I’m afraid this is another ‘plucky triumph in the face of adversity’ type post. I slightly specialise in these, it seems, but hey. That’s just the kind of irrational optimist I am.
I realise I have been writing as if I am some kind of horticultural lone ranger, plodding along in my slightly odd garden. As such I have been rather leading you astray, as a massive amount of my gardening now is carried out as part of a big, happy gang. My husband and I have had our allotment for six years, possibly more. We actually got it before we even lived in the area, and then bought a house within two minutes walk of it. (Y’see, waiting-list languishers? You’re really not trying hard enough…) But from then on high points were a little hard to come by. The allotment, overall, has been a massive struggle. They are anyway, I think, but we had new babies: one, then two. Babies and allotments are a rubbish mix, especially the kind of squally babies mine were. And as soon as they reached the age where they could wander happily without falling and gashing their cheeks on a razor-sharp piece of snapped off bamboo, Michael got ill, and I ended up up there on my own a lot, or rather on my own with two hungry/thirsty/cold/hot/getting-sunburnt/soaked children. Not a lot was getting done, and I seriously contemplated ‘Doing a Perrone’ and chucking the thing in.
Instead, last autumn, I asked a couple of friends to come and help us out. It was instantly brilliant. They have a boy my son’s age and a girl my daughter’s age. The kids played, we worked. Then I got a bit carried away and asked another couple we know (with boy same age, girl same age) to join in too. And then another (girl same age as the boys, boy same age as the girls, for diversity).
It has totally changed the way I think about the allotment. For one thing it has turned it into a family weekend activity, far more satisfying than endlessly pushing a swing in a bleak, windswept playground. The kids run pretty wild up there (no complaints yet, tho’ they can’t be far off) but it’s great to see them doing proper ‘old-fashioned childhood’ things: climbing trees, making dens, finding little hideaways, er…eating other plotholders’ strawberries.
But it’s important for me as well. Since I first wrote about Michael’s illness, several people have been in touch with similar experiences, and a common thread is the falling away of friends. I can kind of understand why this happens. Everyone I know has young kids, a busy job, is pregnant, whatever. People have their own problems, and even though it’s really sad, I see that it’s inevitable that some people will slip away. But not this lot. I have found a way of forcing people to remain friends with me! We have to hang out together once a week, share food, work together. They ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Someone has usually baked. We sit and drink tea and eat cakes. There is a kind of lively, purposeful chaos. The members of my allotment gang ask me what they should do and I swan around, supervising, doing the glamour jobs, the sowing and planting. The other day I actually heard myself say, ‘Jane, could you water those cabbages I’ve just planted’. Ha! If we were a bit more ethnically diverse, wore trendier clothes and were filmed in Super 8 film we could make it onto some sun-soaked, middle-class paradise type telly programme. We truly should be in the Boden catalogue, at the very least. That’s how good it is.