I like Autumn. I look forward to a long brutal winter that freezes the ground and makes gardening impossible.

But the season also reminds me of a strange happening five years ago. Dad and I won first prize in our town’s In Bloom competition for best allotment. I didn’t fess up at the time and not just because the Reluctant Gardener had been revealed as the Not-so-Reluctant and even Keen Gardener. It was because I’d decided to give up the plot and hadn’t been down to the allotments for a month. An odd moment to win a prize!

Cream tea

But the two of us were invited to a presentation cream tea at a local posherie.

Dad, at 90, had reached a difficult age. He’d abandoned his £2,000 hearing aid on the grounds that the batteries were too expensive (5p each) and had begun a practice of commenting on other people’s weight, height, nose, ears, teeth and hair or lack of it in an exceptionally loud voice. When I say ‘difficult’ it wasn’t (and still isn’t) difficult for him. But I often wished I had a Scotty to beam me back up to the Starship Enterprise.

Meanly I considered taking another family member to the cream tea, one who’d excelled at digging that year and had eaten all the produce no-one else wanted, like windfall apples, worm-eaten potatoes and stringy beans. But the invitation said dogs weren’t allowed.

Mr Mandy Sutter was next on the list. After all, he had contributed as much to the allotment as Dad that year (i.e. nothing).

But he would have none of it. ‘He’s your Dad!’ he said. ‘Take him. It’ll be a nice day out.’

I thought of our last nice day out at the Garden Centre when Dad detected a woman hesitating too long beside a display of pansies and drove his trolley into hers, telling her to ‘git on out of it.’

‘He can get quite lairy,’ I said.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Mr MS. ‘But if you think your Dad’s lairy, you haven’t lived.’

He went on to describe a former drinking companion called Psycho Sid whose antics included groping random women and jumping on top of cars.

‘Alright,’ I said. ‘Point taken.’

Mr MS hoped I hadn’t got the wrong idea. Going out with Psycho Sid wasn’t his cup of cream tea at all. No, I thought, but neither is chit chat and finger food.

I took Dad.

Nothing bad happened during the presentation apart from Dad talking over it because he couldn’t hear it. Nothing happened while we ate the cream tea except him bellowing that tea was all very well but where was the real drink?

But as we left the hotel, something did happen. Dad lost his footing and fell down two stone steps to land flat on his face at the bottom. Time stood still. Then I rushed to help, anticipating at least a dozen broken bones.

‘I’m alright,’ he said. ‘I’m alright.’

But his face had gone puce. And when I tried to get him up, it took  enormous effort on both our parts. We limped to a nearby bench and sat for a long time. No-one emerged from the hotel; no-one passed on the pavement. The incident had gone completely unwitnessed.


And strangely, Dad suffered no ill effects from what had looked like a catastrophic fall except for a small round bruise on his thigh, caused by a pound coin in his pocket. And for a year, we were custodians of a silvery plaque, our plot number on a white sticky label on the back. We swapped it between mantelpieces.

Then the hotel (clobbered perhaps by someone who sued it after falling down its unmarked stone steps) went bust and was turned into flats.

Dad, now 95, can’t remember a thing about that afternoon. The plot is still a place where neglect and failure seem only a heartbeat (or a summer mini break) away.

In almost every respect, it’s as though it never happened.

Except for one thing. I now know that there is a prize. And can’t help trying every year, in a half arsed kind of way, to win it again.