Friday, 28 November 2008

More arson

More evidence of the sheer imbecility of certain people in Pinehurst. If they'd had any brains at all they would at least have removed the tools before they burnt down these sheds, so that they could sell them at a car boot sale and make more money to spend on booze or drugs. I hadn't been down the allotments for a week because of the weather, and this was what I found when I did.
What annoys me - one of the things that annoy me - is that these sheds usually belong to old men whose greatest pleasure in life is their garden. They haven't enough money to buy a new set of tools, and after this, would they have the heart?

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Portrait of Joe

This is my best photo of Joe, my next-door neighbour. I took it in 2007 with my film camera. Joe insisted on paying me for a print, which he sent to his granddaughter in London.

Joe #3, Plot 354

This is the man whom I referred to in my earlier blogs as "the miserable git" because he was always complaining about something or other (e.g. Hazel's partner asking for the gate to be left unlocked). Well, I misjudged him. He seems to be okay. I had a long conversation with him about a fortnight ago about just about everything, though I can't remember what now. His name is Joe (yes, another Joe, the third), and his real name is Giuseppe.

This is a photograph I took of him rotovating his plot in autumn of 2007, before I knew any of the Italians, and just wanted to document their Italianness and their gardening methods (both of which remain important aims for me).

I love the colour of this photo, which is entirely accidental, and results from scanning black and white film with a colour scanner.

Magdalena (?), plots 66 & 67

This is a photo of the lady whose family owns plots 66 and 67. I think her name is Magdalena. I photographed her with black and white film in the summer of 2007. She is married to an English man, whose name escapes me at the moment, but who, last time I asked him, didn't want me to photograph him (he's the bloke who told me I was making it hard for myself trying to dig the whole of the Cat allotment over at first instead of clearing a small part of it).

Magdalena seems very sweet, and is ill at the moment. John tells me that she insisted on getting the allotment in order before going into hospital. She works like a trooper on the allotment, hoeing with the best of them. At the end of this season, the whole family came down one day and cleared almost everything off the two allotments, and then it was down to the English man to dig them over. I can understand his reluctance to be photographed when he was sweating in the sun fit for a heart attack. When he's with them, he speaks English - I wonder if he can speak Italian?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Giovanni planting chicons

This is Italian John (Giovanni), plot 82, planting his chicons. He puts in a lot more than I did, and he doesn't bother to set them upright. Also, he puts them in quite a deep trench (about a foot deep).

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Strawberry plants

John gave me some strawberry plants today. He is digging up part of his patch, because it's getting far too big, so he offered me some plants. I was going to take the ones off the Salvation Army allotment, as they are clearly not appreciated by any of them, but he said, leave them there, and have some of these for the Cat allotment. I was only just thinking as I walked down there today that I ought to get some strawberries established down there as soon as possible, because the sooner I plant them, the sooner I'll have fruit, regardless of how clean the soil is. I can take the weeds out later. And like John said, I like cooking and I particularly like home made strawberry jam!

Now THAT's what you call Catalogna!

This is Vito taking home his Catalogna.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Broad beans

Today I sowed my first seeds on the Cat Allotment. I put in two double rows of broad beans. I had finally got round to cycling to Ron's Stores in Rodbourne, where they sell them loose. I bought a cupful for £2.20, and had so many that even though I put two in every hole, I still had enough for a second row. There's no way I can eat that many beans, but they're good for the garden, so I sowed them anyway. You never know, I might find enough old ladies to give them to by next July.

I had to hoe down a strip of dug soil about a yard wide before I sowed them. The Italian hoe Joe gave me is useless - every time I use it, the head falls off. But if it didn't, it would be a 100% improvement on the titchy hoe I've got now. I simply must get a decent Italian hoe by next Spring!

My Fence

When I went down today, the first thing I noticed was that the Council had already been and mended the gap next to the gate where the vandals had been getting in. I thought it would be too much to hope for them to have done my fence too, but they had. And what a wonderful job they've made of it! I'm absolutely over the moon with it. I can relax now, safe in the knowledge that the Family-from-Hell can no longer just nip over the fence and steal anything burnable. It would take quite a lot for them to get over that fence - it would take an effort, for one thing, and that in itself is enough of a deterrent.

How they got in

The vandals were getting in through a hole they had cut in the fence down the bottom. The Allotment Officer had that mended, but they found another way in. It was so obvious that no-one noticed it. There we were, busily unlocking and locking the gate, when all you had to do was slip through the gap beside it. I did, and if I could, a kid could do so far more easily.

