Farewell to the allotment

I knew that managing the allotment with a newborn this year would be a bit of a struggle. The plan was to mulch all the annual beds with cardboard, plant potatoes (fairly low-maintenance crop) through it, and hope for more time next year. Unfortunately, the dreadful weather was better suited to weeds than to potatoes, and we didn’t mulch quite thoroughly enough*. What with that, and the fact that I had even less time than I’d anticipated, when I finally made it back there a month ago it was a jungle.

That left me two options (given that my co-proprietor has no more time available than I do):
1. Put in a really big effort to get it under control again.
2. Give up, hand the keys over, and let it pass on to someone else.

On the way home, stressed and guilty, I began to plan for option one. Rip all the brambles out yet again, put a thicker layer of cardboard down over everything, paths and all. It seemed like the ‘correct’ thing to do. We’ve put a lot of effort into the allotment over the seven years that we’ve had it, and I didn’t want to let all of that down by failing to keep on trying.

And yet, and yet. The reality is that much though I have loved the allotment, in my current circumstances it has become more of a dread chore than a joy. Nor could I work out where the time would come from even to rescue it, still less to manage it properly for the next couple of years. And I do now have a garden (easier to find time for due to being right outside the back door rather than a 5 min bike ride away). When I asked myself which option would leave me feeling happier in a global sense, it wasn’t the one that involved a herculean effort just to stand still.

So last month, I harvested the last box of raspberries, left a map of the permanent crops for the new proprietor, and handed the keys back. I’m sad, of course. But it’s also a weight off my conscience and a relief to my already overloaded schedule to accept that at this time in my life, the allotment just doesn’t fit. I’m proud of myself for managing to make that decision without too much guilt.

I’ll miss it.

* What I learnt: mulch works best if you minimise the gaps (we had gaps around the edges of the beds) and mulch deeply. If I were doing it again, I’d mulch over the whole thing, paths and all, and with more layers of cardboard.


Writing and time

Since I last wrote about writing and parenting, a few weeks ago, I’ve been experimenting with ways of writing fiction during my child-care days.

I’ve written a few more bits and pieces on my phone (thumb-typing is slow) using Epistle, which has worked a little but I still find it hard to do more than notes or a handful of sentences. Then the other weekend I bought myself a nice hardback notebook which opens to stay flat (I love my Moleskine, but I can’t use it it one-handed as it won’t stay flat). Since then I’ve written about half of a short story, balancing the notebook on my knee, with L asleep in my lap. The other half I’ve written partly on the phone, and partly on the laptop like a normal person (i.e. when not actively baby-wrangling). Editing still needs to be done on the laptop, although I can think about it whilst baby-wrangling.

I also did some sketching of maps on a borrowed portable easel, while Leon sat on my lap, watched, and then tried to steal the pens. Possibly I might use crayon if I do that again, although the sofa did survive unstained. That was fun, entertained L (always useful!), and was more productive than I anticipated for the story itself.

There’s something about writing by hand that allows me to sneak up on myself. I’m not really writing, I can tell myself, I’m just making notes. I’ll have to type them up later anyway so I don’t have to get it right first time. It allows me the mental freedom to scribble things down (and it is scribble; my handwriting suffers dreadfully from the angle even when using a fountain pen) without getting paralysed by the idea that I am Sitting Down To Write.

(I just hope it carries on working now I’ve talked about it here.)

Writing in multiple different places does have its drawbacks. I have to type up the handwritten notes anyway, so I’m working over that twice; but then that can be seen as an advantage. I’ve occasionally found myself writing the same bit twice, or writing scenes that need something else between them to tie them together. On the other hand, that can help me to keep it all active in my head, as I remind myself of what I’ve written where, and what’s still missing. And having two takes of a single scene isn’t such a bad thing either.

