Today’s special

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There used to be  – may well still be – a building supply company down near the fruit and veg market in Bristol. The company was run by the friend of a friend, and they were very particular that they were “a specialist building supplier”  That’s to say although you could buy all manner of obscure and popular things on the builder’s mind, you could not buy sand and cement and other bulk supplies. This led to a good deal of good-humoured banter with customers who would deliberately request these unavailable items just for the fun of a firm but polite refusal – “I’m sorry sir, but we are a specialist building supplier”.

The reason I recall this is that this morning I’m pondering how best to avoid disappointing people who come to the Potwell Inn looking for something we don’t, (or can’t) supply. I suppose in the great Wild West of the blogosphere pretty well anything goes and, after all, a like is a like and a visitor is a visitor so why worry?  But I do worry.

At the top of the page is a carefully considered statement – it says: “A sceptic’s take on being human” . So it’s not a guide to being human in any sense not least because I’m a sceptic and I can’t buy into big systems and I’d be pretty crap at guiding anyone anywhere. But it also suggests that being human is a deeply puzzling business that isn’t just a given, like breathing. The Potwell Inn isn’t the destination but a place I can go to and feel a bit human.  It’s a left luggage office for memories, ideas, experiences and overheard conversations that people can come to to search for something they think they might have lost even though they can’t exactly name it.

And so in this restless business of being or becoming human there are some things I’ve discovered that seem to help. Firstly and above all there’s people, there’s eating and cooking, there’s growing things on the allotment and are books and poetry and the visual arts and there’s French Nouvelle Vague films and botany – and so the list goes on.  But this isn’t a blog about any of those things on the list although it includes them all. So I don’t do recipes or advocate any one particular way of running an allotment I don’t promote vegetarianism, veganism, paleo diets or anything lke that.  I just ramble on about stuff I’ve found that I like and stuff that makes me wonder why I don’t like.

I once worked for a tree man, a forester called Pat McGlyn. Knowing next to nothing about forestry I would help him out in all sorts of totally unskilled ways like directing traffic and dragging tree limbs around.  He was a pretty terrifying character -he had lost an eye blowing up tree roots, and in extremis when he was collecting a bad debt he would remove the glass one leaving a deep and horrifying hole there.  He usually got his money! We lost touch for  couple of decades and then one day he unexpectedly turned up at the door, obviously suffering from some sort of dementia. He said – “I know I know you but I can’t remember your name”. He’d parked his old Volvo outside and he was very proud of the fact that it was full from floor to ceiling with discarded artificial limbs which he was going to send to some war-torn corner of the Balkans where he thought they would be useful. We had several cups of coffee and talked about the various friendship groups he’d set up in troubled parts of the world. He drove away and I never saw him again. Being human comes in all sorts, shapes and sizes and Pat was uncompromisingly human.

On my last day working with him we stopped off for a pint on the way home somewhere near Castle Combe.  The pub was closing down for good that night, and he looked at the long mahogany bar and stroked it and pondered aloud about its beauty, the trees that had provided the timber for it and the history and all the conversations it had been a silent party to over the years. That old bar has become the bar at the Potwell Inn. We serve anybody here – fancy today’s special?  Game terrine, piccallili and sourdough bread and butter, every bit of it prepared in our kitchen and grown on the allotment.

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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