Today I went down to the allotment, armed with the pruning saw to deal with the sycamore tree that is smothering our little apple tree. The sycamore grows through the fence separating Suspicious Colin's plot from mine, and there is some disagreement as to whose monstrosity it is, but I have a pruning saw of my very own, donated by the Lovely Son when he sensibly stopped being a tree surgeon, so I guessed it should be my job; I rather like using a pruning saw, not so girly as secateurs, though not so often needed. Now, the sycamore is an unlovely thing, growing as it does through a length of sagging chain link fencing, and it is obvious that over the years other people have tried to tame it, mainly by crude butchery, so I feel none of my usual feeble-minded compunction about sawing branches off it myself.
And it was Saturday morning, so the regulars, all the old codgers, would be down there, bored with having nothing left to do on their own immaculate veg beds, and instead spending their time sucking their teeth in disapproval of mine. And various others' as well - I am not the only person who has a scruffy and ill-kempt plot, but, to judge by the reminder notices posted liberally over the site, I might well be the only scruffy person to have paid her rent this year.
But there wasn't a soul about. Even Eddie the Poisoner was absent, and living as he does in a high rise tower block, it has to be something special to keep him from his outdoor hobby. Mysterious. Had I missed some wild summer solstice celebration last night, amongst the potatoes and Brussels sprouts, that everyone else was now recovering from?
Undeterred, I slashed head-high nettles to give myself somewhere to stand without inviting undue suffering, cut offending branches, chucking them as deterrents over the fence where vandals usually try to get in, and watered the tomatoes, which are at that early promising stage where they haven't yet signalled that they are probably going to die at any moment. I gazed despondently at the potatoes, which looked stunted and reluctant, like Victorian children of the poor at the Ragged Schools; only there because they had no choice, but still pale and feeble. I picked some strawberries, now in their last year (we say this every year, but somehow always forget to dig them up and start afresh), and I had a little tidy, which made no difference at all. The dog did her usual where-sheep-may-safely-graze act, and ate grass, of which I have a great deal. If she was more orderly about it, she could keep the path clear, but she doesn't have a methodical approach to grazing. A little goat might be more useful, and more fun - would one have to pick up after a goat? I haven't seen signs warning of £1000 fines for letting your goat foul in the streets.....
Then I had a long hard look at the whole allotment, and in one of those rare moments of clarity saw what I must do, as an alternative to admitting defeat and giving up half of the allotment altogether. I would stop feeling guilt and despair at my failure to control rampant nature of the ugliest sort, i.e. weeds and slugs, and instead I would grow another crop of green manure in the beds where this year only weeds and stones thrive. This would craftily conceal my failure to have cleared, manured, weeded, dug to a fine tilth (and that's a gardener's dead giveaway, let me tell you - fine tilth says sad person with no social life and a good dollop of OCD....) before the planting season, and I could then state with conviction that I was resting half the plot, and improving the soil at the same time. And green manure is so easy, and grows so fast! Yes, it looks like luxuriant weeds, but only to the uninitiated.
The old codgers might be appeased, the rule about two-thirds having to be under cultivation would be obeyed, and I could then put some time and energy into the remaining half of the plot, laying paths, making raised beds with proper sturdy edges, and maybe even relocating the pond once the invisible tadpoles had hatched, to an area that does not have massive trees waiting to drop all their leaves into it in the autumn. I shouldered my pruning saw, called my frisky lamb, I mean, grazing dog, and pootled off home with my scrawny little strawberries and the satisfaction of a Cunning Plan. Next time I shall bring the nails and mend the front fence, which collapsed the other day, leaving the home-made gate looking a little foolish. I might also make a sign for the gate: Beware of the Lambgoatdog.