Across the nation, in households that look to all intents and purposes completely normal, an arcane practice takes place at this time of year.

Gardening humour: chitting in the sitting room

Chitting in the sitting room

Windowsills and work surfaces become home to rows of brown, dusty things. They stay there till their skin goes as soft and wrinkled as an elephant’s, and pale shoots sprout. Then someone makes tea, pours it into a tartan thermos flask, laces it with whisky and, taking the poor and somehow blind-looking creatures with them, heads off down to the allotment with a spade.

This bizarre ritual is practised widely despite the fact it can be disquieting for friends and family. Although they may learn to live with it, it’s a tricky thing to stumble upon the first time.

It happens to me when I call round to Dad’s flat for coffee.

Strolling innocently into his sunny sitting room while he goes into the kitchen, I’m horrified to see ‘chitting’ in full swing on all his windowsills and cabinet tops. I utter a strangled cry.

He hurries in, looking concerned. ‘What’s the matter, love?’

’What are those?’ I point with trembling finger.

He peers across. ‘Those? They’re me King Edwards. Doing well, aren’t they? And those others are me Arran Pilot.’

He indicates another unseemly pile on top of the writing desk. The white shoots remind me of maggots. I can hardly look.

‘The Charlottes haven’t done much, though,’ he says. ‘Anyway, coffee’s up. And there’s a nice mint Kit Kat if you fancy.’

He draws air in across his teeth and pretends to salivate, like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. But my appetite, never that healthy for date-expired biscuits, has just taken a nosedive. Certain things that may seem fine outdoors just seem wrong in the presence of wallpaper, curtains and carpet.

Mumbling something about a big breakfast, I turn my back on the unsavoury goings-on on the windowsill and head for the two mugs nestling together on a purpose built tray Dad knocked together out of wood veneer off cuts and blue sticky-backed plastic. The coffee table the tray stands on is also home made.  In fact, Dad made fifty per cent of his sitting room – the chairs, the sideboard, and all the tables.

Dad's inventions

Baked bean tin lamp

He even made his own reading lamp from half a baked bean tin and some plywood. The massive TV on which he watches Abba and caged boxing on Skye is not of his own hand, however.

We sit down and I shudder at the row of Pink Fir Apple on the mantelpiece, looking especially bulbous and larval.

Dad didn’t know about chitting last year, so this is new territory. I blame the corrupting influence of the Internet, myself.

But as we drink our coffee, I calm down. Dad has a fence-related idea, and he draws a diagram on scrap paper with a pencil stub. He always has scrap paper and pencil stubs.

I have a minor setback when I pop to the loo and find the cistern covered in the unholy forms of Sharps Express, but back in the sitting room, I obey Dad’s request to ‘come and look properly at these superb Maris Bards.’

I peer apprehensively at the dun, sprouting bodies.

‘Beauties, aren’t they?’ says Dad.

I find there is still something maggoty about them. But then I remember how as a young tomboy, I regarded maggots as pets.

Pic for the allotment blog

Blackberries

I spent hours picking them off blackberries and installing them in a shoebox, carpeted and wallpapered inside to look like my grandma’s sitting room.

Since when did I become such a wuss? Since when did the indoor and outdoor worlds come to be so sharply divided?

‘Yes, Dad,’ I say firmly. ‘They’re lovely.’