The recent heatwave has defeated many plot holders at our allotments, especially those farthest from the taps. Broad beans have gone black and onions have been overpowered by the soil turning to concrete around them.

Berries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, allotment, Yorkshire

Hard work

Currants and berries however, have flourished to the point where preparing them for eating or freezing feels like one of those tasks in a fairy tale set by a tyrannical king – fiddly and impossible to complete within the span of one human lifetime.

However many times I’ve told myself that the repetition involved in topping and tailing gooseberries and blackcurrants makes it a kind of meditation and that the work is putting me in touch with my agrarian ancestors, I still feel like a bit of an idiot for becoming enslaved to a small group of soft fruit bushes.

I wonder why no-one mentions this aspect of allotmenteering. Could it be because most allotmenteers are men, and have armies of children/wives at home whose job is to simply admire the produce then set to with their bowls and small knives without complaint?

But even as I write this appalling sexist slur I know it’s untrue because half the plot holders on our site are women. Perhaps they have very helpful partners, though in my experience the level of fanaticism required to sustain an allotment through all weathers tends to be an alienating factor rather than creating a rewarding sense of shared endeavour with ones partner.

To be fair to Mr MS, he isn’t unhelpful, but his efforts to prepare black, red and white currants are conducted at a pace so outstandingly slow that I suspect a form of passive aggression is at play. I am reduced to shouting ‘get into the rhythm of the work!’ a phrase once used to manipulate my own work rate in Scotland on a ‘make a chair in a day’ workshop.

After currants come plums

And hot on the heels of currants come plums. Normally I would cut them in half and take out the stone before cooking or freezing. But trying to save time the other day I lobbed a large batch into a pan whole. The warm compote (stewed fruit to you) tasted delicious served with Greek yoghurt. It was only while putting the pan into the fridge later that I saw a dozen or so white things had risen to the surface and were floating about in the red juice.

Fruit moth maggot, so Doctor Internet said, tends only to affect the first pickings. But the memory lives on (boiled alive, imagine it) so I am back to sitting night after night in the flickering blue light of the TV plying my paring knife, my fingers red as Lady Macbeth’s.

At 95, it isn’t surprising that Dad has memory loss. But I learn that it can strike half way through a punnet of plums. We sit in his room at the Care Home while he munches. Eating takes all his attention nowadays and it’s not worth trying to talk while he’s doing it. One thing at a time.

‘I shan’t have any more,’ he says finally, putting the half empty punnet down at arm’s length on his chest of drawers. ‘Or I shall be running for the toilet.’

‘Yes indeed, Dad,’ I say or rather shout, as he is (plum)stone deaf.

‘So anyway,’ he says. ‘How are you?’

I start to tell him, but the plums suddenly catch his attention again. I’m not surprised. They are a lot more interesting than anything I’ve got to repeat several times at full volume.

‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I plum forgot!’

He picks the punnet up with delight and starts eating again. He lost a lot of weight before he went into the Care Home so it’s good to see.

But in case he’s right about the toilet thing (and he may be if the bowels of dog MS, who has learnt to eat windfalls, are anything to go by) I resolve to bring a smaller punnet next time.