How some people celebrated Bonfire Night this year

The local morons celebrated November 5th this year by coming on to the allotments and vandalising a large number of sheds. They even burned one down. I was there when the guy turned up and saw it. He had already heard that it had been burnt down and took it exceptionally well. He's a really nice old guy - wouldn't hurt a fly. His wife said he'd already taken all his tools home and left the shed unlocked, because it had been broken into before. It's as if they wanted to get to him no matter what - but it wasn't personal: at least half a dozen more sheds had been broken into. And the vandals used no finesse, as you can see from these photographs.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


To top it all, I am now digging a waterlogged allotment. The water is lying just below the surface from about half way down. Doesn't bode well if we have another wet summer.

Close encounters

Two days ago I had my first direct encounter with the Family-from-Hell. Fortunately I was not alone, or it would have been war.

I had met the Allotment Officer as I was going into the allotments. She was going to see Franco (whose surname, I was delighted to discover, is Virgilio), who was complaining about the state of the track and the rubbish he's suddenly discovered he has after the fence-makers moved it all in order to build their fence. Afterwards, she came down to the Cat Allotment in order to have another look at the fence.

We had wandered down towards the fence and had a peep across it into the Family-from-Hell's garden, and I'd pointed out the hearth there, which must be 10 ft across and is surrounded by stones.

We were wandering back up the garden, deep in conversation, when we heard a voice behind us shouting "Oi! What do you think you're looking at?"

We turned around and saw an irate-looking woman of about 27 with horribly dyed hair (bottle blonde with a streak of pure black). She continued to harangue us for a few minutes about looking in her garden. She was evidently very suspicious of us, and probably feeling guilty about having stolen my wood and was trying to cover it up. It was quite frightening for me because I had never spoken to her before or done anything wrong apart from look over the fence, yet she had already decided to victimise me. But I kept quiet and let the Allotment Officer speak.

She was very tactful, and said, "We're not looking in your garden. I'm the Allotment Officer, and I've come to look at this allotment." We turned away from her, and heard her say, to get the last word in, "Well, don't go looking in my garden!"

I was very shaken, and it is frightening to think she might come out again and start haranguing me while I'm there alone, especially now that I seem to be the only person down there most of the time.

Later on, to make matters worse, four children came out of another garden two houses up, and started running up and down the path of Chris's allotment, and yelling at the builders who are building an extension on the other side of the allotments. John had told me about these kids when he was making my compost bin. There isn't even a door, just a gap in the fence. I had pointed out this gap in the fence to the Allotment Officer too, and she said she would eventually try to have it patched up, but it was a question of money and getting the contractors to do it. She has the same difficulty I have with getting the Council to do anything. You just have to keep on at them till you're blue in the face.

All in all, I came away feeling scared and victimised, and it detracts from my pleasure of being there. I dread to think what the Family-from-Hell's reaction will be when the fence eventually does go up - no doubt they'll blame me for that, and will victimise me all the more until I can grow a bramble big enough to shut them out entirely.

Friday, 31 October 2008


Today I transplanted my chicons. These are for endives (Witloof-type). Giuseppe Greco (Joe #1)had told me twice after he gave me the plants that I would have to transplant them at the end of this month, and it being the 31st, I thought it was about time I got round to it.

I dug them up, cut the bottom of the root off so that it was about 2-3 inches long, and trimmed off most of the foliage. Then I made holes with a dibber at the bottom of a shallow trench I'd made, and put the "potatoes" (as Joe called them) into the holes and covered them over.

I have transplanted them on to the Salvation Army allotment, even though I told them I wouldn't be using it next year. I told them I had winter veg on it that I would want to harvest, and I think these endives count as winter veg. I'm not sure whether to plant my broad beans on that plot though. I think I'd rather start them off on the Cat Allotment, even though the soil isn't clean yet. I tested it today, and some of the soil I've turned over has already become crumbly to the prod of a spade, so it won't take as much as I thought to get it ready to plant. It might look like a ploughed field, but it will be quite easy to level it off, and once it starts to dry off again, to dig out the perennial weeds.

Swiss chard

Thomas stopped to talk to me when he passed the Cat allotment. First of all, he told me off for working in the north wind, saying that I'd catch a cold - not now, but when I went home.

On the back of his bike in an orange string bag he had some white stalks with green leaves that were half as big as him. I asked him what they were, and he said they were spinach. He offered me some, and I accepted two stalks. He told me to chop them into 2-inch lengths and cook them in water, then serve them with a little salt and some garlic. He said his children liked them but his grandchildren didn't. I said that was because they were English.

