My Dad rings up.
‘I’ve been offered an allotment,’ he says. ‘After all these years!’
‘Only one snag,’ he says. ‘It’s newly reclaimed land, not been cultivated for ten years or more. Very overgrown.’
I’m glad he views this as the only snag. He’s 87, has sciatica and a heart problem and has recently damaged his toe, making it difficult to walk.
‘Dad…’ I begin.
‘We’ll go take a look at it, shall we?’
The plot is at the back of a well established allotment community. We walk the maze of narrow paths, passing impressive examples of old-fashioned recycling: ancient ceramic baths planted full of potatoes, old windows made into mini greenhouses, peeling doors standing, leaning and lying, for no apparent reason at all.
Slowly because of Dad’s difficulty on the uneven ground, we reach our plot. I stare at what looks like an acre of nettles and Himalayan balsam, chest high.
Faced with reality, Dad will decide to turn the offer down. Surely. He stands, teetering slightly.
I prompt him, in a suitably morose tone. ‘Hmm. Looks like a lot of work.’
He turns, beaming. ‘And that’s the beauty of it.’
‘It’s in such a state, they’re letting me have it free for the first year. Possibly the second year too. It’s a beautiful spot, isn’t it? Do you think those bushes are blackcurrants?’
I am sure the beauty of the spot is linked less in his mind to the river and trees nearby and more to the fact it isn’t going to cost him a penny.
We walk back down the little green ginnels to the car, past all the well-established allotments, the ones where you can actually see soil. Chickens cluck and point their heads at us. Cockerels crow, geese squawk and goats stand silently chewing.
‘Is this something you really want to do, Dad?’ I ask.
‘Well, it’s not as though I’ll actually be able to do much. But you’ve always been interested in the idea, haven’t you?’
Without waiting for an answer, he goes on. ‘Even if all we ever do is pick blackcurrants, we’ll still be quids in.’
Now’s the time to make my position clear. I have neither the time nor inclination to take on a project like this. The only vegetables I recognise in the sea of neat crops stretching as far as the eye can see are the potatoes. My other half isn’t that keen on the idea so we can’t count on him for much help.
But I say nothing. Instead, for some reason I find myself turning to my Dad and smiling.
‘It IS a beautiful spot,’ I say.