Posts Tagged ‘allotment’

Close Encounters.

Everything is suffering in this heat, especially plants. Our lawn, deliberately not mowed to help the grass conserve moisture, is showing brown patches and sinking to reveal the roots of trees in both our own and neighbouring gardens. The “wildflower island” is doing somewhat better, evening catchfly, mayweed, campions, foxgloves and hawkbit showing prettily.

Up on the allotment even determined “I-never-water-my-crops” diehards like Alan and Mrs Alan have been seen with watering cans.

Our plot is the furthest it is possible to get from the stand-pipe (though some long standing plot holders can remember a time before these taps were installed) and we have to wrestle two anaconda minded hosepipes (one pale yellow one rescued from a builder’s skip) and fiddle-faddle with in-line connectors before filling up the water butts. We can then dip in a number of watering cans and splash water onto desperate crops (especially the carrots, leeks and squashes – all in raised beds) while the butts fill up. Each of the butts has a piece of scrap wood drifting in it: a refuge for any insect (but especially bees and other pollinators that might end up “in the drink”, recognising that these often un-noticed companions need water too.

We try to do this watering at least every two days and, in truth, often end up giving everything a drink. Water butts hold enough for three heavy waterings, then it is time to pipe-up again (though, conditions being as they are, if the tap is not in-use, we fill up on any occasion we have the time to manage the task. The soil is dry, dry and dry. And our plot usually benefits from water tipped on the uphill gardens which runs down-slope to our ground. Incredible, but correct. Our ground, plied with water retaining home-made compost for the past twenty plus years soaks it up – and our plants – usually – benefit. The potato tops have keeled over so we do not bother with them. Nobody is expecting a heavy crop of spuds this year, it seems.

But animals, inevitably, are also finding it hard going. There is a mention of hedgehogs  – one of our seriously endangered species* – on the Local news programme.  No sooner have we digested the advice (leave out food, leave an untidy area in the garden where they might snooze, put out water in shallow containers) than we are resting in the cool night just after the sun has gone down, than we detect a couple of small hedgehogs, snuffling around in our back garden. They don’t seem weak, are able to climb out of the tray I have filled with water, but ignore the contents of the wormery I provide for nutrition (I know that worms are part of their diet!). My hopefully-educated guess is that these are independent explorers, perhaps the off spring of a pair I spotted earlier in the year. Their food source of slugs, beetles, worms, small frogs and minibeasts has retreated deeper into the soil, rocks, between logs – or simply expired due to the weather. I quietly wish them luck.**


Small midges that emerge from larval stages in our water butt at home attract bats each evening. But most surprising is the encounter I have one evening.

There are a number of us as the air cools down (relatively that is) to around 22 Celsius. It is about nine o’clock. We are there to water. Myself, Mr Molineux, Cool Hand Luke, Alan and The Gaffer. We have gathered for an allotment parliament (there are, after all, things in the world that only such a gathering can put right) and, having cooled down a little, I draw away to turn off the tap, before reeling in the hoses.

As I approach the stand-pipe a tall, thin fox emerges onto the path. It is walking, tongue out, along the path between Asda Dave’s plot and Jim’s.

We both pause. Look at each other. Taking stock of the situation, sizing each other up. Risk assessment on the part of the fox. It doesn’t look in great condition: fur dry and lacking in colour and shine. Ribs visible and heaving  the beast pants: it has either woken up from cover between  Asda Dave’s shed and the roadside hedge or just dodged across the road, avoiding traffic. Eyes not bright, reactions and senses not as keen as might be expected (or it would have known I was there and, simply, hidden. I am sure that, preoccupied as I was I would never have seen it.

It steps backwards, carefully. Once. Twice. Our eyes locked. Another step, then it spins and is gone. Slowly, but silently.

Now it is possible that this is a usual patrol for the fox. This time, this route; although foxes are opportunists, they also follow routines.

And none of us is – usually – on site at this time.

It is also – equally – possible – that this is a new area for the fox,; forced to explore by the period of heat, drought and, presumably, lack of food.

“Did you see that … ?” I have to ask the others, of course. Not one of them had. They were too busy, too deep in conversation. My moment of communion with wildlife had been a private affair.