I brought them home and cooked them, putting some chopped up stalks in my tomato sauce and cooking the rest as spinach. I expected them to be coarse and taste strong, but instead, the tops were just like spinach, and the stalks I had cooked with them were mild and delicate with an excellent texture. I later discovered that what I was eating was Swiss chard. Another vegetable to add to my repertoire.

Thursday, 30 October 2008


When I got down the allotment today, a huge council tractor and trailer were just leaving. When I got further up the track, I could see that it had dumped of a trailer-load of leaves, swept up from the municipal parks and streets.

I'd been menaing to go out into the country and collect leaves, but this seemed a quick way of getting a supply, even if they weren't what Lawrence D. Hills would call the best type - not oak and beech (I still remember that book almost word for word, even though I owned it almost thirty years ago).

I decided to use the compost container Dee gave me, which I'd been using up till now on the Salvation Army allotment because I hadn't wanted to bother to build a compost bin on a plot that wasn't mine. I emptied that and carried it down to no. 59, where I attempted to secure it by slipping it over one of the metal poles Joe had used to fix his windbreak in place. Then I was going to fill it up by the bucket-load, but someone had abandoned a wheelbarrow on the vacant allotment next to the pile of leaves, so I borrowed that.

Later, when Joe came down, he said leaves are even better than manure. He said he used to be a cobbler, and he mended shoes for the nuns in Wroughton. He said that one of them used to collect leaves and she grew cabbages " that!"

I didn't get much digging done, because it took me about an hour to deal with the leaves, and almost as soon as I started to dig, it began to rain.

I went back to the SA allotment to shelter in the hut, and noticed that they'd been down and done some work since I was down last. I say "work", but all they seem to have achieved is to level out the soil nearest the hut, dig the edges and pile some of the grass on the weed-pile, and make a god-awful mess of the paths. John will be furious when he sees the state they've left his path in. It used to be a velvety lawn, but now it's a sea of mud. Poor John! Poor me - no chance I'll get it now, since they've clearly decided to ignore common sense and go for another year of turning over the same plot half a dozen times without taking the weeds out.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The first frost

His wife, Anna, wasn't there today. He said she was in bed: she wasn't well - something to do with her legs. I don't blame her for taking a day off - it was freezing when I got there at 10 am - we'd had the first real frost of the winter (it has wiped out my nasturtiums), and this makes it the earliest deep frost for years (it's still only October, remember). But by mid-morning, John and I were sharing tea from his Thermos sitting in the sun outside his shed. Later, though, when it clouded over, it was very cold. It really smelt of winter.

Two Giuseppes and a Giovanni

I am slowly working out who is who on the allotment. Joe #1's real name is Giuseppe Greco, and Joe #2's real name is Giuseppe Olivieri. John's (82) name is Giovanni. I think.

Frank (369/370) told me this when he passed the Salvation Army allotment on his way home. His real name is apparently Francesco Mackenzie. He says he's got Scottish ancestry. He had me believing him, but I think his name is really Vincenzi, not Mackenzie.

Compost bin

Today, Big John and I built my compost bin - or should I say, John did, with me looking on and giving instructions.

There were only three fencing panels left, so it is a single compost bin. First, John sawed off about a quarter of the fencing panels so that what remained were only 3 ft high, and easily portable, as I had to carry them back down to no. 59. He'd brought some posts so that I didn't have to use the long posts I've got which I want to save for mending the shed.

When he'd built the bin, Joe #2 came along (that's his bike you can see in the background) and asked when I was getting the sheep.

We're going to continue the back of the bin along to form a windbreak. Eventually. But for now, I'm well content, because I've marked out my territory. Now no-one can say they didn't know someone was using that patch and chuck their rubbish on it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The end of the Salvation Army allotment?

I forwarded this email to the Allotment Officer, and she said she liked it, but having read it over, it seems very angry. Mind you, I've got every right to be angry. I told the Allotment Officer that if I was offered my half of the SA allotment in my name, I would accept it, because then I would know it was mine and that I wouldn't stand to be kicked off at the whim of the Salvation Army. But I was no longer prepared to "subsidise" them by working on it and keeping it up together, so that they could keep the plot because it was being cultivated, whereas if they have the whole plot to contend with, they don't stand an earthly of keeping it up together and will lose it at the end of next season. Also, if I had half, I stood a good chance of getting the other half when they realised they were only fooling themselves that it would come together.

