I’m not as young as I was

Philosophically speaking that statement is always undeniably true, but these last two days have offered plenty of reminders – not least my 72nd birthday on Monday followed by our 51st wedding anniversary today. Who’d have believed you were that old? (I rather hope I) hear you say but after a day on the allotment building paths and beds I believe I am a little older than the 35 I usually admit to. Sunshine in December is never to be ignored and the broad bean plants have germinated and are heading towards unruly adolescence so the question of preparing the bed for them is not theoretical. But the recent rain has saturated the ground, and so the allotment is saturated at about 12″ below the surface making it imperative to get beds and paths workable as soon as we can or else we shall be driven off the land altogether for months.

So at last the east-west path is completed and filled with about 6″ of woodchip.  Our two plots are side by side so it’s a very long path and quite a feature.  I’ve been mulling over whether I should give it a name – 5th Avenue or Broadway, in honour of several lovely trips to New York.  But being just a bit rigid about these things I felt that those rather hyperbolic names should be reserved for the north south paths, so that leaves something like Columbus and West 103rd for the new path.  I rather like biblical names as well, and I’d almost decided to call the water butts Tigris and Euphrates however that leaves one butt without a name, but it does suggest the possibility of Straight Street for the new path. I realize that American readers are more likely to be biblically literate than our fellow UK allotmenteers, but the small problem of two nations divided by a single language becomes clear with “butt”.  So I’ll let the whole question of giving names to paths rest for the time being.

The practicality of pegging the boards is always made much harder when it’s wet. If the pegs are wet they split when you hammer them in, but even if you keep them dry you need to make quite a large hole with a crowbar to get them started, and the wet clay sucks the end of the bar to the extent that it requires heroic strength to pull it out again. Madame told me that my grunts and curses were providing great entertainment to passers by on the footpath.  Obviously she told me that after we got home! However I did finally get about 40′ of edging in, at which point I realized that we would need prodigious quantities of topsoil to raise the beds above the wet zone and level with the top of the boards. The earth is hungry and seems to absorb an awful lot of compost, seaweed, leaf mould and manure, but it is slowly improving. I did a quick calculation and I think each bed would need approximately 1.3 tonnes of topsoil to bring it level.  That’s about £75 per bed and we’ve got eight beds that need raising – that’s £600 and I dread to think how many wheelbarrow loads. Way beyond our budget and frankly I’m not a fan of throwing money at the problem in any case.  So that leaves all the free methods we’ve access to, and a big effort on the compost front.  Time and patience solves most problems, and gives the allotment a kind of ecological integrity.

Later, with our wedding anniversary fast approaching we sat side by side on the bed rubbing a shared tube of Voltarol into our sore knees in a companionable sort of way.  There are some scenes you can never imagine when you’re twenty one years old. It’s not the capacity to do the jobs that’s lacking, it just takes a lot longer to recover.  But I’m feeling immensely proud of what we’ve achieved and I’m so looking forward to next season.  Suddenly there’s a foretaste of spring in the air.  We woke today to the sound of  a blackbird singing.  It’s often like that hereabouts,  we get a taste of the season to come and then the door slams shut for a few months, but it will come with a new beginning and new challenges.

I’m sitting on the seed order, unwilling to commit to just one selection.  I feel like a child in a sweet shop.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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