I am away from home for a few nights. When I leave, there are two trees on the allotment. When I come back, there are one and a half.

One for the allotment blog

One and a half trees

It’s no surprise.

Over the past fortnight, in every gap in conversation (and even when there hasn’t been a gap) Dad has said, ‘I’ve been thinking about that ash. I mean, it’s got to come down, hasn’t it?’  He’s even ‘had a word’ with the local councillor responsible for allotments.

Also, Mr MS texted me. ‘Yr Dad sed hed hv tre dwn in ten mns n he did!’

At home, I get the full story. Dad felled the tree with a small handsaw, then cut the entire thing into short lengths himself.

‘I offered to help,’ says Mr MS. ‘I told him to take a break. I was worried about his heart! But he wasn’t having any of it. He pretended he couldn’t hear.’

It’s true that Dad is pretty deaf these days, and his DIY hearing aid – bending the top of his ears forwards with cupped hands – doesn’t always do the trick. And his work ethic brooks no opposition. At the house I owned when I was single, he insisted on installing my new kitchen himself. He did it in a weekend, working on grim faced while Mum and I stood by anxiously, unable to help but unable to go and do anything else either. ‘Oh dear,’ my Mum said when they left. ‘It was meant to be a NICE weekend.’

I eye Mr MS. But he doesn’t seem traumatised. ‘What strength,’ he says.  ‘What stamina.’ It looks for all the world as if the job’s a good ‘un.

Fence at our new allotment

Separating the normal world from the allotment one

Our plot is at the far edge of the allotments, next to the mesh fence that separates the allotment world from the normal one. A riverside path runs by it, one I’ve particularly enjoyed walking the dog down this past fortnight. It’s nice to be ‘in civvies’ peering through the fence at the crazy folks bent double over the soil, toiling with spades and forks and rakes.  I like seeing our plot too, and congratulating myself on how creatively wild it looks.

But the next morning, through the green mesh, I see two things that stop me in my tracks. The ash has been taken off at chest height. Somehow this makes it look more cut-down than if it had been taken off at the root.

And someone has put a notice on the other tree. ‘Do not cut down this tree!’

Underneath, in smaller writing, it says, ‘The other tree shouldn’t have been cut down either!’

I’m at once mortally offended and deeply mortified. Those exclamation marks! Writing in capital letters is surely the equivalent of shouting. But on the other hand, the cut tree looks so awful, it’s easy to imagine we’ve commited some dreadful, unpardonable allotment sin.

I stare at the notice some more. Who has put it there? The writing’s neat; the  date speaks of officialdom. But on the other hand it’s unsigned. Wouldn’t it be on headed paper if it was from the council?’

I walk home slowly, the gardening idyll souring with every step. I picture life out in the cold, allotment-style:  frosty looks, trashed cabbages, a dead rabbit hung in the branches of the (remaining) tree, people armed with hoes standing over us until we pack up our B&Q bargain fork and trowel set and go.

‘Who wrote it?’ I beg Mr MS. ‘Who, who, who? And what does it all mean?’

‘I dunno,’ he says. ‘What’s for tea?’

In fact, the notice turns out to be from the Council: Dad gets a letter the next morning.  I’m profoundly relieved.  I can go back to smiling and saying good morning to everyone on the allotment now, without fear of turned backs or  dark mutterings.

The letter is polite, focussing on the importance of conservation. Dad for his part writes back  explaining that he is ‘very deaf’ and must have misheard the councillor when he said, ‘yes, that tree has got to come down.’

And our plot looks better with just the one tree (a wych elm)  We have shade, but we also have sun.  As a joke, I consider moving the notice to the stump of the tree that has been cut down.

Dad warns against it. ‘We don’t want to get anyone’s backs up, do we?’ he says.