* Much more detailed and useful information, advice and contacts at

**When we go away to Dorset for a break, we leave our good neighbour a note – she waters the tomatoes and pots for us – to keep the water stocked up “for the hedgehogs we have seen”. Clearly she thinks us deranged; leaving a note, when we return that says 

“Your eyes have gone! I didn’t see any hedgehogs!”


Rare As Rocking Horse Droppings (A.K.A. What’s In A Name Part I)

I am, for a change, stumped, needing a guilt-free name for our new, very keen allotment neighbours. I usually try (in my own possibly warped fashion) to establish some connection between the name and the person/personality (in order, it says somewhere in the introduction to this blog, to protect the innocent; by association then also, I guess, the guilty).

This new pair are so honest, so hard working and so humble. They have very quickly become a part of the community of souls on the downhill side of the plots. Partly because, in their willingness to keep the plot they are such regular visitors. And work with such a will: the plot was overgrown with annual weeds to the point where grasses and all manner of annual weeds were spilling their seed heads across the pathway. But within two days it had all been weeded out. By hand. The resulting mass burned over a couple of weeks. Then the establishment of raised beds: perfectly level, perfectly square. Now, I have to confess Perfection in woodwork and I are as far apart as The soil on these plots and the surface of the moon, but his work is thought out, calculated (unlike me he actually does measure twice and cut once) and has money invested in it. For example Dr Pepper donated a metal frame from a mini poly tunnel. Richard thinks it is too low, so builds a timber frame to lift it off the ground.


The carefully stacked slabs are for paths between the said raised beds. And that’s when the blog name came to me: so they became the Carpenters (Karen and Richard); harmony group of legend (not tradesmen of hammer and plane). Until that moment I had been struggling.

And, last time I saw them – we were filling our water butts and watering the needy plants in the heat wave  – he was characteristically hard at work with a smart, sharp saw, a Screw Fix pencil behind each ear (something I’ve never managed. Either my ears are too far away from my head or the pencils are too damned short).

So, newly-monickered “Richard” was telling me there had been some neighbour-chatter about them not paying rent for this year (as they haven’t been on-site for the year, have done such a great job and have little time to plant and raise crops this time around.)

“I don’t want any fuss,” he told me, “We’re happy to have a plot. Allotments, “ he says, “ are like rocking horse droppings. You can’t get ‘em for love nor money.”

“A friend of the wife, she’s got an allotment. Over in Oxford. It’s costing her eighty pounds a year. So, for what we’re paying here? No mate! I don’t want to make a fuss!”

And, anyway, in the way that will happen to the best of people, he’s been given “spare” plants: brassicas, beans, and other bits and pieces that he’s dibbed in.

It was Asda Dave, apparently, who was leading the no-rent-this-year lobby. And it is a tough one to call. In reality allotments need all the money they can rake (sorry) in; if people are happy to stump up the wedge then it’s a no-brainer. Being on the committee Asda Dave has a sore head at the moment. Hose connectors from the taps are going missing, the gates are being left unlocked and some plot holders are, he tells me, watering crops directly from the hose.

There is a currently a genuine heat wave going on: hot sun, temperatures above mid-twenties Celsius and this following the driest June on record (according to the Met. Office). What winds there are dry out the ground and plants are suffering (grass on school playing fields and roadside verges especially) But it’s grass and, as such, is necessarily tough, hardy and will spring back when rain falls again. Allotment holders are doing what they can to water their crops. But to leave the hose dribbling water into a row of, say potatoes is a step too far – and against the rules. Other people cannot get to use the hoses to fill water butts: allowed and so it is anti-social. And tempers can flare in heat waves (though not on our plot at the moment).

But, in the heat, I catch “Richard” riddling his soil to get rid of stones. Admittedly there are a lot on his plot (we have been reducing the number of stones on our own plot gradually over the years and there is a gravel quarry next door) and has a “bit of a sweat on”.

My mind clicks on to the made-in-1967 film Cool hand Luke, starring Paul Newman: the scenes of convicts chained together in road gangs. In their cases having to work constantly or receive a whipping from the sadistic warders. And I want to change the Richard for Cool Hand Luke. A film incidentally I never really understood, but the scene where Newman’s “Luke” is reckoning to eat fifty eggs in an hour for “something to do” had me fascinated for a year or so. I mean: fifty eggs!

Solstice Plus One



I’m working locally on Friday. So very locally that I drive home in five minutes. Listening, as is my wont, to BBC Radio 4*. All kinds of weird and wonderful information on there sometimes. I hear a weather report. Apparently after low temperatures overnight we’re in for a couple of weeks of warm (if not hot), dry weather.

