Already this is an entirely dated picture. A week in allotment time is six months in normal. The California poppies have collapsed beneath the weight of their stems, the central path has become powdery and yellowed under the harshness of the sun. Bees like mauve. So they are still feasting, swarming over the borage, the geraniums, the sweet peas and the lavender. What’s left, just, are the nasturtiums, redly hot and peppery, calendula, verbena bonariensis (I never got round to finding a replacement for my frostbitten lemon verbena, so I have mint tea instead, a few hairy leaves in some boiled water can be a virtuous start to the day).
The heat requires shade. I am growing, from a root cutting given me by an allotment friend, a grape vine which is still in its curly glossy beginnings. It went into shock at first, a state I know well. But it has recovered. The plan is to train it over a structure and then sit under it with a Pimm’s getting steadily drunk, with ice cubes. See borage flowers below for cucumber notes.
I still find that the allotment works for me. It doesn’t stop anxiety, over-thinking, self-absorption, worry, but it diverts them into small achievable tasks. And before you know it, you’re semi normal again! You’ve just had a conversation with someone! You strung a sentence together. I find that time passes and at the end I’ve been delivered into my body again, for free. Well, £70 a year is quite reasonable if the brief is: grow vegetables and some fruit and find sanity.
I cycled to the allotment on Friday to pick something for dinner, sorrel, some parsley, a few gooseberries dusty in my hand; whatever looked easy and pickable. It was early evening, a time I find ripe with difficulty (what have I achieved today? Ever? Etc). I met two children on the path, five and a half and seven years old they told me, who came with me to help me pick. The boy was barefoot. I had never met them before but we became instant friends, not sure how this happened but they trooped over to my plot to help me full of chatter and questions. Do you have any pets? The boy asked. No. Not a dog? Not a cat? No. This worried him, I could tell.
We picked some radishes and marvelled at their perfect spherical shape and hot pink colour. Do you like radishes? No, they both said. Too spicy. But they enjoyed washing them under the tap, revealing their perfect pinkness, glimmers of white beneath, the pink shorn away by bite marks. Have a nasturtium, I said, and the boy put a petal in his mouth and instantly looked aghast. What were we doing eating flowers? He stood there, face shut in some internal torment of wrongness. I can’t eat this, he said quietly, and spat it out.
He was quickly diverted by the task of separating out equal bouquets of radishes to take back to their mum. I’d forgotten how ferocious this can be, making sure it was ‘fair’. The girl had all the big ones, so a reshuffle was required. As we walked back with our stash, this happened.
Boy to me: What are you going to eat with your vegetables?
Me: I think I might have some fish.
Boy (excited): So you DO have pets?
See what I mean? Diversion. Meeting people. Radishes. Pets. Children. Barefoot. Bike.
And then I felt normal. Happy summer holidays to you all.
P.S These are borage flowers. They have the merest hint of cucumber about them. You can add them to salads and ice cubes to put in drinks if you fancy. They lack the kick and personality of nasturtiums but are very pretty.