I like getting my hands dirty, I always have. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d be happy outdoors, mucking around, planting stuff, weeding, raiding my Dad’s peas, or Mum’s blackcurrants. Then as I got older my excitement built as I got to use more tools and eventually went coppicing with the Ulster Wildlife Trust, this in fact became a Boxing Day tradition for a number of years, and thoroughly happy I was too.
So when I had children of my own it stood to reason that they would also enjoy the great outdoors. Let’s face it, they share 50% of their genes with me, and they are both boys, so it was a no brainer, right? Ha! Fate has a way of leading you on; then slapping you round the face before collapsing laughing at its own joke.
Let me explain; we have a very small garden, it’s not nearly big enough to satisfy my desire to grow things. For all the size of it I do manage to cram quite a lot in, but it’s too small for many things that I’d like to plant, and what is there definitely runs the considerable risk of being squashed by a ball or chewed up by a terrier, so, not ideal – which is why I decided to invest in an allotment.
“It’ll be great!” I thought, “I’ll get the boys up, and they can have fun, we will plant and grow things and maybe this will encourage them to eat more veg. In time maybe they can even have their own wee plot.” In my head it was great, a vision of good honest hard work, flasks of hot chocolate, wellies, lots of laughing and then some wholesome home cooked meals using our produce. As dreams go this is hardly extravagant, I mean it wasn’t in the league of winning the Euro Millions, giving up work and sailing off into the sunset, but it was my wee dream and I forged onwards. Very quickly though, my modest little dream got stuck in the mud.
“What’s an allotment?” my boys asked through narrow eyes. Mummy was wearing very unfamiliar clothes, definitely not the type that indicated they would be spending the day ensconced on electronic gadgetry i.e. their favourite pastime.
“An allotment is another space for growing things Sweetheart” I reply enthusiastically, “you know how you like strawberries and raspberries, but we don’t have much space for them in the garden? Well Mummy has bought some extra space to grow some more”.
“So that’s what we are doing? Planting some strawberries and raspberries and then we are coming home again?” Damn but I have suspicious children, obviously I have conned them too many times for them to be fooled by this level of ‘bright smile’.
“No Sweetheart, Mummy is going to fix the frames of her raised beds, dig a bit of the plot over and then plant the fruit, some potatoes and some onions”.
Sirens go off – I mentioned onions! Rookie error!
“We Hate onions” they reply in unison, “I don’t want to go, can I play the X-Box instead?”
“No, you can’t play the X-Box we are going out to get some exercise, fresh air, and do something constructive. Come on, it’ll be fun”. 2 Blank looks meet my eyes. Nothing about onions is fun, unless you count setting them up as target practice for a Nerf gun.
“Can we bring our DS’s then” they whinge, I get a pleading look from my husband who can see what way this is going and is uber sensitive to the whinging of 7-9 year old boys, particularly his own. “Oh, go on then” I relent, outnumbered 3:1. It defeats the purpose of the event, but the ace up my sleeve is that I know that the charge is run down on both games so they won’t last long.
20 minutes later, after multiple trips to the loo, lost wellies found, appropriate clothing on and all equipment and snacks gathered, we are ready to go. “Hang on, I’ll just get the dogs” says my husband. “What?” says my scrambled brain, like this wasn’t already turning into a massive military operation. Why the hell would you add a further level of chaos by bringing two needy terriers? I’m too worn down at this point to argue, “Fine! Get them in the boot; you know we can’t let them off the lead?”
“Yes, yes, it’ll be fine” says my husband, “I’ll take them for a walk while you are working”. Um – hello??? “You are going to swan off while I’m breaking my back, and minding the boys?”
The man has no shame as he happily smiles proudly back at me and nods. “Not just a pretty face” he says, “Not even” I mutter back darkly. This all seemed like such a good plan earlier – what happened? I can feel my enthusiasm ebbing like the tide. But once we arrive at the plot, I take stock of what needs done first. The boards of the raised bed are rotting in places and need some work so it makes sense to start here, before digging anything over. I let the boys go on their games while sorting this out, so that little fingers don’t end up getting squished by being in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
I’ve just about got the replacement wood in place when a wail like an air raid siren goes up. I drop the wood and run, “What’s the matter, is everything ok?” I ask frantically, looking to see if there is any blood, or anything obviously distressing – superficially everything seems fine. “I’ve run out of battery and he’s still playing” sobs my youngest. “Oh FFS!” I stomp back to my frame and finish off to a sound track of deep gulps and heavy duty sniffing. It’s not long before older brother also runs out of battery and so I get them to work. “See that patch there, no, not the grass, the soil in the wooden frame, can you pull the weeds out for me please? Just leave them to the side, I’ll put them on the compost heap afterwards”
They managed a whole two minutes of weeding before getting ‘bored’ which could be a new record and so the pair of them set of to explore. Well fair enough I think, at least they are outdoors, running around, they don’t need me on their back the whole time and I start the digging.
“We’re hungry, can we have a snack?” WTF? “I thought you were exploring, what happened?” (This is another mistake, I really ought to know better, because we now go into a ten minute answer about how they got to the other end of the poly tunnel before one hit the other, and so he hit him back again, and it’s not fair – nothing is ever fair – and can we have something to eat please. Not healthy stuff, obviously; sweets or crisps). “Ok, ok, no problem – go to my big bag, have a rummage and get something, yes get your brother something too”.
I get back to digging, which is bloody hard work, as there is couch grass roots everywhere, I can hear some barking in the distance and I think dark thoughts. I don’t mind hard work, I can even enjoy it in the right conditions, but the constant mental problem solving, mediation, looking for lost things, and reorganising leaves me beaten.
Husband returns, with two seething muddy masses on the end of a stick, no, another mistake, it’s the dogs, and they are both pulling on the lead and trying to jump over each other as they are excited to see me. I just about manage to get out of the way before being flattened. “Fancy a cuppa, love?’ I’m asked, yes, I think – at this stage I would like a cup of tea, I would love a cold beer, but that’s not on offer. Tea it is. “It’s in the flask” I call back and lie back on the grass for a moment to stretch out my back.
Husband bring’s over a mug of tea. “Taking it easy, then?”
He see’s me eyeing up the spade, which luckily is just out of arms reach, and hands over a biscuit; he likes to run close to the edge sometimes. “So what’s next then?” he asks, thinking I don’t see him snaffling another fig roll, “are you ready to start planting anything?
I don’t want to do anything more. I have bitten off more than I can chew, but rule one is never admit defeat, so I consider what is actually possible, the potatoes can wait, but I’ll get the raspberry canes in. I mumble something along these lines. “Me and the boys can put the spuds in’ he says, “where are they anyway?” Good point, it’s been quiet for a while, where are they? Thankfully not far, a couple of well projected shouts brings them scampering back, oh shit they are going too fast down the hill – and it all goes into slow motion as one inevitably trips and they both go tumbling down.
We settle on getting all of the raspberries in, and some of the potatoes.
By now I am way beyond going home to start cooking from scratch, and totally fall in love with hubs again when he suggests getting an Indian takeaway for dinner.