For the last few months, people down at the allotments have been talking horseshit.
Along with good tools and tartan thermos flasks, they seem to swear by it. So when a chap called ‘Mr Muck’ delivers a gently steaming mountain, I make enquiries.
‘Ah, manure belongs to t’bloke int blue pick up,’ says the bee man. ‘He’ll likely let you have some for nowt.’
This sounds good, but it’s tricky trying to pin down specific people at t’allotments, especially early in the season. No one seems to go there much, or to know anyone else’s name (or perhaps they just aren’t telling us, and won’t until we’ve been there 35 years).
”Im that puts up fences,’ is all you get about one man, while another is described as ‘the goat man’ and a third ”im what had nervous breakdown’. I dread to think what names Dad, Mr MS and I go by. Dad could be ”awld gimmer wi ‘t flat cap’. Though then again not, as that describes at least half the allotment population. Mr MS is perhaps ‘that chatty lad’ and I’m probably ‘lass what writes about t’allotments on t’internet’ (Mr MS ‘chatted’ about this so it’s common knowledge).
Anyway, although I visit the allotment every day for a week, I never see the man in the blue pick-up. Oh well, I can always imagine him.
If I could identify his plot, I’d leave a note. The bee man knows, but he doesn’t appear again. I could just take some of the muck, but it seems presumptous and I’m nervous about annoying anyone in the old section of the allotments. I’m surely three points down already by being clueless, not from Yorkshire and a woman. Us plot holders on the new bit have things to prove and I don’t want to let the side down.
Besides, all is not lost, dung-wise. A lamp-post in the next village says, ‘Bagged Muck Available, FOC’.
A woman answers the phone and says ‘muck’ll be out’ later that evening. I’m to turn right at the lamp-post and drive down a ginnel between a stone wall and a house. The muck will be ‘by the red van.’
Another instance of no name, no pack drill. I thank her profusely, but my voice sounds ludicrously middle class even to me, and she hangs up.
Later, I drive down a pitch dark alley and identify some bags of something by an old van that may or may not be red. For some reason (OK, cluelessness) I’d expected neat sealed brown paper sacks like the ones potatoes come in. But assorted bags stand open, half filled with something heavy. They are filthy, as I realise when I lift one into the car. I shouldn’t have worn a long skirt and ankle boots.
I load most of them, cracking my head on the tailgate and getting black stuff on my Hobbs jacket. A 4 x 4 towing a caravan arrives. A man gets out and silently hoists the last bag into my boot. I begin effusing, but he holds up his hand to cut my thankyous short and disappears into the house.
I’m apprehensive as I get back into the car. Will it stink? But it doesn’t. On the passenger seat beside me are the cans of lager I’d brought, a note taped to them saying THANKYOU!! There was no chance to hand these over and now, as I reverse back to the road in the inky darkness through the unfeasibly narrow gap left by the caravan, I sense it would have been clumsy to try.
The horseshit is in my car for a week before I take it to the allotments. I drive a friend to a nearby town and she doesn’t suspect a thing.
Then comes muck spreading day. Mr MS has surprised me with his readiness to help. As designated ‘filth man’ in our house, he deals with the bins, Dog MS’s rear, the gunk that collects in plugholes and anything that needs fishing out of the toilet. I didn’t know his aegis extended to the allotments.
I watch delighted as he hefts manure sacks from the car, barrows them to the plot and digs firmly into the first bag. He spreads the muck, his blue-handled fork a blur.
The only thing is, the manure doesn’t look particularly ‘well rotted’ as recommended in gardening books. It looks like, well, fresh turds mixed with straw.
But it’s too late now. Mr MS will just have to break it up with his fork as he digs it in.
We put it around the fruit bushes. Dad didn’t like the sound of this. ‘I shan’t be eating any blackcurrants this year,’ he said. Then we cover the turnip bed and Dad’s potato area. The soil is easy to turn over, having been dug last year. Four hours later it looks like broken-up chocolate cake.
We lean on our forks. I’m happy in a lovely uncomplicated way. ‘You can keep your romantic dinners,’ I say to Mr MS. ‘This is my idea of a date.’
He laughs. He thinks I’m joking. But who needs the man in the blue pick-up?