad sticks of expended rockets and the plastic cones that held fireworks to the ground too need to go into the bin.

While I am doing this I am treated to the spectacle of modern agricultural hedge maintenance. Two massive road-blocking tractors each with attached machinery versus the holly/hawthorn borders of the fields and the taller trees (alder and sycamore) along the edge of the wood. Skilful manoeuvring by the drivers; back and forth and adjustments to the cutting (flailing heads of the cleverly articulated long-reach arms that do the brutal work. The first tractor, clean blue,  sides, tops and then puts a neat, uniform batter along the hedge. I can only approve but marvel at the speed. This hedge, maintained by my grandfather (and I) back in the day would have taken a couple of weeks by hand. Although we would also have done the then-traditional clearing and upkeep of drainage ditches (now seriously neglected).The work was always both warming and satisfying.

Image result for hedge cutting england

But the second machine leaves broken, scarred ends to branches. It is not tidy and looks unpleasant. There is a chain of thought that says, for example the when “pruning” soft fruit it is naturally beneficial to break off the branches to better stimulate new, productive growth. I have no proof of this, but maybe it is correct; looking at the battered, jagged edges of the trees I am both shocked and unconvinced. Surely these are places for disease to enter?

The ash tree my aforementioned grandfather planted escapes any treatment: just a little beyond the limits. It still threatens the telephone cables that zig and zag from pole to pole. Each twig already tipped with the typical black, tight buds. But the leaves have fallen across the road. Tempting, so as I did last year I bag them and take them up to the plot.

Here, things seem to be afoot. The fence panels between allotments and neighbouring house re removed. The owner of the house is currently seeking to extend his land onto the allotments. There is a stand-off with the parish council. We have been told as plot holders affected that if we notice anything we should contact the parish council.

This is definitely urgent – and somebody needs to know. I ring my wife: she can get on the ‘phone. Meanwhile there’s a possibility I can get to the Parish Clerk before she leaves for the weekend. The offices are being tidied up by the caretaker. She is brilliant; reassuring. She contacts the councillor directly. Within fifteen minutes I have arranged to meet representatives of the parish council (who own the land) at the “top gate” in the morning.

I have gently mentioned this “threat” to our borders in earlier posts; this is the latest, and most direct sign that ups the challenge to the boundaries. Earlier, the fence panels – which belong to the house owner have been removed and the four or five burly guys told the Plantation Owner’s Wife that they were moving the fence. An intimidating situation as she was alone on the site. She reported it to the allotments committee chair. Who, in turn notified the land owners (the parish council).

Between then and now there have been stirrings, but this seems an attempt to escalate (following a “complaint” from the house owner to the parish council that they were dragging their feet on confirming ownership of the land). The council’s position was it seems that he had not provided sufficient documentation – and that he should be providing the proof!

Saturday morning is damp but we meet the pair up at the gates. I am, frankly surprised that the parish council don’t actually have a key to the site for such cases: they own the land after all. We stroll down … sure enough the four fence panels are still missing, but there is no sign of any other work: footprints, damaged bushes (we have replace the ancient hawthorn, privet and elder that were destroyed when the fence was built) with soft fruit and wildlife friendly species – and thickened the hedge with hazel , oak and a laburnum that has grown from a seed dropped by a tree my grandfather planted in my grandmother’s hedgerow.

With this in mind no actual crime has been committed. Either the guy is replacing – or treating both sides of his fence panels – or testing to see what reaction (if any – it was only by chance that I was visiting the site) he provokes. No reaction at all: push a bit harder; some reaction: nothing actually done wrong – at this stage.

During the visit, however, we split into two parties and I’m having a warm conversation with the councillor. Is that a Geordie accent I detect? Before I can ask he’s volunteering that his father had an allotment, somewhere near Sunderland. His punishment for wrongdoings as a child was to be sentenced to “dig the allotment”; not surprisingly he hasn’t taken on an allotment himself since then. But he tells of the pride the plotholders had in raising the champion show leeks.

Image result for mammoth leek

“No good for eating,” he remembers, “but enormous!”

And the raids perpetrated on allotments by ne’er-do-wells.

“The worst insult you could use was to call somebody a leek-slasher,” he tells me.

“You can insult my mother, my wife, my work, but if you call me a leek-slasher I’m goin’ to belt you one!”

“it’s the quickest way to start a fight in Sunderland!”

On the way out the secretary of the allotments committee is very tentatively reversing his 4X4 into a parking space. I fill him in with what has been happening. His reaction is somewhat muted.

I wonder aloud if the committee might have a spare movement-activated camera they could rig up. His comeback was that they had considered putting one up when the pears were swiped ( http://www.mucktwineandthinker.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/theft-the-plot-sometimes-sickens ) but could only think to put it on the trunk of an apple tree:

“… and what if they came to take your apples, they’d surely have taken the camera as well eh?”

I’m quietly wondering what would be the point of pointing a camera at a stripped-of-all-fruit tree, but refrain from voicing my thoughts.

In the meantime we agree that we will monitor any further developments and keep in touch. My paranoid fear is that by then the hedge will have been damaged beyond repair and it will be more difficult to regain control of the situation. However I am unable to think of another solution.

But this has been a feel-good, community-in-action very supportive response from the parish council.

Long may it continue.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I hope this gets resolved soon 😦

    Reply

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