The snow has gone, like something we all dreamt.
At the allotment I share with Dad (87), it’s a shock to see the ground with no white blanket. It looks so brown. And bare.
I’m surprised by my own surprise. And then, as I wander around the plot, I begin waxing lyrical. Ah, the human being is so adaptable! How thoroughly we adjusted to the snow, so that now we hardly remember…
Hang on, though – I do remember some curly kale plants, round about here. They stood, green and sturdy as little palm trees, contributing to Mr Mandy Sutter’s and my 5-a-day all through the early winter.
One must be tough when it comes to allotment ups and downs. As Rudyard Kipling advises, ‘meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same’ and even ‘watch the things you gave your life to, broken/And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.’
But seeing a dozen woody stalks in place of the kale gives me a pang. It was my favourite, and I’d begun to think it was indestructible: it had survived flood, mud and thud (of Dog MS jumping on it). But it’s no good thinking like that. ‘Get over it,’ I growl.
For the cabbages have suffered a similar fate: nibbled to within an inch of their lives. Our plot is brown and bare alright, and it’s a lot more brown and bare than before the snow came.
It was perhaps to be expected.
When my friend David (Guerilla Gardening) visited before Christmas, we saw tracks in the snow. Not just a few and not just on my and Dad’s plot with its chicken wire excuse for a fence, but up and down the paths and into, across, up, down and round nearly all the other plots too.
It was like a crime scene in an Enid Blyton novel. As if the prints weren’t evidence enough, the rabbits had left jobbies all over t’shop too, like the calling card of a particularly nasty psychopath. It was an open and shut case.
They must have been hungry. Though not (as with others of my acquaintance) hungry enough for turnips, which are still lolling about the place indecently, like purple-faced boozers.
Talking of which Mr MS, Dad and I spend that evening together. Dad wears his Christmas present from Mr MS: a black sweatshirt with Ted the Shed on the front.
‘The lettering’s a bit blinding,’ he says. ‘But it’s nice and warm.’
Over a stew (turnipless), talk turns to the allotment.
‘Well, you’ve got it for another year,’ he says. ‘I’ve made it past 1 January.’ (Our tenancy ends ‘on 1 January in the year next after the death of the Tenant.’)
I tell him about the rabbits. ‘They ravaged the other plots too, even the well-fenced ones. You could see where they’d given themselves a leg up on the fence tops.’ David took some shots of this on his mobile phone camera, but we doubted they’d stand up in court.
Even without the evidence, Dad likes the idea of others going to unnecessary trouble. ‘Just goes to show, you can put up all the fancy fencing you like and it won’t do you any good. Anyway, what does it matter? There was too much produce for us this year. We can afford to lose 10% to rabbits.’
I remember my first encounter with the leporine appetite in June: twenty cabbage seedlings vanishing into thin air like a conjuring trick. ‘But what if they forget their calculators?’
But Dad’s on a roll now. ‘I asked everyone how high rabbits jumped. But no-one knew. Well, now we do. You should write something about it, put it on the Internet. You’d be doing everyone a favour. Now, how about some music?’
He fetches his Christmas present from me, a DVD of one of his favourite bands.
The main thing is, he’s happy. That’s what the allotment’s about.
Or is it? Two of the plots weren’t broached and it’s preying on my mind. As we settle down to watch two and a half hours of Abba’s greatest hits, including five bonus tracks in Spanish, I decide I may have to open a new file on the case…