I was digging away quite merrily on the Salvation Army allotment yesterday, when I heard Franco let himself in with an annoyed clang of the chains on the gates. He hates the fact that we are now supposed to lock the gates, and as I'd just locked them for the second time after they'd been left open, when he called me over, I thought he was annoyed with me.
"Young lady, young lady!" he called, "I don't know your name..."
I told him. "Maria?" he said.
I corrected him, for what it was worth - not a lot where my name is concerned - I shall probably be Maria now for the rest of my life with him, but I have been called worse - far worse.
He pointed to a pile of brown twigs on the path. I've got used to our mutual path being littered with planks, plastic bags, tubs full of water, weeds, and recently, even an old car mat.
But he explained that the twigs were the tops of his perpetual spinach plants which he had allowed to flower and set seed and dry out, and he was now offering to let me help myself to whatever I needed for the following year. "Sow them in April," he said, "no earlier."
I thanked him very much, and helped myself, resolving in future to save more of my seeds, like the Italians do. After all, why pay more?