Going to the wall.


If I had to spend the next three or four months staring at a wall I wouldn’t mind too much if it was this one at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. However that’s not going to be possible so it’s the magnolia – no, not the tree, the emulsion paint. We don’t actually feel very vulnerable, but everyone, from our children to the Spaffer in Chief keeps telling us both that we are and so I suppose we must be.  

Our individual vulnerability isn’t confined to the prospect of becoming infected with coronavirus, although that would be bad enough, because the effects on our whole society will be much worse. In the last 24 hours two of our three sons have discovered that they’ll probably lose their jobs and in one case his home – they’re both chefs and one of them has three children, one of whom is exceptionally vulnerable due to a genetic disorder. Our third son is working around the clock to try to mitigate the effects of school closure on the most vulnerable children; those who will go hungry, those in violent and abusive homes, those who are self-harming and need daily support – not to mention trying to arrange effective home education for all the others. The National Health Service is coming rapidly to resembling the scenario of MASH (you have to be old to get the reference), and meanwhile our deep dependence on Europe is about to be demonstrated as the lockdowns in France, Italy and Spain cut off the source of much of our fresh produce – and now it seems possible that we shall be trying to keep the family show on the road with one income, two pensions and two allotments which have yet to produce any substantial crops because it’s so early in the season. Even the words “I told you so” taste like ashes in the mouth; there’s little comfort – even in anger.

And so we do the calculations of profit and loss here at the Potwell Inn. We’re pretty much confined to the flat except that we intend to carry on driving up to the allotment where we can self isolate quite effectively while we exercise as per government fiat. Our travel plans are all cancelled for the time being because we’re not supposed even to drive over to the campervan. We’ve booked weekly deliveries from the supermarket for the next month and we’ll rely on the boys for any other supplies. On the plus side I’ve assembled all the books and information I need and so my ‘staying sane’ project – apart from the allotment – is to try get my head around the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) system – not all of it but just the grassland sections. Meadow Foxtail – I’ve got you in my sights, and when we eventually get back out into the fields I hope, at last, to be able to nail the grasses.

There are so many wall-based metaphors I could use here: ‘going to the wall’, ‘turning to the wall’, ‘hitting the wall’ ‘going up the wall’ and they all have their applications within the Potwell Inn. This quote from Lenin was re-posted by a friend this morning.

“there are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Perhaps this is the moment, the turning point when we take stock of our place on the earth, of our fragility; the ephemeral nature of our individual lives and of the related and hubristic ideologies that have brought us to the point where nothing seems to be working any more. The economic system has been exposed as a Ponzi fraud, food security is demonstrably broken, health and social care are collapsing and the earth is gripped by an environmental crisis.  The Spaffer in Chief and his courtiers have taken to the beaches.  In previous generations anyone who believed himself to be the reincarnation of Winston Churchill would have been sectioned and looked after in a secure hospital, but enthroned among the union flags, they have commanded the tide to turn. The tide is not minded to obey the commands of any man.

Is there cause for hope? There’s always cause for hope but it lives within human community, love, mutual respect and cooperation, not grandstanding and complacent talk of strong government. Yes we feel vulnerable – for our family this could be a calamity – so we’ll get our heads down and give it everything we’ve got because that’s what the Potwell Inn is all about.  But when it’s all over things will have to change.






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.

One thought on “Going to the wall.”

  1. Will keep your family in our thoughts, and hope the weather cooperates for a bountiful allotment season for you. Be safe and healthy.

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