The title came to me as an imaginary reading from the i ching. The photo is of a pretty ordinary patch of common weeds on the towpath.
It’s eight o’clock on Sunday evening. I spent most of the evening making bread and pastry while Madame prepped the filling for some Cornish pasties for tomorrow’s lunch with the boys (all in their thirties and forties now!) . We’re working together on our middle son’s allotment tomorrow to start building the greenhouse we dismantled a few weeks ago in Bath. It was going free and it was in pretty good condition and so he took it on. Apart from that we went up to the allotment early to beat the rain – that didn’t work – and so we plodded on through increasingly sharp showers to clear more beds, cover them with compost and sheet them up for the winter. By the time we got home we were very damp and very tired. I’d turned the three active compost bins, a very gratifying job because the resulting compost was some of the best we’ve ever made. It’s hard to overestimate the impact of soil fertility on allotments – it’s not just bigger crops, it’s healthier and more resilient soil which makes for healthier and more resilient plants. Our clay/loam soil which is prone to poaching and waterlogging is capable of withstanding flood and drought after three years of very heavy applications of organic material. “What’s the secret?” people ask, and the answer is “there’s no secret – just compost”. We stopped digging this year and the beds are firm enough to stand on now even when they’re wet. Goodness knows where it all goes, the asparagus bed swallowed up six inches of seaweed last winter and where we spread leaves as a mulch last autumn, there’s no trace of them now. What we do have is worms – everywhere. Did you know there are a number of British worm species? – and they all live at different levels, so the fact that we don’t see some on the surface doesn’t mean they’re not there.
I didn’t feel much like writing today, we were both so tired after the session on the allotment we fell asleep in the armchairs. But there’s something rather special about working in the rain. My broadbrimmed hat keeps the rain from running down my neck, and at this time of the year the rain and wind aren’t that cold.
I’m aware that writing about the allotment, the whole Potwell Inn way of life, travelling around in the campervan all adds up to a faintly mythologised life. But it’s not mythic at all, it’s all utterly ordinary. Things go well, things go extraordinarily badly; I read books all the time, some inspire me and some fill me with fear for the future. I know a few wildflowers so I’m never alone, there’s always something or someone to talk to. We work, cook, eat, garden – often in companionable silence. For every idea that bears fruit there are a dozen that don’t. The motivation for sharing by writing about it is that if we could teach more people to live within the ordinary – or perhaps I should capitalize it and call it the Ordinary, there would be a lot less sadness in the world. In a day or a week when not much happens except for leaning on a fence and watching the plants grow, I never feel the need for anything more exciting. A slice of bread from a well made sourdough loaf spread with home made marmalade in the morning is a celebration of some terribly underrated domestic skills. Good stock in the fridge and tonight the smell of pasties cooking in the oven, fresh veg from the allotment – what more could anyone want? – there is real authority in the Ordinary, the kind that makes many politicians look like two year old children in a tantrum.
The Potwell Inn isn’t some kind of metaphysical philosopy, in fact it’s the least metaphysical idea you could entertain. Stuff, dirt, earth, nature. Marvellous!