Allotment Honeymoon

Crazy about a plot of land

‘We’re gona have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and live off the fatta the land’, says George to Lennie in the classic American tragedy ‘Of Mice and Men’, a novel that I taught for fifteen years and know pretty much off my heart, along with all the themes, motifs, figures of speech and structural features. Now I also know the dream of land and why it’s so important as I walk the mile to my new allotment, with my spade at my side and a snack and drink in my rucksack.

This morning I could have written a journal for my counselling course, done some housework, gone to the gym or tidied up a bit before my daughter and her boyfriend arrive for a visit. But the lure of the allotment won out and once again I wondered up to the grassy, brambly, overgrown rectangular plot, 8 X 10.5 metres, that I can now call mine. It’s actually the council’s, but never mind that. My mum had an allotment for twenty odd years and I remember thinking it so tedious when I went to see it. She gave the kids little sections to cultivate in whichever way they chose. Abi had a flower garden, Kirstin had vegetables, Billy had a mix, and they all had sunflowers. They all enjoyed it but I used to drop them off and collect them with complete bewilderment at what the fuss was about.

My morning companion

I’m not sure what’s changed but gardening has grown on me over the years. I like to be physical and strong and enjoy working hard, and renovating the Victorian house that we bought has reinforced the sense of satisfaction when a tough job is completed. Hiring a concrete breaker and removing most of a kitchen floor (my stepson did some, too) was an absolute joy. Making concrete crumble into piles of rubble that could be removed to reveal the original brick floor which was then transformed again into modern polished concrete for a modern family kitchen made me feel productive in an act of creative transformation. I also liked the aching shoulders and the happy tiredness because I knew that part of me was going into the house in the form of my labour and my energy.

I think the allotment taps into this same energetic drive as I’ve spent three sessions now digging over grass and pulling out huge weeds and stinging nettles. I’ve piled up wood, netting and beer bottles left by the last allotmenter and sat in between efforts with my water bottle, admiring the evidence of my efforts. This morning, I munched on some chocolate covered almonds and realised that I’d got stronger as I managed to dig for an hour and fifty minutes instead of getting exhausted after an hour. There’s now a wholesome looking strip of soft, brown, crumbly soil with none of the irritating builders’ rubble found in gardens. It’s inviting, healthy and full of enormous, helpful worms, along with an extremely friendly robin who has visited on each occasion hoping to grab one.

The other allotmenters are friendly so far. My mum recalls when she started and all the others were sexist old men who told her that the last woman ‘didn’t last long’ and ‘didn’t do much’. She went on to win the ‘best kept allotment’ award for two years running so screw them! There are lots of women at the Barnby Road allotments and it’s good to see that times have changed. I do not have my mum’s green fingers but I do understand now what she loved about her plot. It’s peaceful, in the way that there is literally no sound except the fork crunching into the soil, the wind howling through the trees, a loose bit of somebody’s fence tapping away in the distance and your own hard breathing as you work up a sweat that’s more productive than any weight lifting in the gym.

I hope to get the plot cleared myself. Alan with the rotivator could do it for me for a charge of £30 but I’ve got stuck in now and I’d like to put myself into the work as I put myself into the wallpaper stripping, floor digging and wall-painting in the house. I want that allotment to have my energy in the soil and the produce that we grow. I’ve learned about green manure, plastic sheeting and where to get seeds at a discount and I’m good to go. Tim will be the shed man and the designer of an aesthetically pleasing outcome and Mum will be the consulting expert.

Abi at her Grandma’s allotment

Decisions decisions

The frozen state of instant indecision

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Over the past year, these are some of the things that I’ve told my friends: ‘We are going to adopt a dog’, ‘we’ve applied to become foster carers’, ‘we are getting an allotment’, ‘we’re planning to rescue some chickens’, ‘we’re going to Canada to see my brother’, ‘we’re not going to do any more long-haul flights’, ‘I’m going gluten free’ and ‘I’m applying for a job at a nursery’. There are probably dozens more and frankly I’d be amazed if anybody believes anything I say.

