Allotment humour: book about bugs


A post from 2012 in memory of that unique man who was my Dad… 

Gardeners, I’m learning, see things in a different way to normal people.

An ordinary family meal is imbued with more tension than a Christmas episode of Eastenders as I watch Mr Mandy Sutter boil to buggery the broccoli nurtured over past months. And he has cooked all of it.

‘We’ll never eat all that!’ I cry. ‘What a waste!’

Mr MS is a wily creature. ‘I’ll eat it tomorrow. I like cold vegetables.’

Mr MS is a wily creature

As he well knows, I’m out tomorrow visiting a stately home with a friend, so whether he eats it or not I’ll never know. But I keep quiet. I appreciate his saying something that saves face on both sides.

At the stately home, the slant view of the gardener resurfaces. Despite fascinating history and a beautifully restored interior  including two ‘Yorkshire Rose’ windows and a carved stone head of Charles I, my friend’s and my interest is at best polite.

When we get to the gardens however, its a different story. ‘Oh! Oh!’ my friend cries amidst apple and pear trees. ‘It’s no good, I’ll have to move house. I MUST have an orchard.’

What arouses my passion is the compost heaps. There are four. Four! Imagine. And all at different stages of putrefaction. Next to them stands a large chicken wire drum full of dead leaves.


I’ve heard tell of leaf mould and its soil enhancing properties but it has never felt personal – until now. This drum, with its darkening coppery strata, is a vision. I long for beauty like this at our allotment and that night I hardly sleep. Yes, I know. But the leaf drum is easily installed the next day with wire and bamboo canes and is magnificent.

There is something else I long for. In Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tale The Road, father and son walk a long road through a blasted anonymous landscape armed with little more than a tarpaulin to sleep under. Listening to the audio book ‘the tarp’ is mentioned so often that I become mesmerised by it.  Never mind the searing insight into humans’ capacity for good and evil that McCarthy offers, what I take from the book is the desire for a tarp. I could keep the compost heap warm with it.

Dad and I take a trip to our local garden centre. In the greenhouse section, Dad fingers a tarp. ‘£14.99 for a plastic sheet? You’ve got to be joking.’

My heart sinks a little. But then Dad hasn’t read the book. The garden centre has a camping section so we go there to see if the groundsheets are cheaper. They aren’t.

‘Let’s go for a coffee,’ I say to Dad, resigning myself to a second trip to the garden centre after I’ve dropped him back home.

But on the way out of the camping shop, I notice something in the waste bin.  It’s a large piece of thick plastic that on closer investigation has been used to wrap something big. We take it to the sales desk. ‘Can we have this?’

The chap there has already heard about our compost heap. ‘£48 please,’ he says.

‘How much?’ Dad’s mouth falls open.

‘Go on, tek it,’ says the chap.

We deliver a shocked laugh of thanks and scarper with our placcy prize before he changes his mind. In the coffee shop we take a window table.

‘It was nice of that chap to let us have it for free, wasn’t it?’ I say, trying as usual to manipulate Dad into showing warmth towards his fellow human.

But Dad, in his turn, is always trying to temper what he thinks of as my gullibility. He turns the corners of his mouth down. ‘Makes you realise how much money they must be making on the ones they sell for £14.99.’

I sigh inwardly. ‘I’ll get the coffee, shall I?’

fish and chips

Pushing the boat out

‘Hang on a minute love,’ says Dad. He peels a twenty from the wad in his pocket.

‘We’d better have some lunch. Mine’s a fish and chips. With garden peas. Have whatever you fancy. After all, we’ve just saved ourselves £14.99 haven’t we?’

I smile and join the queue at the counter. I’m grateful for the treat. I’m grateful too that we’ve got the tarp. At least we’ll be alright when the apocalypse comes.

Illustrations by Janis Goodman