There are some peculiar people in this world. I realise this may come as a bit of a shock to you, for which I apologise. I advise a cup of tea and a bit of cake to steady the nerves. It is a panacea that cures pretty much all ills. I have drunk a LOT of tea and eaten my bodyweight in cake over the last few days and now feel (and look) as stately as a galleon.
Loyal readers of my increasingly sporadic scribblings will be aware that I have an allotment. I used to have one in the 1990s but gave it up after a couple of years because it was quite a way from my flat at the time, and I was working full time and had a social life. Cue 20 years later, a different husband, a different town, no job and no social life, and I decided I wanted to revisit growing my own veggies and found there was a large 4-acre allotment site no more than 5 mins walk from my house. So I put my name down for a plot and, within a few months, was allocated one. I started a blog about it - From Weeds to Seeds - where I posted about starting the plot from scratch, what I planted, a bit of local history, interacting with the foxes and discovering a buried cache of weird religious photographs.
If you can be arsed to head on over there, you'll see that the last posting on that blog is in February this year, at the beginning of the season. This was because I was beginning to fall out of love with the allotment. I'd been there since the beginning of 2008 so this year would be my fourth season. I do it all myself which is both a blessing and a curse. It's nice to have a space outside that is my own, where I can sit on my green plastic garden chair outside my little shed and watch the birds wheeling in the enormous sky while I think my inconsequential little thoughts. But also because I'm female and naturally lack a great deal of physical strength, as well as having a bit of a rubbish back that will dislocate parts of itself if I, for instance, have the audacity to pull a shopping trolley behind me, I find the necessary heavy digging to be difficult. I'm not whinging about it, it's just the way it is.
So, to be honest, I found myself last year doing less and less down there, and began to feel that the allotment was becoming more of a burden than a pleasure. I started to give serious thought to giving it up, even though we have both hugely enjoyed eating the veggies and fruit that I've managed to produce over the years. And when I remembered that, I started thinking that maybe I should hang on to the plot after all. But then I thought of the back problems I'd suffered and how disheartening it is to spend hours working there only for it to look as if you've not even touched it and I wanted to give it up again. And then I started thinking about the economic climate and how Western civilisation looks like it's about to crumble and that, perhaps, it might just be sensible to hold onto the plot after all so that, if necessary, we would have food to eat (we like to be prepared in our house! And we do possess a fine sense of impending catastrophe....). I was, as you can see, oscillating wildly from one perspective to another. Wanting to give it up but not give it up. A conundrum, if you will.
So, as of last week, I'd grudgingly decided that I might as well give the plot one more year and see how I felt after that. I went down there - I'd not been for about a month or so - in order to tidy the plot a bit, dismantle the bamboo pole wigwams, pull up the sweetcorn plants and bolted lettuces, that sort of thing, and start planning where to lay the black weed-suppressant fabric that I bung down over the winter and which makes spring weeding that much easier. I felt quite good about it, especially as I noticed that quite a few other plots on the site were just as overgrown and tatty as mine had got (they always get grotty at this time of year anyway).
Then, last Friday, I received a letter in the post, from the Allotment Committee, basically telling me to 'vacate or cultivate', as following a recent inspection mine wasn't up to standard and that I had a month to sort it out or they would take it away from me and give it to someone on the waiting list.
And then I thought about it and decided it was very odd. The annual inspection of all the plots takes place in June or July and if anyone's plot is not up to standard, then a letter is sent out shortly afterwards. I received no letter in the summer and had been quite confident at the time that the plot would be okay, as I had put a lot of hours into tarting it up for the inspection. I don't like the fact that there's an inspection as I don't particularly like being judged, but do understand the need for it - if you're not actively cultivating your plot then it'll grow weeds that will set seed all over the rest of the site, onto others' plots, and if there's a waiting list it's unfair to those on it if you can't be bothered to do something with yours so you might as well free it up. There's also the not inconsiderable point that the local council is always on the lookout for building development sites and we know for a fact that they'd love to get their hands on our site - they were fended off successfully a few years ago. A 4 acre site in greenbelt Surrey would be worth an absolute fortune. By not actively using your plot, you're playing into their hands and once the site has gone, it will never come back again.
But this letter read as if there had been a second, later, inspection, one that no-one had known about. And I had been judged and found wanting. I was pretty pissed off about this but grudgingly accepted that I had let the plot slip post-inspection, as I was thinking of giving it up anyway, so, obviously, I must have failed. I decided, then, that I would give it up after all, especially now after receiving this damning letter. Yes, I was feeling a bit flouncy about it.
The letter said that I could clear the plot of whatever plants I wanted to, and remove any structures, so I contacted my brother (who has a veg plot in his garden) and told him I was giving up the plot and did he want my fruit bushes and also my shed? He most certainly did.
My next port of call was to drop an email to the steward of my half of the site and let her know that I'd received the letter and was confirming that I would be giving up the plot, and that the site would be cleared as soon as possible, but bearing in mind that my subs were paid up until February 2012, could it be confirmed that I would have until then to do the work, rather than the 28 days as stated in the letter?
This is where this long rambling blog post starts to get interesting.
The steward I contacted replied by email a few days later to all the plot-holders saying that several people had received the same letter, including - bizarrely - herself. She said that even though the letter had come out on official notepaper, it had not been officially sanctioned by the committee who had, in fact, known nothing about it at all! There had been no second inspection (the reason it's done in the summer is because that's when the plots will naturally look their best and most productive - everyone knows they look rubbish at this time of year) and there currently isn't a waiting list for a plot. And my plot had passed the summer inspection, as I thought it had. It transpires that someone else - we'll call him H - on the site had taken it upon himself to perform his own, personal, inspection of everyone's plot and then managed to get the letters sent out.
The poor steward that I had emailed had been contacted by a load of extremely pissed-off people who had, rightly, got the hump about the letters and now she'd been burdened with having to do a lot of fire-fighting that was not of her - or the committee's - making! I've been informed that I can ignore the letter completely.
How bizarre. And just how power-crazed do you have to be to do that sort of thing? And to what purpose? If everyone that he wrote to decided to leave their plot, and there's no waiting list, then the site's just going to get more and more overgrown. Is there some kind of vendetta going on here? I have no idea. I've only spoken to him a couple of times - a brief chat, nothing more, and he seemed perfectly affable at the time. But obviously something about me has annoyed him - could it be my pink hair? Who knows?
But I've now swung my decision completely the other way. I'm most definitely NOT giving up my plot now, I refuse to give some would-be tin-pot dictator the satisfaction! I've had to apologise to my brother, though, as I'm keeping my shed and plants now, but I'll get some fruit bushes for them next spring instead, some new ones, as part of their christmas present.
Who needs The Archers for agricultural-based soap opera? Just get yourself an allotment in a middle-class, affluent Surrey town!
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