“The Thing About Land …”


“That’ll be your mother,” my wife guesses. It’s this “game” we play: trying to guess who is calling when the landline ‘phone rings. It is not so difficult to guess, in point of fact as so few people use it; most sending texts, e-mails or using the mobile numbers.

But, this time she’s wrong.

It’s Margaret: sometime caller and supplier of horse dung. From the seven or more Shetland ponies that she keeps as a labour of love, now that her daughter has left home and out-grown the habit (and the ponies). Only seven now? I will ask her … and she confesses that she has “let the others go.”

I was going to nip up the allotment for a spell of winter-digging anyway, so meet her up there to open the gate. She is a hardy soul, struggling to shovel the stuff out of the trailer. She needs a hip replacement she tells me, but the first doctor said she had to lose weight … and the second is trying a course of – painful – injections before recommending the bone masonry. It’s not just her hip, its her back too … but it doesn’t stop her wielding a mean shovel.

“Is the allotment ready for winter?” she wants to know. Truth to tell, on our site there’s probably only the perennial prize-winning brothers who could truly answer yes to that one (and they probably, modestly, wouldn’t).

I haven’t quite got used to the sight of the missing fence panels at the end of the path, and alongside the Plantation owner’s Wife’s plot. This morning there is a pair of brightly painted yellow construction wagons parked in the house garden (The house owners are involved in the building trade apparently). A striking, cheerful colour, JCB yellow!

I am struck that taking something out of the landscape has a dramatic effect (power station cooling towers for example – or fence panels) as much as adding something (the aero generators springing up around and about). Speaking of which, from the top of the slope the two new “windmills” (they are definitely not mills – but pick up the name so easily) outside Penkridge are slowly turning, and to their left the chimney at Veolia’s Energy Recovery Facility that produces energy by incinerating waste is emitting fumes (doubtless monitored and safe). This is energy production in its latest form. I have a friend who believes in wind power, but reminds me that “on the coldest day of the year (when you want your kettle for a cup of tea, your electric radiators on etc.) there is zero wind.”


Since I last noted the “boundary dispute” the house owner and I have had a couple of friendly exchanges: him saying there is nothing personal in what is going on; me saying that I do not have a role to play in the dispute, that we just pay rent for land and want to “dig a bit and grow potatoes.” Essentially correct, though I feel the loss of the hedgerow will remove a wonderful habitat for wildlife and a corridor linking various other wildlife friendly areas. And there’s such a wonderful variety of species growing in the hedge too: shrubs and undercover plants like foxgloves and campions. A lot added by us as we repaired the hedge damaged by the fence erectors. Oh and the log pile where we found the great crested newts is in the hedgerow.

A line from a book (completely unrelated as its a New York crime story) springs into my mind:

“… thing about land, son, is they’re not makin’ any more of it …”

He’s moved his fence panels, because he can … and “my independent surveyor” (not sure if that’s an oxymoron) “has put in some posts where my land ends.”

The rest is really up to the authority I tell him. The parish council own the allotments, though it is run, on their behalf, by an elected committee of plot holders.

As I am barrowing the muck along the path, a job to warm the body and pump the heart, others arrive. Why not? It is a warm day, high, dry blue skies, little wind and a bright sun. Cold weather is predicted – and we surely cannot have many more days like this one. It is nearly December after all.

And a jaunty little robin hopping from noticeboard to fence to dung heap takes the chance to grab a take away. She (or he) sings that instantly recognisable thin tune in the sunshine; easy to become anthropomorphic and imagine that this bird is happy with the world.

We all stop at one point and stare at a massive Emirates (obvious from the logo spread across its belly) plane, gracefully curving across the skies. An Airbus A 380, either beginning its approach to Birmingham International Airport – or just leaving. It is genuinely enormous, weighing 566 tons and seats for nearly seven hundred people, but is whisper-quiet, seeming to float through the air as it gently turns and moves away, edges of the wings sparkling.

What clever creatures we are: moving from wondering how birds fly to designing and operating these machines. Aircraft never cease to amaze me: the forms, the science, the adventure, the scope. But this is a really beautiful beast of a craft: functional but stylish.

After shifting all of the muck I spend forty five minutes forking over the soil. With the few annual weeds popped into the barrow and perennials dropped onto up-turned bread trays to dry out before being burned the soil feels good; dark and fine. This is single digging this year, with a fork, then ladling garden compost over the surface so that weather and worms can work it into the ground over time. It will need some lime on it too, but that is better done in spring. I get as far as the last few leeks before deciding to call it a day.


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