WHENEVER I invite people round for dinner, if I am lucky and well organised, there is always a brief moment before the doorbell rings, when I look around my home and actually appreciate it as a mise-en-sc?ne. Just at that moment, it is as tidy and perfect as I can make it. Curtain up - any second now. Inevitably of course, the evening descends into a farce of dirty dishes and roaring laughter, but I always value the expectation.
My allotment has now reached just such a moment. For weeks, I have been hoeing, composting, tidying, pruning and path clearing. All set dressing and stage management for show time, when planting starts in earnest and the hotter weather drives the weeds bananas. I am savouring the calm.
Perhaps it is only at these moments, that we stop rushing around and take the trouble to observe our surroundings. The rest of the time, how often do we really give ourselves permission to use our eyes? I am now training myself to observe. And on each visit to the allotment, I have come to realise how many tiny rites of passage I would otherwise miss: the extraordinary purply profusion of buds on the blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes, last year?s daffodils making a sneaky come-back behind the trellis, or those secret red flashes of rhubarb stalks, too easily forgotten under their buckets. Look closely, and even compost bins are dramatic, in their way. How quickly everything rots down, until thick, crumbly, black compost emerges from the bottom, which looks nothing like the fruit peel, old bread and last week?s Scotsman still lurking at the top.
I?m impatient for the season to start. Because for months now, during this long, cold winter, my allotmenteering has mostly been carried on indoors, at home. Pumpkins, courgette and broccoli have all been growing fast in heated seed propagators which occupy almost every windowsill. I have even indulged in a bit of one-upmanship and grown some Hensol Violets, a rare, new, perennial, purple poppy. But dinner parties? Forget it. Instead, I find myself shelling out rent to both my children, for propagator space on their bedroom window sills. (Makes a nice ethical change from being charged usurious rates of interest for lending me their school dinner money!) As they have been brought up with a business journalist for a mother, I suppose I should not complain when they demonstrate such well-honed, commercial instincts. The little angels rightly point out, their window sills are spacious, greenhouse hot, and face south. So I pay up. The show you see, must go on.
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