Mind you, Monopoly will do that to a person.
Anyway, a return visit today showed that the slugs hadn't eaten every single leaf, so I've left them, more in hope than experience, to fend for themselves and instead busied myself weeding, planting out onion bulbs and looking around.
The giant elder that borders our plot and the one next door has shed its leaves, revealing a silvery, crumply trunk and the faintest hints (if you squint) of mistletoe on the top branches. The brambles have also shed their leaves, although a few blackberries cling on - not even the mice want them at this time of year. The trees and undergrowth that line the canalside of the allotment are still in dense with foliage: it will be interesting to see what winter reveals when it really bites and we finally get to see the bones of the site.
The squash and the sweet potatoes have lost the will to live and mouldered away. Only the chard seems to be thriving. Thank god for the chard. Our neighbours on the left and left again have been served "non-cultivation" notices on their plots and, if it weren't for that, I suspect we would have been too.
Although 3 beds have now been uncovered and worked over, it's slow business taking over a site that had been effectively abandoned for 2 years: the sheer amount of work in clearing a space to grow anything in is overwhelming at times, not to mention our own ignorance of how to work it. But I paid close attention to advice received at the beginning of our tenancy: work a small bit at a time, don't try to do it all at one. Our left-hand neighbour didn't, rotavated the entire plot at the beginning of summer and then hasn't been near it since, except to stare in horror at the weeds that had multiplied in his month's absence.
On the left of him, they'd spent an industrious weekend clearing and burning scrub before disappearing off to Glastonbury for the weekend, returning to much the same scene of weed-takeover and despair. Allotments are hard work and it's easy to feel overwhelmed when you try to tackle the whole plot at once. So I don't: little and as often as I can fit in. Hopefully I'll be up there again before my op on Monday afternoon.
But it was good to be up there today: the air smelt of earth, rotting leaves and woodsmoke, the sounds of the city move further away and you become aware of a settling of the soul. The ache in your arms from hoeing is more real than any looming work problem and perspective on life is gained. If only vegetables were as well. But the chard is good, especially when cooked like this:
- Shred finely and stir fry till beginning to crisp in sesame oil
- Add sesame seeds, a little garlic/ginger/chilli/whatever you fancy
- Squeeze in some lime juice and a small drop of fish sauce
- Add cooked egg noodles and continue to stir fry until chard is crisp and your mouth is watering
- Serve with soy or chilli sauce, coriander and, if feeling particularly greedy/in need of a cultural mash-up, some toasted sourdough.
There have been catchings-up with friends, some of whom are moving on to career pastures new; gigs in areas of Birmingham I've never explored before, nights of scrabble, games of pool and family gatherings. My walks to work along the canal have taken a misty-foggy turn where the leaves hang damp and sullen, and the sky is low around the ears.
There has also been the arrival of 2 cats into our lives, Thor and Loki, from the local rescue centre. They are big beautiful boys and, after 4 weeks, have the Boyfriend wrapped around their (rather large - Loki's in particular) paws. It's rather endearing. This is the place to come if you ever want to see a grown man spend an inordinate amount of money on a "cat tower with crawl spaces and specially designed scratching posts". Which they are absolutely going to ignore in favour of the sofa/antique trunk/carpet. Because, cats.