I’ll keep experimenting. And I have a short story to finish.


how late it was, how late

On Sunday I planted half of this year’s potatoes in the allotment. The gardeners amongst you will be aware that this is at least a week late (the traditional time for planting potatoes being Easter); given that in fact I only bought them this week and thus that they’ve barely been chitted, in practise it’s even later than that.

For the rest of the day, I’ve been pondering, off and on, on lateness. I remember, some time ago, someone (possibly my father) telling me that there are two sorts of people in the world: people who think that five minutes late is late, and people who think that half an hour late is on time. Historically, I was always been one of the former. I once turning up at an airport before check-in had even opened for my flight (this back in the day when 2 hours was considered ‘early’ for check-in, and one could still take such dangerous items as knitting needles and shoes on a plane). In theory, I still do consider five minutes late to be late; it’s just that these days I always am, by that measure, late.

One reason for the shift is that these days I cycle everywhere. When you’re on a bike, you acquire a firm belief in your control over your own travel. You don’t need to arrange your voyaging around timetables, or allow for delays. You don’t need to consider the traffic, because bikes can sail merrily past traffic jams (a deep and lasting joy). The problem is my consistent underestimation of how long it takes me to do get from A to B; and the fact that even traffic jams you sail past have a distinctly slowing effect.

There’s the Dog Effect, as well. When we first acquired Sidney, she absolutely had to be taken out into the square to pee before being left alone, and there was a fighting chance that as you opened the front door, she would dive out to cavort around the grass, necessitating a protracted chase scene and subsequent twenty-minutes-plus of lateness. These days she’ll inform you in plenty of time if she needs to pee, and only rarely zooms out of the door on her own recognizance; but the Dog Check for edible or otherwise chewable substances left within nose-reach takes non-zero time. Apparently it takes me more than a year to get used to something like this.

Then there’s the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years hanging out with anarchist/activist types, for whom half an hour late is actually fairly early. It’s a choice between showing up on time and hanging around on your own for half an hour; or showing up half an hour late and accepting the tacit agreement that That’s Just How It Is. I fear the necessary adjustment to this particular cultural expectation has had a knock-on effect on the rest of my life.

I find myself wondering if it’s (another?) sign that I’m trying to fit too much in to the available space. That if I had more spaciousness in my life, I would be able to allow more travelling time and thus arrive on time; rather than squeezing just-one-more-thing into the space and then belting up the road at top speed to compensate. But then… there are just so many things to do, and so little time to do them in. Which am I to abandon?

Perhaps I should make a new promise, turn over a new leaf, and reinsert myself into the ranks of the five-minutes-early brigade. Or perhaps I should just learn to cycle faster. Better late than never?


Time and sustainability

I worked out the other day that the various things I’m committed to (paid work, activism, food-growing, writing, other bits & pieces) add up to approximately a 50-hour week (that’s excluding the 5 hours I work on Saturdays). Which… is a lot.

Then there’s the things that keep showing up in my inbox, or on mailing lists, or in leaflets I see in Non-Commercial House or LARC. So many things that I would love to get involved in, and that would be valuable uses of my time. Except for where I already have no time left.

I know that activism has to be sustainable; that you need to look after yourself and avoid burnout. (It’s also my experience that far too often, that’s not seen as a priority — that there can be an attitude whereby it’s encouraged to run yourself into the ground for a cause. But that’s for another post.) But there is so much that I could be doing, and I don’t know how to choose or prioritise it.

The best I can do at the moment is to try to be honest about what I actually get something out of for myself (because you won’t work well at something that you’re doing reluctantly); and to watch my tendency to overcommit when I’m just trying things out. I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to try things out, to work out where I want to spend my energies.

My gut instinct is that what I’m doing at the moment isn’t long-term sustainable; so I need to do something about it. But that doesn’t help me work out what to drop whilst still feeling satisfied with how I’m spending my time. If anything, it’s a constant battle not to take more things on. Tales of other people’s experiences of managing this would be gratefully appreciated!