When I was 17 I worked in an old people’s home. I made a lot of tea and encountered a lot of bodily fluids. Perhaps I made too much tea.
It was a sad place, surrounded by people stained by time and regret. None of us wanted to be there; not me, not them. Though at the time, sloshing commodes for half the minimum wage was better than being in my parental home. I left that job the minute my A levels were over, with barely more than a guilty backwards glance into freedom.
And that was there my incursion with old age ended. Until I took on an allotment.
I’m sure there are allotment sites where the majority of people are fit young things, sporting Hunter wellies and organic bamboo clothing, where the crops are as trendy and experimental as those that tend them. The kind of allotments where the waiting lists are 10 years long and the list of rules even longer.
Well not here. There are some families starting to emerge (some don’t last a season) but the majority of plot holders are in their seventies and eighties. Some are even older, still guarding their stalwart crops of cabbages, cauliflowers and runner beans.
When I arrived three and a half years ago, kids and all-terrain buggy in tow, I could almost sense them placing bets behind closed shed doors on how long I’d last. I bristled myself to stand against sexism and youthism, but ended up burying my assumptions on the weed pile.
I owe it to these men (and occasional woman) who in one sense, but not another, have time on their hands. They’ve cleared up glass when vandals have smashed my greenhouse ‘cos of the littl’uns’ – they’ve watered my seedlings when I haven’t been around, ‘wouldn’t want to let ‘em die’ and they’ve consistently told me to ‘throw a few slug pellets down there.’ That’s one piece of advice I’ve ignored.
I’ve heard tales of hernias and hip replacements, and have been the general go-to for baby wipes and minor first aid. I’ve learned how to prevent carrot fly and which beans to grow. And I’ve learned that an allotment is a far better place to be old than an old people’s home. Even if all you can do is shuffle down the path, then sit and gaze at the tulips.
These people are in the winter of their life, but at the allotment, Winter is always followed by Spring. I wish I’d dug an allotment in the back of that old people’s home.