Don’t worry, it’s not a regression. In fact, it’s quite a positive step. Last week, MrsAB and I finally relinquished our allotment plot. For those I have not seen or spoken to in a while this may come as some surprise. For those who don’t know me in the flesh you may not even have known I had an allotment. So here goes a story of realisation, relief and, possibly, realistic sustainability.
When MrsAB and I moved to our present abode just over 4 years ago we decided we wanted an allotment. We’d thought about it for a little while having already grown our own veg at home. The new house didn’t seem to have the right garden for it so we put our names down on the council list. Anticipating a long wait we grew some bits and bobs on the patio. However, the call came sooner rather than later and we were offered a third of a rather overgrown plot. The slight snag was I had just broken my shoulder. Undetered we took it on and at first MrsAB embarked on the plot clearance. Over a space of 3 years we went from a third to a whole plot (spurred on by the desire to acquire the abandoned shed – property really is a driver of greed!) and slowly cleared most of its blanket of thick couch grass. Progress was steady, at times encouraging, at others disheartening.
Our initial enthusiasm was driven by our own shared ethics and a childhood experiences: home-grown food, green urban space and doing our bit to limit global decay. All of these are pretty laudable but the lesson I learnt over this period was that sometimes a little becomes a lot and that lot is a bot too much for one couple. After all, if you want to get a scenic you don’t have to scale Everest. Whilst I was going through my breakdown and recovery part of what I had to readjust was the feeling of being beholden to and apologetic for other people. Pre-2009 I was determined not to fly, to buy local and to eat my own grown food. Yes, I was almost wanting to be a 21st Century Tom and MrsAB my very own Barbara. What I realised was that I couldn’t take on all of that responsibility. The allotment became a chore and latterly a brake on my recovery. There was no way we were going to grown all of our own food with the limited time, space and money that we had. So why displace the other activities that gave me (and us) pleasure. For a start, MrsAB and I are together because of our shared love of the outdoors, the hills, walking and wildlife. The nearest we have got to this is the hill between here and the allotment and a few bugs around the plot. And when you start to consider it more logically, us growing all of our own veg deprives someone else of an income – not very sustainable when you think about the wider local community.
Add to this the allotment politics and I was getting particularly bogged down. The allotment society we belonged to is a limited company, run by a committee of old men who like to do things their way. They grudgingly accept new members for their rent but not their opinion. And unfortunately they cannot run a business efficiently and effectively. Last summer they erected a second fence and gate to the site and as I remarked at the time it felt like a concentration camp more than an escape. For me I’d made my mind up at that moment.
And so it was in January that we jointly admitted we had both been harbouring the same thought for some time – though the heart longed to keep the plot our heads knew it was time to give up. It was a hard decision to make but we both feel all the better for it. I now have time to go out on my bike guilt free. This last weekend we were able to sit in the garden (which had been long neglected), have a coffee, read a book and potter. We still grow some veg, the things you like fresh and at hand, but we also support local producers and think about what we eat and where it is from. Living off grid in the way you think you might is all well and good but you lose some of the good things in life in the process – and I don’t mean the TV or exotic veg, just the simple things like time to yourself. We were guilty of being caught up in the fashion for allotments that so many seem to be. We lasted longer than most but I’m happy to have lost the plot yet in doing so found a more sustainable equilibrium.