Neither Dad nor Mr MS have been seen down at the allotment for some time. Mr MS has been busy at work (that old chestnut!) and Dad has a big project in hand. He has bought a home blood pressure monitor and is taking his own readings many times a day, entering them on a huge spreadsheet and including detailed mitigating factors that he feels his GP may be interested in. When invited to the plot, he says, ‘Hmm, I don’t know. I’ve got a hell of a lot going on here.’

A hell of a lot needs doing at the plot too. It’s Spring again and the whole shebang has to be dug over and weeded anew. It’s like reinventing the wheel.

In the past when I’ve mentioned the allotment to friends, they’ve often said, ‘You are lucky! How rewarding, eating your own veg. And all that fresh air and exercise!’

These friends don’t have allotments of course. The ones who do clasp my shoulder in silent solidarity at this difficult time of year.

No-one is keen to help but finally I call in an old favour.

My friend arrives at my house an hour late, badly hung over and in need of breakfast. I assure her that the peace and quiet of the allotment will make her feel better. There is rarely anyone else down there, I say, and the sound of bird song is healing.

Unfortunately when we arrive, there is someone else down there – a neighbour going at it with a rotovator. ‘Sorry,’ he shouts above the din, giving what he obviously thinks of as an endearing smile, ‘but I’ve only got this contraption for forty-five minutes, so I’d better get on.’

My friend shows great strength of character for the first two of these minutes then says, ‘I can’t stand this. I need more coffee.’

When we return two hours later, our neighbour has gone and it is lovely and quiet. To hand it to my friend, she does manage to turn a patch of soil to a fine tilth. Unfortunately it’s only two feet square, which, given the size of the allotment is about as much use as a pastry spade.

‘Look,’ I say. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just get the big weeds out and give it a rough digging over.’

‘Oh, but you know I’ve got a bad back,’ she says.

This is the first I’ve heard of any bad back. But it’s a trump card. I mutter bitter condolences and turn back to digging out dandelion roots that go half way to Australia.

The following week, when another friend volunteers to help, I’m not expecting much.

But she announces on arrival that, of all garden tasks, weeding is her favourite because she loves to see cleared soil. She works like a Trojan. We dig up miles of gnarled yellow root. I thought I’d got the nettles out last year, but no. They have been busy over the winter, knitting up their vast yellow underground string vest.

My friend seems to need no breaks. I offer her tea, from the plastic mug I keep in the shed for visitors.

‘I’d rather get on,’ she says. Her work ethic is phenomenal. Or else she saw me empty the dead spider out.

An idea strikes me. ‘Would you like to get more involved? Take over part of the plot? Think how rewarding it would be, eating your own veg! And all the fresh air and exercise you’d get.’

She gives it one second’s thought. ‘Naah,’ she says.

I console myself by making a bonfire. It produces a smoke cloak that drifts east, enfolding the couple diagonally opposite. They move all around their plot to escape it and eventually leave, coughing.

‘You should have let the damp stuff dry out first,’ says my friend. ‘Now, are you going to help me dig up the rest of this nettle root or not? That fire will keep going without you standing there watching it, you know.’

‘Give me a minute,’ I say. ‘Did I ever tell you I’ve got a bad back?’

Drawings by Janis Goodman