Three things leap into my mind: watering: the allotment will need, at least,  some water. That, in turn, will mean, filling water butts (a long job involving linking three differently coloured hoses together and man handling the resulting snake across paths and around crops. But the plants in the back garden are showing signs of flagging, so I was thinking of putting the hose sprinkler on. England play panama in Russia in the FIFA World Cup finals on Sunday. Around dinner time. I want to be in good shape to watch that.

So far, so sensible, but I also have a crazy desire to sleep in that very same back garden in a tent. Not wholly sure why but something to do with an idea I abandoned last year, to do with spending time in the environment and “knowing it” at a time I am not usually there. What’ll it feel like? Sound like/ Can I even still manage to put a tent up, never mind actually sleep in one?

I have a tent. It was one a friend needed a home for as he moved house. And a sleeping bag.

Plantation Owner’s Wife asked at the time (imagine I got home with a bag of golf clubs, the self-assembly tent folded down into the shape and space a rock drummer’s gong might take up, thirteen cans of 16 mm film, a wooden wine box and other “interesting” odds an’ sods. And I didn’t have an answer. Partly to do with the inspiring talk given by naturalist Simon King at the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield on Thursday night. Not directly, but he was talking about photographic hides, being “in nature” and it hooked me.

Oh –and, of course – why not?

So my plan, by the time I get home, is to brave the predicted cold tonight, sleep in the tent, put the sprinkler on the garden tomorrow (I don’t fancy sleeping on a dampened lawn), then sleep soundly over Saturday night so I am properly refreshed for the game. It sounded logical at the time, trust me.

So we pull out the fire-pit. I set it up on a piece of unused kitchen work surface to protect the grass from the heat and sit outside in the lovely evening sunlight. A procession of common wasps visit the table, slow motion creatures intent on taking wasp paper back to build a nest somewhere I guess (though isn’t it  a bit late for nest building?).

 The tent, literally pitches itself. I unzip the circular bag and, tension released, metal rods spring and flex and, voila, there is the tent. Bigger than I had expected. It’s only been used once, I was told, for some music festival. A good looking, well-constructed Norwegian tunnel. Plenty big enough. The sleeping bag disappears in there, some cushions, a torch, book, camera, mobile phone …


Just a few pegs for belt and braces safety (but not really needed).

.  Half a dozen swifts are high in the sky. Still in the sun, it seems, as every now and then they turn and catch the light, feathers suddenly becoming fish scales and reflecting light. The pair of bats that we watched a couple of nights ago are not to be seen.

Ten o’clock and this is what the Scots would call “the loaming”.

“When night fully owns the lower ground, but the skies are still bright.” At 10.30 there are few stars visible, but those that are shine fiercely along with the half-moon blazing down.  No streetlights are visible from the back garden.

“there is no dark side of the moon,” pops into my head, “matter of fact it’s all dark.”

I install myself in the canvas cocoon at eleven – ish. Now I can see only the walls of the tent. Close to me. The roof quite low. The soundscape beyond  is a siren, diminishing, a dog barking in a back garden, traffic in the distance. Last night was Mid Summer’s Night and it would have added a certain something-or –other to have done this last night. But, getting home from the theatre it was cold … and got colder. And, anyway, will twenty four hours really make that much difference? How many seconds less of daylight can there be? What would Will The Shaking Spear say?

I am not sure what I am expecting (other than not getting much sleep): cats, dogs, snails creeping their slimy way up the tent sides, ear wigs, hedgehogs, a fox?

I do expect not to fall immediately asleep. What would be the point of that? But I have a quiet moment of thinking when I realise that the leather hat I treated with some aerosol concoction a couple of days ago is in the enclosed tent with me and I recall the instruction not to breathe in the fumes when spraying as they are toxic. Could the hat be giving off poisonous fumes even as I fall asleep? Murdering me?Rubbish – of course. If that were the case it would mean many a person being deaded by leather clothes in all kinds of surroundings. And I’ve never heard of a single one! I smile, in the dark, at myself.