She replied that they hadn't paid their rent on it yet this year, so if they didn't, she would happily sign it over to me.

So I'm wondering if the Salvation Army is really having second thoughts as to whether it's worth their while bothering next year. Mind you, I'm not holding out any hopes that they will come to their senses and hand it over to me. That would be too much to hope for!

Oh dear, the Salvation Army!

At the same time as I got the email from the Allotment Officer, I had one from the Salvation Army, too. They were asking me whether I wanted to keep working on the bottom half of their allotment next year.

I was in a pretty bad mood at the time. I'd tried to phone the Allotment Officer and she wasn't there. I'd tried to phone the Neighbourhood Warden to complain about the Family-from-hell, but I got answered by some silly girl who put me back to the switchboard, which left me hanging on for three minutes, which cost me £2 on my mobile. When I phoned back to complain and to ask for the direct line, another girl got uppity with me. So I was all ready to take it out on someone. This is the email I sent back to the Salvation Army:

Dear Xxx,

Don't take this personally, but I'll be very blunt - who are you trying to kid that you will do any better next year on even a quarter of the allotment? The Salvation Army has had that plot for goodness knows how many years, and according to John, whose house backs on to it, and who has seen them come and go, it has always been the same - you get a few people up there for a few months, then it goes back to the state it was in at the end of this summer. When I lived in Davis House, I had a number of blokes coming to "help" me - none of them stayed for long. Even now, the weeds are coming back because none of your lot has ever bothered to dig the roots out, even though I dug that part over three times and they've dug it at least three more. During the last part of this summer, i.e. the harvest period, they only came down there once in six weeks. You can't run an allotment on that basis. You need to work hard on it for several hours at least one day a week (I would say two), and that's a bare minimum. Plus you need to have them properly supervised, because none of them have got a clue. If you can't promise that commitment, you should hand it over to someone who can. I had to watch a perfectly good piece of land that I had lovingly cultivated go completely to waste this year, and did not have enough land myself to grow sufficient food for myself.

The soil on the piece of land I have now is not nearly as good as that on the Salvation Army allotment, but I am digging it over ready to put into full production next year. I will not have the time or energy to cultivate both plots. If you ask me, it is your lot who should be starting from scratch, not me, as they are men and seem to be good at digging if nothing else. However, I have no expectations of my moral right to that plot being recognised, so I am going to leave it all to you. But I think that unless you come up with a better plan than you had this year (and don't make me laugh by talking about giving each resident his own raised bed - fix the shed before you think about wasting energy building raised beds), you will find that you are unable to keep even a quarter of it properly cultivated, and will thus be in danger of losing the plot by the end of the next season by which time I will be fully committed to my own plot. I have some vegetables on yours at the moment, which I want to harvest through the winter, but come the spring, I'm going to have to leave you to it. So, if I were you I should start thinking about organising a chain gang now, because that's the only way you're going to get that lazy lot working on it.

As I said, nothing personal, but I might as well be honest, even if undiplomatic. I wish you the best of luck - you're going to need it.

Regards Vieve

PS Thanks for letting me keep it up together for you up till now!

A theft, contd.

The same evening, I emailed our Allotment Officer to tell her what had happened. On Monday, I tried to phone her as well, but she wasn't there, so I left a forceful voicemail message for her. About an hour later, I got an email back from her saying she'd asked the contractors to put up fencing between the Family-from-hell's house and mine and my neighbours' allotments. This would be the high, green metal fencing that they've used to fence round most of the allotment, so will be plenty high enough to deter these scavenging scroungers.

I told both the Joes and Franco about it. Both the Joes called the FFH 'bastards', and Joe #2 (no. 58) told me they'd pinched his tomato stakes on two occasions, and he'd come close to "putting a fork through their neck" when he'd remonstrated with them. He said he knew it was wrong but it would have been worth it. You'd never guess to look at him - he's as mild-mannered as they come. But a lot of these Italians served in the war, and would think nothing of stabbing a man. Franco pretended to be more laissez-faire, more philosophical. Perhaps because he's got so much rubbish on his allotments he wouldn't notice if any of it went missing.

A theft

I had a theft from my allotment (no.59) last Friday night. Two of my fencing panels were taken from beside my shed. I strongly suspect that they were taken by the Family-from-hell, whose garden backs on to my allotment. They left two empty beer bottles as a calling-card, and I when I arrived on my allotment, I could see the smouldering remains of a bonfire on their garden. A day or two earlier I'd seen them light a bonfire, and the day before my fencing panels were taken, I saw a young man building a bonfire, on which he had piled, amongst other things, a plastic-covered easy chair.

