I seem to have a thing about shoes. Here I am at the allotment on a blissful May morning wearing shoes that are more hole than sole. It has taken me a while to get back here. I never thought it would take me this long but anyway here I am. I worked through the winter and it was just me and my allotment neighbour. There was very little to do because I’m not a fan of brassicas which tends to be the over-wintering vegetable family. I can’t quite remember what I did now; I think I walked around the perimeter edging everything which is a fantastic way to dispense rage. Having an edger slicing through the soil as if it was pizza is one of the great gardening devices and should be given out by the NHS. If in doubt, edge.
So, anyway, I had bowel surgery – ‘your op’ is how it has been renamed perhaps to make it more cuddly – so then when spring came along, I was unable to do anything except watch as weeds burgeoned, spreading over the formerly pristine and frozen bare ground. Finally, the plot became as I first found it: a wildly waving sea of green. There were no distinguishing features except huge rhubarb jazz hands, flopping ears of anemones, ragged tulips, molehills, dry and gorgeously rich. It reverted to its natural state as if I had never existed. Fair enough.
Now that I have been away, there is the temptation to do things differently. To be changed in some hard to define way that will express itself in my writing and in my day to day life, in the choices I make, the direction I go in. What I grow. There is pressure, coming I admit from me alone, that because I have ‘been through something’ – something ‘major’ – things will be different now. For a start, I’m off sugar and any kind of sweetener for the time being. This initially was hard, awful in fact because sweetness is a kind of basic primal need. I understand that carrots are sweet, but so is a slice of almond cake dripping in citrus syrup accompanied by a cup of tea, delicious and ordinary in equal measure. And I’ve never been someone who would take cheese over pudding. I wish I was a savoury person, but I have been known to stare at pictures of pudding for long silent minutes. I just gravitate there.
The truth is I’m the same but my habits have changed. And carrots are sweet. And though there is something perversely satisfying about pulling out weeds, the long slow rip of threads of a root system, the harmless throwing into the next plot of slugs and snails that I can’t bring myself to kill, the bald earth free of stuff, the wild part of the allotment that remains is really exciting. It defeats me, just looking at it. It is hoary, hairy, it slumps and rises alarmingly. Fruit bushes are hemmed in by unknown green objects. The things I have planted nearby – my dwarf mulberry tree – look genteel and a bit prim. A bit Barbara Pym.
For now I’m going to let this second half of the plot be, there’ll be a bit of binary going on. There is the right side, which has now, thanks to some elbow grease and some dainty plantings of potatoes, French climbing beans, sweet peas, a renewed herb patch become respectable and will pass muster with the allotment manager. And there is the left side, a wild and unkempt mess of weeds throttling the fruit, a prairie of long grasses, dandelion clocks and nettles and clover. I can’t yet bring myself to rip it all up. It is doing a job.
And there’s no rush. I suppose what is to be relished here, at the allotment at 8am on a Monday morning, is that there is nothing to be done. Apart from the fact that there’s a lot to do and tricky, life-defining things happen and you’ve got to seize the day and we are all so fragile when you come to think about it. I love the allotment because it makes me feel so overrated. I know I should crack on, but maybe not today. Whatever, really. My aim is to live whateverishly for a while.