There was some really useful feedback last week, which I’ll be taking into consideration when revising the blog format. Thanks to everyone who responded and messaged me.
After a very busy week, here’s the first part of the traditional short story for you to enjoy while I work out why and where the traditional set-up has gone. 😳
The Allotment. Part 1
My wife and I had a wonderful house where we hoped to raise a large family. We bought it when we were first married, and although it was a struggle to cover the mortgage and put food on the table, somehow we managed. Ours was a loving home, and we had each other, even if we were never blessed with the children we so desperately wanted. In typical fashion, rather than complain about the unfairness of life, Rose trained as a teacher and her pupils helped to fill the gap. She did her best to install in them the values we had learnt when we were young.
Rose was not only my wife, but my partner, my love and my best friend. Her name suited her perfectly as she loved her garden, and was as beautiful as the flowers she tended with such care. Even when our bones creaked, and what used to take us an hour or two became a day long duty, we still managed to pull the weeds and enjoy the fruits of our labours on sunny, summer days.
Reality took over when she died. The house was too big for me, and without children or her organising abilities, I realised I would have to move. When I saw the advert for a retirement flat in a local area with 24-hour in-house assistance, I knew I had to take the plunge and sell up. I was not as young as I used to be, and with no Rose to help me, I could not cope with the day to day realities of housekeeping and cooking.
The new place was wonderful and exactly what I needed in my twilight years but oh, how I missed the garden. With nothing better to do, I trawled the local papers and read every advert, event and news items. When I was feeling particular lonely one article caught my attention. Apart from missing my wife, I realised the lack of a garden and the work involved in keeping it looking good, was making me feel old and useless. The local council had released some waste ground to be used as allotments, and anyone interested was urged to apply online. Having been brought up before the age of computers that was impossible for me, but luckily there was also a telephone number.
It wasn’t like the old days of using the phone; now it was press 1 for this and 2 for that, we appreciate your custom, please hold, did I wish to speak to customer services? No, I just wanted someone to talk to me. With time and patience, I eventually spoke to a very nice young lady who was able to give me more details. I had assumed it would be an application to take a space in an established allotment; instead it was seeking volunteers to clear the ground ready for future use.
It was very close to my retirement home, and having the time, even if not the youth and strength, I put my name down and turned up on the appointed Sunday morning for the initial meeting at the designated ground. Being old school, I had turned up early, but nearly turned and ran when I saw the overgrown, derelict bomb site confronting me. No way would my old bones be able to cope with the hard labour I could see the ground would need to make it viable.
As I turned to leave, I was greeted by a middle-aged couple who turned out to be the instigators and organisers for the project. Despite my protests, they cajoled me into staying to meet the rest of the group, explaining they had plenty of brawn but needed some brain and experience. Shortly afterwards, several other volunteers turned up, mainly young people, the majority male but with a couple of pretty young girls. I was used to being called Mr Jackson by the children of Rose’s former pupils, so wasn’t sure whether I was pleased or taken aback when I became affectionately known to all and sundry as “Pops.”
At first, I felt my presence there was being humoured out of respect to a member of the older generation, but I soon realised they had little experience of how to organise themselves. Watching them laboriously transport debris one stone at a time to the allotted collection area, I tentatively suggested they pile it all into one heap and then use the wheelbarrow to save their legs from unnecessary journeys. Expecting to be ridiculed and accused of being an interfering old busybody, I was surprised when everyone accepted my advice without question, and even praised my wisdom in suggesting ideas.
Without realising it, I became the unofficial project manager. The youngsters got into the habit of asking me what was the best way to do certain tasks, and even began reporting back when one job was finished, and asking what was next on the list.
Even my spare time at home was spent making lists of what the next priority should be, and thinking how to organise the teams to be the most productive. Two of the boys were big, strong lads so I allocated them the hard, manual work. One I thought was a little bit simple, but provided I explained things clearly, and only gave him one instruction at a time, he was worth his considerable weight in gold.
Paula was totally the opposite. Although she was only a slip of a thing, she was super hyper, and needed to be kept active otherwise she quickly became bored. I fell into the habit of overloading her with the lighter tasks, and it became a challenge to her to complete them all in the allotted time.
Initially I was concerned I was treading on the toes of the original organisers, but not long after we started, they approached me to see if I would be happy to take over the running of the project. Their daughter was due to give birth, and they wanted to go and stay with her for a few weeks, but having committed themselves felt obligated to see the development through. By leaving me in charge they could be there for their daughter with a clear conscience.
At first everything was fine after they left, but then I received a call from the council asking if I would accept two more helpers. It seemed a funny thing to request until they explained the boy and girl in question were young offenders, and would be doing it as part of their community service. Not knowing what I would be letting myself in for I accepted, and immediately wished I hadn’t. They turned up the next day, surly, rude and making it obvious they weren’t going to take orders from some old fogie.
It was a problem, but realising that despite all their bravado they were only a couple of scared young kids, I tried my best to keep my patience. The happy, mutually supportive group gradually changed into a bickering, points-scoring set of individuals. I carried on, but whereas before I had looked forward to every day, now it was a struggle to keep the motivation going.
Things went from bad to worse, and after such a wonderful start we were now falling behind on our projected completion date. The team were becoming lethargic, and I wondered if the new boy, Jason, was maliciously trying to turn one against the other. Petty squabbles became the order of the day, and I was tempted to give it up and let someone younger and stronger take over to complete the task.
When I went home that night, I thought about it long and hard, and determined I would phone the council the following day, and ask them to find a replacement for me. It had been my habit since the first day to take photographs as a permanent record of our progress, but as I browsed through them, even I was amazed at the transformation we had achieved, even though there was still a lot to do.
The next morning when I arrived at the site the rain was teaming down with a bitingly cold wind blowing. It didn’t look as if we would get much done that day, and the weather suited my mood. For some reason I had brought my photographs with me, and after turning on the tea urn I thought I would lay them out so the kids could see how far we had come. Maybe it would motivate them to carry on after I left. Despite the weather the team started straggling in one by one, then after drying themselves off, set out the mugs from the cupboard, ready for our mid-morning break.
I had been aware of a hum of voices in the background, but the sounds of shouting and a girl screaming, had me racing into the other room of the site hut. Jason had Paula pinned against the wall and had his arm raised as if he was going to strike her
To be continued next week.
© January 2020