What I get is constant noise. Usually defended (is that the right word?) by efficient double glazing, I hadn’t realized just how very noisy the night is I am given the impression of  a game show conveyor belt, sounds being wheeled past: a constant machine hum, low. The ear becomes accustomed to that. But what sounds like someone stacking scaffold planks, the wind chime, a crane loading cargo containers, wind chime,  the emergency take off flaps of a startled wood pigeon (cat nearby perhaps?) yet another motorbike, the high revving of the engine at a corner, a roundabout. Wind chime. A cat landing on the wood store, scuffles, sniffles, a train hooter, small apples falling on the tent. A wagon reversing, car horns, Wind chime!!!

That wind chime is annoying! I fall asleep, but at around what my phone screen tells me is 3.10 I am awake. The wind chime? It is still ringing. I had promised myself I would just observe, just experience whatever was out there, but I need some sleep. I gradually unwrap, unzip, disentangle myself from this unaccustomed prone, horizontal floor position, pull on trainers and, fetch the thing from its branch. But once I have done that, and look around, the garden is certainly a different place. Robbed of colour; monochrome: tones, textures not colours. Black, white, grey. Shadows. Gaura, foxglove, a galaxy of ox eye daisies,  scent of honeysuckle scrawling in conference pear tree feverfew, astrantia, Damp grass, the feel of the wind. The sky light and sunrise is not due for another thirty or so minutes.

It takes some time to get back inside, zip up the two doors, re arrange the sleeping bag and bits and pieces, get warm again, the handy thermometer I found swinging on the tent was reading something like four Celsius! – I lie down – and can hear the first of the birds. A robin, close by. The pre-dawn chorus?  An avian orchestra warming up? In fact it is late in the year for the full dawn chorus: usually heard in spring time, a preamble to nesting, territory staking behaviour. A song thrush further away. Then the staccato chatter of a magpie, and perhaps a wren.

I sink away and back to sleep (which, later, will  surprise me). I wake later (about seven o’clock. Shadows of the apple tree are across the tent walls, that of the shed too. I pitched the tent here deliberately so that I would not get disturbed too soon this morning by the early sunrise. I open up the doors. There’s a house sparrow just going into the nest box on our  house. It looks surprised by my appearance.

It wasn’t part of the original plan but, as my wife is still asleep upstairs I steal around the kitchen, get toast, orange juice and a cup of tea, light up the fire pit and sit outside for a little longer. The first bumble bee of the day buzzes past, into the flower of a fox-glove. It’s part of a spell that bleeds warmth and colour back into the surroundings.


The garden is wearing it’s everyday  clothes now: no longer the space for Titania, Oberon and a common man with and ass for a head (or something of that nature); the sun has gone around again, the clocks have moved along. This is June twenty third, two thousand and eighteen: the world of ordinary mortals again.

I am pleased with the experience. I managed a longer sleep than I was expecting, saw a different aspect of the garden and, as I quietly smile to myself I make a list of jobs to do:

Thin out the apples on the tree (there should be no more than two to a cluster, this will ensure good-sized apples).


Get the grass clippings up to the compost heap.

Put the tent away and get the sprinkler on the lawn (but, hey, those tasks can all wait while I drink this cuppa, right?)

Oh, and … put the wind chime back.

Because It Doesn’t Always Have To be Serious, Does It?


So, in this intense, busy-busy-busier season of planting out, weeding, watering, hoeing, thinning out, weeding, netting, slug-deterring (did I mention weeding?), there has to be time for a little frivolity. Surely?

A moment to stand and stare, reflect or do something just for the heck of it.

I hope so; because unless this is one of the many signs of madness I took it upon myself to reassemble a passably fake, but reliably sturdy iron “water pump” from a rotted-out and thrown away water feature half barrel. I bought a solar powered pump and some odds’n’sods and screwed a few pieces of cedar together (to conceal a plain black water bucket) and managed to create a going concern. The solar panel sits atop the back garden greenhouse roof and adds that running water melody to the area.

But I also repaired a damaged gnome, bought as a joke present for me some years ago. In fixing him (or her, who can tell with gnomes?) to a raised bed the lefty leg had, frankly,  broken off. So, a little dab of some  Acme Fixitall glue had the little feller well balanced again and able to pose for the above photo.

Happy gardening people, but don’t forget to smile every now and then eh?

Rotovator? Surely Not?

Enough said ?

Surprised by a seven in the morning phone call to work on the outskirts of West Bromwich for the day I find that traffic is light but that – it seems – every local primary school is taking the opportunity (in gorgeously continuing warm weather) to celebrate tomorrow’s Royal Wedding (Prince Harry and Megan Markle).

