An allotment regulation has been sticking in Dad’s craw.  Clause 11.2 says that tenancy ends ‘on 1 January in the year next after the death of the Tenant.’

Tenancy agreement for our Yorkshire allotment

Tenancy agreement

‘Well, I’ll probably stagger on till the end of the year,’ he said as we sat looking at the contract back in June. ‘It’s still worth going ahead, don’t you think?’

His estimation of how long he’s ‘got left’ varies according to how he feels on any given day, and his sciatica was playing him up. ‘On the other hand,’ he reflected, ‘I might drop dead tomorrow.’

He eyed me. ‘But then, so might you.’

I wasn’t unduly alarmed. He often says things like this. And his father, who had similar health issues, lived till 91, which would give Dad 4 more years.

‘So…?’ I ask.

He comes to the point. ‘We might end up doing a load of hard graft just for some other b*ggers to cash in on it.’

He says this again more politely and therefore in a lot more words, in a letter to the council. He also explains that his health has deteriorated during the exceptionally long wait for a plot. He asks whether a) his daughter could sign the agreement instead of him or b) we could sign it jointly.

A letter comes back saying no. There is a strict rule against ‘inheriting plots’.  Unfortunately, the illegal semi-felling of the ash tree has also taken place this week, so the council throws in a ticking off about this, too.

Much to my surprise, Dad takes the council’s decision on the chin. He tells Mr Mandy Sutter and me, ‘If I’m on my deathbed, I’ll try and hang on till the 2nd January. That’ll give you another year.’

‘Or we could have you embalmed,’ says Mr MS, ‘and prop you up inside the shed. Then no-one will know you’ve gone.’

Dad’s laugh has a nervous edge. Sometimes Mr MS goes too far.

But from Dad’s point of view, the matter is closed.

It’s his daughter who can’t let it lie. She thinks that transferring the agreement at the outset can’t be described as ‘inheriting’. She feels undone by a technicality: if Dad had known about this rule beforehand, he would have put her name on the waiting list, not his.

Old toad: a photo for the allotment blog

Old toad

More to the point, she has fallen in love with this patch of earth and weeds by the river: its nettle mafia, its one-and-a-half trees, its old toad who lives in a hollow under the blackcurrant bushes. She doesn’t want to give it back.

I decide to talk to the council.

I enter their offices prepared, having memorised my list of points and abandoned my work-at-home uniform of shapeless old tracksuit bottoms and stained dressing gown in favour of a skirt and jacket.

But from the moment I clap eyes on the blonde, bright-looking clerk, I know she isn’t going to budge. I work steadily through my points anyway (as they say on Mastermind, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish.’) But she doesn’t find it necessary to answer any of them. She just uses the ‘broken record’ technique, repeating standard phrases about the long waiting list and about not making an exception. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so admirable.

‘I understand your point of view,’ I say. We both keep saying that.

Then unexpectedly, my eyes fill with tears. ‘It’s just the thought of Dad dying. And my having to give up the allotment so soon afterwards. And the shed he’s built.’

What a sob story, I think, even as I feel a sob coming on.  This poor woman’s working day is probably one long procession of people entering her office and bursting into tears.

But her face softens.  ‘We act on the information we’re given,’ she says. ‘We have to. But the name on the rent cheque doesn’t always tally with the name of the tenant. We make a note of discrepancies, but we don’t follow them up.’

I thank her, not sure I’ve understood.

But when I get home, Mr MS is clear. ‘She’s told you how it’s done! When people pop their clogs, no-one tells the council.’

The idea of concealing Dad’s death doesn’t appeal. ‘So the UK is like an old Iron Curtain country now, where people kow-tow to officialdom then quietly go away and do the opposite?’

Novice allotment holder

For now

‘Or,’ he says, ‘you decide to enjoy it for what it is now, then let it go.’

‘Nothing lasts, you mean. Everything in the conditioned world is impermanent. Clinging causes suffering.’

He pulls a face. ‘If you like.’

‘I don’t like,’ I say. ‘This isn’t about what I like.’

‘Well,’ he says. ‘It’s that or the embalming fluid.’

He’s got a point.