It’s the perennial haircut. I haven’t stared in a mirror for this long since the last time I was at the hairdressers. My reflection glares back, introducing me to fine, and not so fine, lines. The mirror is gratuitously large, a purveyor of too much information.
Outside, the first fallen leaves flap against the window. Summer is over and so, it seems, is the summer of youth. Autumn is on the horizon. Like this year’s sweet peas, I’m past my best. A bit of Botox wouldn’t go amiss, except I don’t think it’s organic. And I’m not keen on needles.
The hairdresser hops around my hairline, like a spare member of One Direction, in his rolled up jeans and espadrilles.
‘Doing anything later?’ he asks.
Given that I’m probably old enough to be his mother (biologically speaking) I assume this isn’t a chat up line or an invitation.
‘Oh, just going to the allotment,’ I reply.
He looks at me like I’ve just told him I’m going to a funeral. Or like I’ve just told him there’s a sweet pea called Terry Wogan. (There is.) I want to laugh, tell him it’s ok, I don’t need condolences, I love the allotment as much as he loves clubbing; it’s my sanctuary, my sanity. Fortunately, a hairdryer spares the need for further explanation.
I must have spent too much time at the plot, immersed in the rhythm of the seasons, where the analogies between gardening and life flourish like weeds. If spring represents the first twenty years of life, with its rapid growth and vulnerability, then summer is all about the next twenty years – reproduction, work and school runs. Pollination is basically sex. Which means autumn begins at 40. Which means I’m only weeks away.
I’m not sure I’m ready. I can’t help searching for just a few more beans, checking to see if I’ve missed any strawberries. Maybe there are peas still to be found, just a bit late to the party. But no, summer is over, it’s no use getting a new tattoo. (I had one, it’s got stretch marks through it now.) A new term has started with its onslaught of colds and homework. A new season is dragging me away.
After a plentiful summer, the sweet corn is over, so are the cucumbers. The last of the lettuces have either bolted or been savaged by slugs. Just wait til I get those scissors out. The sunflowers are drooping, heavy with seed and memories of sun, and even the courgettes, those most loyal and munificent of vegetables, will soon be heading for the menopause.
But beneath the piles of decaying leaves, lies unnoticed treasure. Buried in the debris of early autumn, pumpkins and squash sit silently; swelling, ripening, glowing. When summer ends there’s still gold to be found. Autumn is just a new phase. Even winter has much to offer – leeks, parsnips, brassicas if the birds don’t get them – but that can wait.
At very nearly 40, I’m just grateful to have got this far. Others didn’t. Thankful to have an allotment that keeps us in veg and keeps my feet on the ground, and blessed by my perennial sunshines, J, D and A, and the vicarious spring they provide – so much better than the first one.
Maybe the haircut will take years off me. Maybe it’ll be an Indian summer.