Until recently, Dad and I haven’t used weedkiller on the allotment.
There’s no real reason, just a vague prejudice against chemicals. On Dad’s side this is coupled with the idea that the plot ‘only takes an hour to clear’ and on my side that the exercise involved might make me lose weight.
But after three months of pulling up what look like the exact same nettles from the exact same places I’m beginning to think weight loss is over-rated.
Also, I’ve been to Spain for a week, and Dad is tetchy when I get back. ‘That allotment looks a right mess. There’s weeds all over the shop. What are your plans?’
That does it. ‘Weedkiller,’ I say. Just like that.
Of course, down at our allotments, people don’t use the word ‘weedkiller’. They say ‘Roundup.’ Roundup biodegrades as soon as it touches the soil.
‘You don’t want to go wasting your money on that,’ says Dad. ‘I’ve got some old stuff in the garage you can use.’
I am suspicious. ‘What’s it called?’
‘It hasn’t got a NAME,’ says Dad, darkly. ‘It’s just initials.’
‘What kind of initials?’
‘I don’t know. Z’s and X’s. Letters from the arse end of the alphabet.’
‘Is it eco-friendly?’
‘You know, kind to the soil and that.’
‘Of course it isn’t kind,’ says Dad. ‘It’s poison.’
‘But what does it matter?’ he adds. ‘I might drop dead tomorrow, for all we know. ‘
He often says this. It’s his way of saying ‘whatever’.
‘I hope you don’t drop dead tomorrow,’ I say.
‘And so might you,’ he says.
That night I toss and turn, and when I finally sleep I dream that Dad’s weedkiller has seeped into the water table and killed all the children at the primary school across the road from the allotments.
Mr MS has to make one of his 3am cups of tea. ‘I think you might be taking this too seriously. Anyway, he’s only got six sachets. That’s probably not enough to take out more than one small pupil group.’
I decide to try and relax about it. Whatever the stuff is, it surely can’t be that lethal. And if it is, I’ll just have to lie to the other allotment holders when their crops die. They won’t be able to pin the job on us, anyway. Especially not if we do it mid-week when there’s no-one around.
When we mix the evil brew in the pink watering cans, it’s a dark cloudy grey, with what look like iron filings floating in it. Dad teeters off over the tussocky ground and sprinkles dark potion over our plentiful clumps of nettles.
Ten days later, as we walk through the allotments, other people’s crops look fine. On our plot though, the effect is startling. It’s as if someone has taken a blow torch and burnt down all the nettles, leaving everything else untouched. Where there were tall swaying stems with pale green heart-shaped leaves, there are now blackened withered stalks with grey tatters hanging from them. I didn’t know you could feel sorry for a nettle.
‘Well, that’s done the trick,’ says Dad. But he frowns at a patch of burnt-looking ground. ‘Shame about the grass, though. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made the stuff up double strength. Only I thought it looked a bit weak.’
I stare at him, then at our latest crops, potatoes and turnips, which are near the treated areas. They look alright. But who knows what life-threatening toxins they’ve absorbed?
But what can you do? We eat a delicious turnip and potato bake that evening, smothered in garlic and double cream. And no-one drops dead.
As for the weeds, I think we’re going back to the hard graft method.
‘I won’t be getting any more of that stuff in,’ says Dad. ‘I looked it up online. Have you seen what it costs these days? We’re as well weeding by hand. I mean, it only takes an hour to clear the plot, doesn’t it?’
I smile. ‘Not even as long as that.’