In memory of my Dad, a post from 2012 about the allotment we shared, with brand new drawings from Janis Goodman.

November is an uninspiring time for gardeners. Days are indecently short and the grunt work of weeding and digging isn’t balanced by the joy of watching crops grow. But jobs still need to be done. I have found it useful to identify a few motivational tools.

The first is a camping gaz stove plus whistling kettle, mug and teabags. I was never one to visit the allotment, or indeed anywhere, without a Thermos of hot drink (or ‘boil’, as Mr Mandy Sutter calls it) but brewing up in the shed beats the flask system hands down.

It isn’t just the taste of the tea. It’s the walk to the tap and the joy of finding that the Council hasn’t yet turned the water off for winter. It’s the delight when damp matches finally flare against damp box.

Once the kettle’s on, it’s the frequent breaks from digging to peer at the blue flame and rejoice that the gas hasn’t run out. The whole process is so fragile that when the boil finally arrives, it’s a miracle. A worthy substitute for seeing crops grow.

The lack of that growth is, paradoxically, motivational tool number two.  Because if crops aren’t growing then neither are weeds. So a cleared, dug-over bed stays cleared and dug over, a nice plain chocolate brown unbespattered by Mother Nature’s green paint pot.

The third tool is the post-gardening bath. There’s no ablution to top it, especially in winter. Aching limbs are caressed by silken oiled water, grime floats out from under fingernails, nettle stings are brutally revived to tingle afresh. The spent gardener lies contentedly under bubble bath foam as a landscape lies beneath clouds.

And then of course there’s that special motivation that comes from the members of one’s family. When, hoping for appreciation, I tell Dad I’m still going to the plot regularly, he says. ‘I can’t think what for. There’s bugger all to do down there in winter.’

As for Mr MS, he visits the plot one afternoon and finds me covered in mud labouring with spade and fork.

‘Crikey, don’t overdo it,’ he says. ‘ Sorry, can’t stay, just come to borrow the loppers. Our neighbour needs some help with her bush.’

Later I hear that while lopping off twigs, he also lops the head off her garden gnome. But I digress. Mr MS is something of a blurter and in this brief moment at the allotment he lets slip to one of our neighbours that Dad and I call him The Farmer.

‘Funny that,’ says our neighbour, ‘considering I’m a car mechanic.’

Things have the potential to turn frosty. But they don’t: the Farmer (as I shall persist in calling him) admits that he calls another neighbour, who we know only by the disappointing title of Ian, ‘Mr Windy.’

MS slides me a look.The Farmer goes on. ‘He put his shed up in a force ten gale, y’see.’

Mr MS titters obligingly but I see he’s disappointed by the explanation. He goes off muttering something that sounds like ‘cock and balls.’

Later he claims it’s a mnemonic, to help him remember a) to take some soft drink round to Dad’s to save his glass being topped up with hard liquor and b) to ask Dad about Crown Green bowling.

A likely story.  But I give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s only a matter of time till the decapitated gnome’s mates come calling.