I am somewhat exhausted by the time I get home, but determined to get up to the plot and burn the gathered pile of dried-by-the-sun weeds and timber scraps. So, a speedy cup of welcome tea, then up to the business as the sun settles on the horizon.

As expected the pile in the falling-to-rusty-pieces brazier ignites immediately. There is little smoke and leaping flames and I am glad I made this decision. We are away next week, heading to Jersey, and Friday is the only day of the week on which are allowed to have fires. So a job out of the way. We are, indeed, running out of plot space to have fires.

I remove the weeds from the row of thornless blackberries, adding them to the brazier as I go.

Little Dave drops by: a welcome visitor. Especially as he is bringing some news about the boundary stand-off. Just maybe there is an end in sight? After at least three years it is about time! But, we have had these “nearly sorted” rumours before.

We discuss other things too: society, knife crime, living in London, the wedding tomorrow (funny how my allotment fingers try to turn that to weeding as I type), other plots, crop successes and failures. Dave is up to burn some cardboard packaging. They are having a new bathroom/ toilet/ shower combination and there are umpteen boxes and associated packing to get rid of. But he’s tired and I offer to burn the lot for him. He barrows it over and the fire is re-born, blazing the unwanted stuff away in less time than it takes me to type a sentence*.

Besides which it gives us chance to talk for a little longer.

He is a good man, Dave, but when he thanks me for the sixth time I stop him. This, surely, is what an allotment – or any proper – community is about: people helping each other out; it was no great issue for me, the fire was already lit and Dave has so often been there when we needed something.

He offers some wire line to help hold the thornless blackberries up.Great I tell him, just not this evening eh? He offers cuttings from his own blackberries … but not until the proper time, of course. Again, great! Then he offers the use of his rotavator to finish the plot digging and I am – just a little – offended. So far, more by luck than judgement, I have been hale and hearty enough to spade dig it all.


After Dave has left I sit on the Overseer’s Throne and watch the fire die out, every now and then hoeing up a few more weeds when the energy returns.  In sitting I can congratulate myself for making the decision to come up here and do this. And I observe the formations of what appear to be dung-flies beneath the canopy of the plum trees in whose shade the bench now sits. The very place where forty eight hours ago stood the blanketed pile of sheep manure. Where do flies put their legs when they are in flight? I know I am tired when I ask these profound questions. But, now it has been put in my mind I look anyway; to find the answer. The careful, hydraulic arrangement and settling of limbs that makes the aerodynamic shape, somehow a cross between da Vinci’s helicopter drafts, the real-life Sikorski Skycrane and animated cartoon archaeopteryx.


The sun lowers itself behind the cemetery fringe of mature trees: lime, sycamore and a copper beech. And it is time to leave.

Sitting out on the back lawn later I am pleased to see the return of swifts, fast flapping scimitar wings, and smaller house martins. I have been wondering where they got to, a little worried they hadn’t made it. But, reassuringly here they are.

I still haven’t noticed bats yet, but maybe they are there when I’m not. And, sadly, honeybees are few and far between.

A text message swoops in.  I find that we have been gifted thirty mail-order sweetcorn plants by someone known to my sister-in-law. Of course, seasoned allotmenteers, we refuse – almost – nothing. We can always find space for a few more. Oh for that rotavator I looked down my smug nose at just a few hours before eh?


 *OK, so I type with only two fingers and my sentences are, sometimes, grammar-torturingly long – but I hope you get the idea. Yes?

A Different Point of View

Forgive me if I start this post with reading. Forgive me and, if you please bear with me; I hope all will become clear. You have to understand that I love reading: Marvel* comics, gardening manuals, Sherlock Holmes, biographies, fiction, non-fiction, new books, classics and poetry. And, having read most of the books that immediately appeal to me in our local branch library I decided to try a “travelogue-stylee” effort  titled Walking Away from poet Simon Armitage. It’s not poetry, but a commentary on a walk he made, interspersed,, I seems, with readings en route at various – and varied – venues. And it contains this passage, which chimes so readily with an experience I detailed in Ravens?

