A blog post from 2012 in memory of my Dad… Dad and I haven’t used weedkiller on the allotment yet.

That’s because Dad thinks the plot ‘only takes an hour to clear’ and I have a vague prejudice against chemicals and an idea that all the bending and stretching involved will help me lose weight.

Arse end letters

But after three months of pulling up what look like the exact same nettles from the exact same place I’m beginning to think weight loss is over-rated.

Then one morning, Dad is tetchy. ‘That allotment looks a right mess. There’s weeds all over the shop. What are your plans?’

That does it. ‘Weedkiller,’ I say.

Of course, in the middle class part of the allotments, we don’t use the word ‘weedkiller’. We say Roundup, a ‘weed control’ product that is supposed to biodegrade 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. It’s just initials. Z’s and X’s. Letters from the arse end of the alphabet.’

‘Is it eco-friendly?’


‘You know, kind to the soil.’

‘Of course it isn’t kind,’  says Dad. ‘It’s poison. But what does that matter? I might drop dead tomorrow.’

I am beginning to realise this is his way of saying ‘whatever’.

‘And so might you,’ he adds, by way of a goodbye.

That night I toss and turn and when I finally sleep, I dream that Dad’s weedkiller has seeped into the water supply 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. ‘You’re taking this too seriously,’ he counsels. ‘Anyway, he’s only got six sachets.  That’s only enough to take out one small pupil group.’

I try to relax. Whatever the stuff is, it 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 it on us anyway, not if we do it mid-week when there’s no-one around.

The following afternoon, we mix the evil brew in the pink watering cans. It’s a dark cloudy grey, with what look like iron filings floating on top. Dad teeters off over the tussocky ground and sprinkles the evil potion over our plentiful clumps of nettles.

As advised, we wait ten days. Walking to the plot with Dad, I breathe a sigh of relief on one count at least. Everyone’s crops look fine.

But reaching our plot, I gasp. It looks torched. And where there were tall swaying stems with green heart shaped leaves, there are now blackened stalks with grey tatters hanging from them. I didn’t know you could feel sorry for nettles.

Dad frowns at a patch of burnt ground. ‘Shame about the grass. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made the stuff up double strength. Only it looked a bit weak.’

Second crop as newbie allotment holder


I glance at our meagre crops of potatoes and turnips. They have survived but who knows what toxins they’ve absorbed?

But what can you do? Dad is coming to tea and I’m planning a turnip and potato bake, smothered in garlic and double cream.

I go ahead anyway. It’s delicious. Another bonus is that no-one drops dead, not even Dad.

Dad pushes his empty plate away. ‘I won’t be getting any more of that stuff in. ‘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.’

Illustrated by Janis Goodman