When I say the plans, I mean every word of it. But when life changes so completely and at such a fast pace, it’s almost impossible to make sensible and realistic plans. Over the last few years, we’ve gone from owning three different houses (long story) to owning and living in one, to our own vast relief (although there’s enough stuff in this house for three, and that’s another post). I’ve paid off a mortgage. Our youngest sons have both become independent. I left my teaching job after fifteen years and am now a supply special needs teacher for my local council. I can work whatever hours I like, as long as I do a minimum of ten hours a week. This new life is a big experiment as I calculate my new earnings at my new hourly rate, with no holiday or sick pay. I’m also training to be a counsellor, through evening classes at a college in Lincoln. For years I was restricted by school hours, timetables, planning and marking, and now, although still working, there’s more freedom.

First, there was the fostering idea. Through my years as a teacher, I’ve always loved the troubled kids with their pain manifesting itself in a million difficult ways. I’ve had children in my classes who shout, scream, walk out in a temper, try to ingratiate themselves with me whilst ignoring instructions or distracting the class at every opportunity. I’ve had students with challenging behaviour put into my class from elsewhere because I could keep them in the room. The secret to this is, surprisingly, to treat them with kindness and unconditional positive regard (a great counselling term). Helping these children to have a go, to trust that they won’t be in trouble, to see them realise that they will always and only be met with kindness, has always been incredibly rewarding.

When I got increasingly tired and frustrated with teaching in schools, and could finally afford to take a pay cut, I was delighted to accept this special needs work. But I can’t afford not to work at all, so fostering is out of the question. I discovered that the ideal foster carer is around for visits, pickups, school meetings and problems during the day. There’s also the indisputable fact that my husband would be unlikely to react very well to potential police visits, destruction, mess or rudeness. Nothing wrong with that; it’s better to be honest. It’s no secret that I have fewer boundaries than most people, am rarely shocked and have pretty endless patience. These qualities are ideal in the job that I’m in and I get to work with kids who need me. So that’s all sorted for now!

Adopting a dog. See above. Not going to happen. I can’t help but wonder how people DO have dogs! All I’ve read makes it clear that they shouldn’t be left for more than four hours. Does everybody get a dog sitter or a walker? Really? It’s pretty expensive to do so. As a perfectionist, I would want to be the perfect dog mum and leaving it all day wouldn’t work for me! I did go gluten free because I read that it can help with Graves disease, which I am undergoing tests for. However, the bread is the worst thing I have ever eaten and it’s not vegan, so that’s on the back burner for now. I’m sorry for people who have coeliac disease and I hope they make you better bread, soon.

Supply teachers don’t get paid in the holidays, so I have applied to work as bank staff at my local nursery. I’m quite looking forward to working with littluns again to be honest. This one was a decision that I definitely made well. Another one was planning to go to Canada to see my family over there and, other than that, no long-haul flights. In fact, no flights at all.

Having time, space and fewer financial commitments presents so many choices that it’s overwhelming sometimes! But the one thing I’m really glad I decided to do was to get an allotment and rescue some battery hens. The allotment is now ours. It’s a mess. I’ll need to take considerable time clearing and rotivating the overgrown plot. It’s right next to a field and I’ve already met the resident Mr Robin, who hangs about hopefully waiting for worms. There are inspirational plots around me for all the good ideas. I’m excited about the future raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Tim is excited about sprouts, cabbage and potatoes. We are both waiting for our first rhubarb moment. Being allotment and chicken parents will be a new high.

Younger me would have scoffed at this sedate life of allotment plans and part-time work. It’s not what I dreamed of as a young woman, although even back then my dreams were mostly to do with raising a family and earning enough to afford the odd holiday. I never longed for a life of glamour. Success is about being happy with a life of our choosing, not making a load of dough and wafting about in overpriced clothes in a house with a gym and a pool. I would like a gym in the house, to be fair.

Making big decisions is difficult and making these sorts of ‘how shall I curate my life now’ decisions is also a challenge. But trying them out for size, speaking them to friends and then carefully sifting through the possibilities is possibly the most fun opportunity I’ve ever had the privilege to engage in. Hurrah for midlife, allotments and rescue battery hens!

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