“Montbretia has colonised some of the streams. Natural England don’t approve because it’s non-native, but Sir Hugh doesn’t mind it and neither do I. One species that he does object to, however, is ravens. They were here earlier in the summer and made such a din it could be heard from the Abbey, he says. It seems like an unreasonable prejudice, and also an unlikely story, but I keep nodding in agreement as he explains how his workmen have installed a height restriction at the top of the track to keep them out, like heavy duty goalposts and a crossbar, and only when he mentions that it took days to clear up the cans, bottles, needles and condoms do I realise that ravens aren’t the source of his irritation, but ravers.”

Then, back to our own back garden where we sat on a ten years old and more, repaired, repainted and patched wooden bench listening to a pair of tawny owls calling back and forth, somewhere in the dark, friendly warm and darkening distance. Weather has been delightfully warm, this is the third night we’ve been able to sit out, fire pit roaring. Stars are clear in the high skies by the time we creep back into the house which is, somehow colder than the great outdoors. The owls have been hooting for about a week now, new visitors to the area, and welcome.

We bought a new bench, self- assembly job, back in autumn in a sale, using a harvest of garden centre vouchers collecting from various birthdays, Christmases and grateful colleagues. The original plan (“it is better to have a plan than to have faith; you can more easily change a plan”) was to take this faithful, slightly rickety old friend up to the allotment. To sit on and view work completed, work in progress, to sit and think. Or, more likely, on some days, to simply sit and drink tea.

And, today, after a fine day spent up at the plot, putting up runner bean canes, weeding and sowing salad crop lettuce, we decide to put the new, all-white bench together. It is apparently a “New England” bench, the five pieces tied together in the cardboard packing with soft twine and a pack of eight Allen and four shorter self-tapping screws. Not forgetting the Allen key itself. This is Ultra-IKEA meets Lego. The only tool I have to supply is a screwdriver. The instructions are simple, straightforward and we get it set up in record time, with – surprisingly for me, no bruised fingers and no pieces left over. As idiot-proof as is possible then.

It’s simple white appearance is such a contrast to the warm wooden tones of the one it is replacing and those of the wood on which it  stands, obviously not only new, but newly born. But once it is settled in place on the freshly swept  “decking” (made from cargo pallets) above what we, laughingly, refer to as the “beach” it looks great. And it is comfortable – and, er, it actually fits (my measuring has never been reliable).

Sitting on it, with the ubiquitous cuppa, we are able to look across our back lawns and gardens, various sculptures and souvenirs on show after coming out of cold-weather storage, sit n sunshine, see sunrises, watch stars and moon; in short: watch another year unfold. No doubt in the process spotting the jobs that need doing and planning holidays, adventures and planting.

But, now we have a quandary. The three old high backed plastic beach chairs we have been using down in dell for fire-pit watching have been degraded by sunlight and have become unsafe and dangerously cracked and broken. The one I was perched on, unwisely leaning back on two legs, yesterday evening, broke in another important place and remaining on it introduced what must surely be a new yoga position to the world. That displaced  wooden bench is the perfect answer and means I don’t have to feel quite so guilty about replacing it with its brash new sibling.

So we lug it, feeling very heavy after the lightweight new one, into its new position. I promise myself that I will set to with wood glue to bind those loose joints at some –for now satisfyingly unspecified  – time  in the future.


 I have to log out some of the timber down there to make space, but it is good exercise and my mother is a grateful recipient of the ash, damson and willow logs.


*Other publishers are available and just as good.

The Death of Boots?

Sure enough, as predicted: rain. I make my own way to the site this morning but, even with a faster car, I am a little late in getting there (in my own mind at any rate). I change into rougher, site wear. There’s a wonderfully heavy high vis, waterproof coat to cover my layers and waterproof trousers too (thanks boss). The offer of wellington boots which I decline. We clamber purposefully about. The hole we dug yesterday is, unsurprisingly, full of water: field drainage and rainwater (essentially one and the same thing) because the neat excavation is, after all, a sump in the thick, stone-free red clay. We pump the water out, fidget the tank about, level it. Need to pump out the water again – that’s how fast the water is filling it!

Fret, discuss (not sure I’m much help in this) and plunge planks in to hold/keep the beast level. Start the infill tipping. Slowly, steadily; dry mix concrete will lap up the ground water. We nervously keep checking those essential levels. The electrician is back: cheerful, busy and focused on his role.

