This morning, I listened as they destroyed my allotment.
They cut everything down, the machines so very audible across the gardens, ready for the next person to come in.
Tomorrow, I will go and clear the shed. So ends a very long-held dream for me.
Just before allotments became fashionable, my local allotment society advertised to say that they had empty plots available. I had always wanted one.
The allotments start at the end of the garden and my step-grandfather had had one for years. There used to be a gate from the bottom of the garden into the plots and when we dug up part of the back garden to replace the fence, we found an air raid shelter, the steps clearly leading from the allotments to the shelter.
So it was with a huge sense of history revisited that I took possession of mine, over seven years ago, an overgrown mess, studded with foil wrappers and syringes. It took me the best part of a year to clear it – hard, heavy work and at the end of that period, I was so very proud to receive a “most improved plot” certificate.
What wasn’t so cool was my marriage breaking up and my Dad’s illness which led to his death which happened the second year.
I remember very vividly working my emotions into the soil – receiving a text from my beloved friend Sally, on the other side of the world, telling me that she had been to see my Dad, bringing him toothpaste, deodorant and a facecloth which he did not have, my Mum being too devastated to think of anything practical.
There was Sally, being my substitute in absentia (because I am very, very practical) and she knew exactly what to do.
My tears watered the earth and my fellow allotment-holders knew to give me space as I dug and cried and dug and cried and planted and pruned and cried some more.
There was the day I learned of my husband’s continued infidelity and dug a hole so big that the following day I did not have the strength to shovel everything back in. T laughed as I stumbled around the plot, swearing, my back aching before feeding me strawberries, warm from the summer’s sun and sweet with love and growth.
Felix, the allotment cat who decided to live with me, loved me being there. She would leave the house in the morning, stroll round to the social club for breakfast and then spend her day on the allotments, inspecting plots, getting in the way, getting cuddled and attending meetings,socials and AGMs.
It wasn’t a ratified AGM until Felix pitched up, full of mouse and feline charm, to sit on my lap and listen to the proceedings. I got the feeling that if she could have voted, she would have.
There was the day T, who managed to treat me with the utmost respect whilst flirting like mad, came hobbling over and asked whether I could do anything for his knee.
The doctor said he was just getting old, the cartilage was screwed and he would need an op. He was due to go to the States and visit his son and needed to be well. I hadn’t said a word but he guessed what I was made of, and held still whilst I healed his knee. On my knees in the mud whilst he stood above me and we both roared with laughter at the silhouette we presented to the rest of the allotment holders.
He told everyone I had kept him out of the operating theatre and his doctor couldn’t believe it.
The friendships forged there have been unique … when B came in to share my plot as I was having trouble keeping it neat and tidy myself, he was warned that I had had “a hard time and not to mess with me”.
When we started a relationship, we were discreet but not as discreet as we thought, because at the next social, I was asked whether the committee should invest in a licence to conduct marriages.
The state of the plot charted our relationship as it grew, matured and finally, failed. I, knowing full well what the plot meant to him, withdrew and let him have space there. The last lot of seedlings I grew, he left to wither and he strew the plot with beer cans, takeaway wrappers, frustration and sadness.
I, mourning my mother, could hardly muster the energy to pay attention, so taken up was I with familial betrayal, job hunting and keeping the cats, the house and I afloat.
A few months later, after a stern letter from the committee which left him seething and me too, but for completely different reasons, I took back control and went to face the destruction the end of our relationship had wrought.
Control didn’t happen overnight and a battle of wills ensued. I had left my allotment keys in South Africa when my Mom died. So the keys were withheld from me until a nasty blowup when I was at work, with him determined to set a bonfire (only permitted at certain times of the year and this was not one of them, with the penalty of a massive fine from the council) and me equally determined to stop him, losing hours and therefore money by leaving work early and travelling home on the bus, to have him self-righteously standing outside my house, taunting me, dangling the keys in his hand, full of some plan where he would set a fire and I would symbolically staunch it.
Cognisant of all that these people had done for me, livid at being controlled, livid at losing money to the whim of another’s self-indulgent pain (it had been over for a year since we had broken up in the wake of my mother’s death), alarmed at the glint of malice in his eyes, yet determined not to let him harm them, I lost my temper finally and forever, pulled the keys out of his hand and slammed the door in his face.
I cleared four bin bags full of rubbish and took it home, recomposted the sad remains of my seedlings and got on with it. I struggled though, spending so much time up North with my beloved, looking after the cats plus working 18 hours a day and then finally landing myself a decent job.
The committee, who were keen to follow their runners’ up place in the Allotment of the Year competition with a win, were endlessly patient with me as I tried, failed and tried again to take control of a patch which had run wild in my absence.
Weekends away meant weeknights catching up on cleaning, ironing and domestic chores which left me no energy left over for the redigging needed. The beloved by this time had made tentative plans to move to London and had spent a wonderful afternoon with me on the plot.
He had had an allotment before, understood the work involved but also saw the beauty in it. He loved the idea of spending time there, working on it and growing our own fruit and veg before settling down to a glass of wine as the sun set.
So a new, shared dream began, one that had me out in the cold and wind and rain, that kept me there, even when I was tired and aching down to the bone. It stayed with me through the year of trying to cope with everything and despite my efforts, I got called to a special meeting where I had to plead my case.
The committee gave me one more chance and I did well. I juggled work and home and York and everything.
Working less hours gave me a bit of a break and two beds were dug over and a greenhouse was full of seedlings by the Spring.
