Nettles on our Yorkshire allotment

Nettle jungle

Dad is right about the blackcurrant bushes.

I slash through the nettle jungle that is our allotment with a bill hook, a vicious looking scimitar that cost £4 from the local tool shop. My hands tingle and throb despite gardening gloves – even my stings have stings.

Dad and Mr Mandy Sutter look on.  ‘Four quid for that?’ says Dad. ‘Ridiculous. I wouldn’t give ninety-nine pence for it.’

Something sets a cock off on a neighbouring plot and he starts crowing fit to bust. To this soundtrack, Dad tells us how, following his own visit to the tool shop and the price shock it gave him, he started making his own rake by hammering some spare 4 inch nails into a piece of wood and attaching it to an old broom handle.

Mr Mandy Sutter is clearly awestruck at the very idea of anyone having spare 4 inch nails lying around in the first place, let alone doing anything with them.

But Dad is perhaps the most resourceful man on the planet.  When a front incisor fell out recently, he decided not to consult the dentist, but the local stationer. He bought a pack of erasers, took a scalpel and cut a new, rubber, tooth to slot between his remaining ones. He soaked it in tea and red wine every night for a week to get the colour right.

It is strictly for best, of course. At tea with Mr MS and me, he removes it with a flourish and places it beside his plate before eating. But it has appeared in public once or twice. When some old family friends called at his flat for tea, for example.

‘Do you think I got away with it?’ he beamed, when they’d gone. ‘Do you think they suspected anything?’

It didn’t matter to him that he hadn’t been able to eat all afternoon, and had only pretended to sip at his cup of tea, for fear of the tooth falling in.

‘I thought Brian had guessed for a minute there,’ he went on. ‘But he didn’t say anything.’

‘No, Dad,’ I said. ‘Well, I don’t suppose he would.’

Back on the allotment, while I go on hacking at weeds, Dad and Mr MS are surveying the two saplings at the back of the plot, near the fence.

‘I could get those down in ten minutes if I could get hold of a good bow saw,’ says Dad.

‘You’ve not seen how much hire tools cost,’ I shout.

Even I think the price is ridiculous. And that’s despite the fact that the plot opposite razed their own overgrowth to the ground with a petrol strimmer, fruit bushes and all, in just one afternoon.

But all talk of tools is suddenly abandoned. All talk of past glories and future triumphs is put aside as the last sentinel ring of nettles falls and a whole fragrant-leaved thicket of fruit-bearing plants is revealed: blackcurrant bushes and blackberry brambles (which we recognise) and redcurrant bushes (which we identify later).

And there are berries.  Later, a knowledgeable friend will tell me that the berry-to-bush ratio is pitifully small and the bushes will need a drastic pruning if they’re to justify their huge footprint on our veg-productive soil. But for the moment, we all just turn to each other and grin. It’s like finding frogspawn in the garden pond when you’re a child.

Our first discovery as allotment novices: redcurrant bushes

Fragrant-leaved thicket

‘Wow!’ says Mr MS.

‘Blackcurrant jam!’ I say.  ‘Jars and jars of it.’

‘Stewed fruit,’ says Dad. ‘Ah, there’s nothing like a bowl of stewed fruit with a dollop of Cornish ice cream on top. Nice and soft.’

Mr MS slides me a look. I know what he’s thinking. That stewed blackcurrants and ice cream might be the one thing Dad can eat with his rubber tooth.