Swaddled in layers, trundling barrows of stone and sand, shoveling, climbing, I am definitely warm enough. And then some! My boots become at first caked, then encased in the thick gruel of clinging clay, cement powder and stones. The tread in the soles is filled in; traction is tricksy at best, maneuvering in the laps of the site gods. My boots become huge and force me to walk something like a pantomime version of Frankenstein’s creature. Slow me down. They refuse to be cleaned, kicking them on the ground, against the kerb, wiping them on longer grass does nothing at all.

But eventually the rain eases of. Becomes a warm, gentle fall. We are able to shed layers. The gloves we wear to protect our hands steam, drying out from the body heat we are generating. The house martins venture out once more and about their aerial ballet/dog fights again.

The tank, internal sections filled with ballast water, is holding steady by the time I have to leave. I need to get to my Reading Group meeting (Instruments of Darkness, which gets an overall average score of seven out of ten) and a lot of queries about why I appear so ruddy

“Aussi rouge qu’une pivoine,” says one member, born in France, then helpfully translates the idiom “as red as a peony.” Er, did she know, I wonder that the peony was one of my maternal grandmother’s favourite flowers? That we used to salute its rise from dead ground every spring, marvel at the cushions of petals?

Back at home, I ease my not-surprisingly aching joints with a bath, and then set to, fetching the accumulated stiff, dried-porridge debris off my boots with a broken-bladed butter knife. I wonder whether the boots will actually survive the punishment/treatment.


But they do. And so are ready to go up to the plot on Thursday, where strimming the grass paths can be deferred no longer.  In fact the footwear now feels so light in contrast to the deep sea diver’s boots I was dragging around yesterday. No wonder my knees and hips are giving me some stick! The strimmer is reliable, though it eats up plastic line at a rate of knots, and is defeating the sudden spring growth of grass, comfrey, brambles and assorted annual weeds in warm sunshine. There is a lot of land to bring under control. The spaces around the blackcurrant bushes, the margins of gooseberry and Worcester berry plantations and the four paths. I decide to leave a decent “headland” by the hedge, nettles will surely be used, I hope by butterflies for laying eggs. It is all looking good, when …

The line in the self feed mechanism jams beyond my mobile capacity to clear it. It will need the tools and strength I have after a cup of tea and some Digestive biscuits. So I traipse about the plot, feeling reassured by the overall tidiness of the vegetable plots, the emerging potatoes, the broad beans, pegs where radish and lettuce have been sown and the row of dogwood and hazel pea sticks that show where Hurst Green Shaft peas will eventually, late frosts permitting, pop up. But, while casting about I notice a piece of jewellery on the ground. By the pallet bench on the edge of, as yet unstrimmed grass. It is clearly not an expensive piece, brooch or whatever, but how did it get there?  There have been some thefts (mainly of timber) on the site. Is this evidence of some sort? At least it shows that trespass has been committed, doesn’t it? 

I decide to track down a committee member to let them know. Strolling up the slope I spot Cliff, deep in conversation with another plot holder (who is busy hoeing up annual weeds to tidy up his ground). As we excuse ourselves and move away a confident male blackbird hops down onto the soil; very close to the working end of the hoe.  This can be typical learned, opportunistic behaviour on gardens, the blade turns up food for the bird, the bird, symbiotically clears up pests and weed seeds. I think as we wander away, just who is taming who? That conundrum of the laboratory rat training the scientist to bring it food whenever it rings a bell echoes somewhere in what passes as my mind.

<b>Soil</b> is amazing – honestly, it is - Scottish Nature Notes ...

Cliff takes the information on board, but, in reality there is little hope of finding out who the thief is … less chance of this moving the allotment committee (proving toothless and apathetic in the main) or the parish council to get the “boundary dispute” settled so that a wall/fence/hedge can be put in place to add some semblance of security to the area.

About to leave the site I stop to talk with Tadpole Bob. I mention our theatre trips to the Nikolai Tesla presentation (very good, if overly educational) and Blood Money. He has just had some arthroscopy carried out on a knee. A follow up trip to a specialist has him believing the operation was unnecessary, that a knee replacement will be needed. But he is stoical about the prospects and we can smile about things (at least in public). Leaving him I bump into Richard who, it transpires has just had a knee replacement.

“Talk to Bob,” I tell him, “he’s just had some arthroscopy on his knee.”

“Oh,” says Richard, “I had that a year ago.”

Conspiracy theory? Case rested, surely?

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