And then … I started to feel the cold winds of betrayal and winter blowing through my life.
The greenhouse, a Christmas present from a dear friend and neighbour, took off in a freak gust of wind, destroying my seedlings, my second lot of seeds refused to germinate and I worried over the lack of closeness between us.
I also worried at the circumstances that terminated our plans to live together, prompted by him, postponed by his ex-wife-to-be’s malevolence.
But I continued, in good faith and hope, a third lot of seeds in, in April came through and I, heartened by the fact that we would soon be spending five days together kept at it.
There is nothing quite as awful as looking forward to something with all your heart, only to be treated with distance, aloofness and on my last day, when I found evidence of betrayal and gently confronted it (oh so gently as I could, because I knew what the temptations were and I could have forgiven them), anger and apparent evidence of my paranoia was the response.
I was told to terminate contact for three days whilst he thought about things but I knew then that I was right and I knew the dream was over, given over to someone who was closer, more available, prettier, probably younger and more in keeping with his life.
Those three, then four days were torture.
The plan had been to come back from York and use the days we had planned for his move down to deal with the growth of weeds and grass in my absence.
I could not. It took all my strength just to stay upright whilst I waited for him to decide my fate. Three days passed, in which he had a medical emergency which sent me into a tailspin and I sent him a text in a panic, to be met with nothing but silence.
Four days later, I knew I had lost.
I faced the loss of my dreams with every bit of strength I could. I had put so much hope, trust and faith into this, my last chance at a life together with someone, after so much hurt.
I had believed every false compliment, every hope engendered, lived for a year waiting for him to be free and I spent four days kicking myself for my timing, imagining that I must have sounded just like his wife, accusatory and judgemental.
He texted me then, asking if I was ready to talk. He told me that he no longer loved me, that we were no longer special, that he would never have been able to come to London and then decided to list the reasons why. Apparently, someone who tells you on the Sunday how much they admire you for the animal rescue work you do, by the Friday can use it as a reason why you are not worth loving.
I am not sure that there is anything quite so cruel as to tell someone they are suddenly, no longer the love of their life and then insist on discussing the reasons.
A few minutes in, I could no longer bear it and ended the conversation.
There would be no life together, no days spent in the sun, no evenings on the plot with home grown fruit and veg, sipping wine and joyful in each other’s company, walking home to rest in each other’s arms.
It was never planned, I had believed in a lie and I had wasted a year of my life believing it would happen. I knew then that not only had I lost a dream, but I had lost several and the allotment was one of them.
Every bit of future time spent there would be time spent in regret and heartbreak and a wishing of a life different.
I sent the allotment committee the email I should have sent over a year ago, when it would have been earlier in the growing season and easier to let the plot. I told them nothing of dreams destroyed, but of overwhelming rescue commitments, my gratitude at their patience and my regret at having to leave.
I received a beautiful response and had two weeks to sort my stuff out. I needed that two weeks. Just going onto the plot would have been heartbreaking enough, but to do so knowing that I would be leaving it forever took a courage I no longer possessed.
And then … a few days later another email. They needed to clear the plot, ready for the new person, and I had two days to get any plants off it, sorry and all that but life was life.
Panicked, because two days effectively meant two hours for two nights after work, understanding quickly that all the established plants I had there would be pulverised, I posted my anguish on facebook.
How could I ask anyone to help me in such a short space of time, knowing that it was backbreaking work? I didn’t have to ask, as it turns out. Marina, such a good friend, jumped in and volunteered for the first night.
She and I smoked, laughed and whinged as I came to terms with the fact that I was no way on earth going to be able to rescue the plants I wanted and she came to terms with the fact that she had signed up to much more than she anticipated.
She, after huge effort, got up two rosemary plants, I got up a third of the poppies and trawled them home in the wheelbarrow, every muscle aching from over a week’s worth of five hours’ sleep a night.
By the time I had unloaded and placed them in my overgrown, unattended garden (over that time, something had to give and it was the garden) and trawled back she had started on the raspberries and I got some more poppies out.
It was drizzling as we exited, Marina taking control of the barrow as I slumped beside her, my back taken from aching pain into stratospheric wounding a week or so before, sleeping on the frosty ground (in oh so many ways) at Thornborough, and exacerbated by the one thing I was told not to do (overdo it).
Takeaway and wine followed a frantic planting of both rosemary bushes, feeding of the cats and a further frantic placement of the other plants, in bags, across my already cramped patio.
Last night, I revisited the allotments and took the potatoes (what instinct made me plant them in a bag rather than in the ground?) and the last two thirds of the poppies before exhaustion set in and I sat on the ground, connected with it fully one last time and gave my thanks for all the tears and temper it had absorbed, all the friendship I had been given and grieved the death of my dream.
I apologised, told the mice that I knew lived near the compost bin but could not find last night to rehome and the spiders and worms and bugs that lived in the soil of the desecration that was to follow today. I hoped like hell that they got the message and scarpered last night.
And me? Later today, I need to muster the courage to go back and to clear the shed. My allotment will no longer exist, it won’t be recognisable anymore. But I will go back, retrieve my tools and move sadly on.
One thing is for sure though. No longer do I believe that I am capable of being loved. I no longer believe in dreams and hopes of a life with someone, nor do I believe in my good judgement.
I never fall in love with the ones who know themselves, who would honour me and love me. I always fall in love with the wrong ones and this last one took from me the last of my hope of being happy in a twosome.
Dreams like this cost way too much and whilst I will absolutely get over him, I won’t be giving anyone else that sort of power over me ever again.