I was half-expecting it, just not this soon. I thought at least they'd wait until nearer bonfire night, by which time John and I would have used the wood to make my compost bin. But no - what started out as six panels rescued from the pile outside the bungalow is now down to three. I dragged them all the way back to the Salvation Army allotment and hid them behind the shed, where I think they'll be safe, unless some maniac from the hostel takes it into his head to come and build a bonfire. I also cleared the shed of every bit of wood that I wanted to keep, which took me about an hour of walking up and down between the two, time which I had planned to spend digging.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


A few of the scenes of autumn on the allotment. Marrows, plenty of marrows, on shed roofs, on the ground, everywhere. Grape must dumped on the plot ready to be dug in.
My nasturtiums, which didn't do much all summer, have now gone mad and are trailing all over the place.
At the same time, there have been lots of signs of a second spring, not least of which is my dandelions bursting into bloom. My strawberries are still in flower, and some primulas are flowering again, like these here a few weeks back and the cowslips in my garden at home.


The Family-from-hell over the fence from the Cat allotment have taken to burning their rubbish in the garden, presumably because they keep forgetting to put the bins out and get up too late on dustbin day to rectify the matter. I am worried they will climb over the broken-down fence and start nicking wood from the allotment, so here is photographic evidence of the wood Big John's going to make my compost bin out of!

Frank and Anna

Saw Frank and Anna today just as I got there. They were putting their tools away and going home with their rotovator (they'd just rotovated in their manure). Anna commented on the wind and the cold. She said it got into her hands - she's got arthritis. Then she pulled up her skirt and showed me the scar on her left knee where she's had her knee joint replaced. She walks with a bad limp. But despite all this, she digs better than most men, and she's down there every day with Frank working for hours. I saw her later pushing the rotovator home. When I offered to help her, she said, "You're very kind, but my husband..." and she indicated to Frank who was catching up behind.

I don't know why she has got her scarf in her mouth in this picture - perhaps it's to keep her face warm.

They asked me my name the other day, and when I told them it, Frank said, "Via? Via, eh? Via means road in Italian!" So now that's who I am. He always says "Hello, Via," when he sees me - which is nice.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A wooden dilemma

I said Big John had offered to build me a compost bin, and to look at whether my shed is worth saving, but I think the best use for that wood would be for fencing, to keep the family-from-hell from climbing over the broken-down old fence and stealing the Italians' tomato stakes for their bonfires and barbecues. I told John this, and he said "Why don't I ask the council to mend the fence?" But I have asked our wonderful Allotment Officer, and nothing has been done, and I dread to think what will happen if the fence isn't fixed now that there are so few people down the allotment at any one time.

No. 7

This is the [English] man on Plot 7. I saw him planting onions and didn't have the energy to ask his permission to photograph him, though that would have been better. His plot is immaculate, and you can see, and he had a proper orange plastic dibber and was putting the onion sets in along lines of green plastic-covered wire.

Leeks and fennel - staple winter stem vegetables

The past few visits have been devoted to digging. I dig three rows on the new allotment, then if I've got any energy left, do some work on the SA allotment. Today I noticed the Salvation Army allotment was looking quite neglected in places because I had been spending all the lovely autumn weather we've had recently (apart from yesterday, when it poured) on the Cat allotment. So I put a bit of work into it, clearing around my few leeks to allow them a space to breathe. Big John gave me those leeks earlier in the summer, when mine had all died of rust. These - there must be about nine or ten - look fine, but are still only small.

I ate some of my fennel in a stir-fry tonight, together with some of my cabbage. I photographed Cathy's (No. 40) fennel, to show you what good Italian fennel should look like. Mine are much smaller, but are coming on. They smell wonderful when cut.

I also cleared my edges around the sprouts, as the grass had made inroads on the plot. It was all very backbreaking - I can only do so much - but it looks better now, and tomorrow I'll have to return to my digging.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The last of the summer apples and blackberries

And then home, after picking a handful of water-engorged blackberries to colour the stewed windfall apples given to me by my friend Sylvie.

Rafelli (No. 361)

Here is a happy man with his dung and his marrow, Mr Betti (?) on Plot no. 361.

Big John's raised beds

Big John has gone to town on his raised beds. But these are real raised beds, not your usual little sandpits. There are five of them, massively built from huge planks, lined with black polythene and filled with good topsoil (as I said, costing him £125).

Still not sure I approve of raised beds, but if anyone can prove to me that they work, it's John.