Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Salvation Army allotment

I was just picking the few runner beans that remained, when the old Italian couple passed by. I hadn't seen them for a couple of weeks, and had noticed that their allotment was getting overgrown, and I had been worried that one of them might be ill - the woman has a bad limp and walks with a stick.

Oh no, they said, they'd been on holiday. "To Italy - to my country," said the old man. Of course, I thought, why didn't I think of that? Although I got the impression that most of them went to Italy in November, after work on the allotments was finished for the year. They were both okay, but they were upset about the fact they'd lost nearly all their tomatoes to blight. "You go away for two days..." he said, and she added, "Waste of time! Complete waste of time!"

I looked at my tomatoes, and saw that the blight had so engulfed them within the last week that there was no option but to pull them up and bring home what green tomatoes remained untouched. They would succumb to the blight indoors, but some might ripen before that. (I meant to go back down after six pm and burn the haulms, but I got distracted).

John came out from his house while I was doing this, and began to dig over his runner bean patch. He grows his runners in the same place every year, and has metal posts driven into the ground on which he mounts the frame for bean sticks. He digs with a long handled fork, and seems to dig with ease, despite his 80+ years. "Occupational therapy, I calls it," he began, and we had a little chat as I was pulling up the last of my tomatoes.

"What are they doing up the end?" he asked. He meant the other half of my allotment - for it isn't mine, but belongs to the Salvation Army."What are they doing up the end?" he asked. He meant the other half of my allotment - for it isn't really mine, but belongs to the Salvation Army. I lived in the Salvation Army hostel up until April last year, and I took on the allotment, which was neglected in the January of that year. I'd got three-quarters of it up together, when they decided to try to make their residents work for their keep, and took back half the allotment this Spring.

It was disastrous. Their half is now in a worse state than when I handed it over to them. I had half of it clean of weed roots and I had dug the other half over three times. They must have been down about a dozen times, no more, over the course of the summer, with only one or two of the same people coming more than once, and they hadn't a clue. One lot would decide to dig it over, and they did this a further three times, not bothering to bend down and take out a single bindweed or couch grass root, so they just grew back. They planted a few rows of this and that, but it all failed through lack of attention. The residents weren't allowed to make any decisions, so had no real motivation to care about what happened. Things were sown or planted too late (including two rows of potatoes in August, would you believe!). And they didn't even bother harvesting anything: I had donated one row of strawberries, the two rows I had planted last year marking the dividing line between the two halves of the plot - but they didn't even bother eating them, and now their potatoes are being eaten by the slugs.

I told John I hadn't seen anyone on the plot for five or six weeks. He seems to think they'll see sense sooner or later and hand it over to me, but I don't think that'll happen any time soon. I know how things work up there. I know the Enterprise Officer, and I've emailed her in the past on the subject. She is obstinate that they will make a go of it. Hah! But I think she's beginning to see what she's taken on in the job now, and is beginning to have her doubts. Because every time she gets a resident who shows any interest and learns anything, they leave: that's in the nature of things - the best ones are the first to leave. It's only the real dossers or the hopeless alcoholics who stay there for years.

Anyway, we both sighed and threw up our hands, and I returned to my tomatoes, thinking, il faut cultiver notre jardin, and when they were done, decamped to the Cat allotment to dig my regulation two rows for the day.

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