Horticulture

Toil and trouble

Firstly, my fine friends, a grovel – for the shameful dearth of posts in recent weeks. It’s not that one has run out of things to say (heaven forfend), but the fact is that the interminable winter really did start to get me down. I began to despair of that wretched arctic blast ever abating – plus the fact that I have been seriously busy in my new-found pursuit and therefore feeling somewhat knackered, what with yet another filthy cold and a host of aches, pains and injuries that go hand-in-hand with hard labour in Siberian conditions.

And what have you been up to, I hear you ask? It’s not as if anything much has been growing of late, apart from the moss and the lichen. Well, it’s been mostly one-off infrastructure projects – sheds (demolishing and erecting), greenhouses, compost bins, raised beds, trellis, pagodas, fruit cages, fencing, etc, all of which has got me well and truly tangled up with the vexed business of trying to come up with a sensible assessment of what a job is going to take and what to charge the customer without ripping anyone off or doing myself a disservice.

This malarkey has, of course, necessitated a fair few trips to builders “merchants”, which have involved one or two instructive lessons in their own right. What is it with these geezers? They can spot me from 100 paces. “Ponce”, they reckon. It’s written all over their faces, oozing out of every orifice. Forget the mud, the stubble, the battered togs and the filthy, broken fingernails. They take one look at the specs and the rain-hat, get one earful of the non-gor-blimey accent, and that’s me pigeon-holed.

 

"You want a wot?"

“You want a wot?”

Basically, these wankers seem to delight in trying to destabilise you – to try and make you look daft/incompetent, to question whether you have the first idea of what you want, to try and sell you something that you don’t want, to make you look like a prat at every turn. “Ere, Reg, we got a right one ’ere.” (yeah yeah sure just shut up, stop rolling your eyeballs and do what I’ve asked you to do)

I had a moan about it to my long-suffering wife after one such foray into the cave that is Lawson’s (opposite Pentonville jail). And her retort? “Oh, but that’s what it’s like to be a woman, dear.”

Hmmm, methunk. Patronising dimwits. Perhaps I should get dressed up in my best party frock, flutter my eyelashes, act dumb, let them have their larf and then rob them blind.

To be fair, I’ve had this sort of thing all my life – a chamaeleon-type existence in many ways. I have never succeeded in passing myself off as a “geezer”. They can tell I’m not one of them, no matter how many “wotevers” and “know-what-I-means” I chuck in to the dialogue. They think I’m some sort of posh git. Thing is, the nobs have never really recognised me as one of them either – “NQOCD”, as they say (not quite our class, dear). Hence the somewhat faltering career in the meejah.

Well, bollocks to the lot of them is what I say. I am now a full-time horny-handed son of the soil, a wurzel, a hayseed, a peasant, a pleb and a prole – and proud of it. All clear? Good. We’re promised 20 degrees this weekend, so I’m going to plant something – and no, it won’t be a boot in some geezer’s groin.

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Your starter for 10

The good news continues unabated, comrades, for this week I was the lucky recipient of something called a starter pack. It is a truly wondrous thing, some 17 years after my dear wife and I first started as allotment tenants, to find this in one’s intray. Better late than never.

In truth, it was sent to me by the People’s Republic of Haringey to ask me what I thought (this pack being something that could be handed out to new recruits when they first walk through the door). And in truth, it contains a fair few nuggets of useful advice – so I’ve sent it to everyone. After all, a fresh start would benefit a fair number of our fellows.

I have managed perfectly well over the past 12 years and more as site secretary by providing my own starter pack, which includes a copy of our plot protocol (a voluntary code of conduct), plus one or two other bits. But now that I have the official version, I am more than happy to go with it, not least because it includes a standard and fairly perfunctory “sod off” letter to those who fail to pass muster after their three-month probationary period has expired – one of the bits that I have found most tiresome. But it’s written on the republic’s headed notepaper, so that takes the heat off me when the manure hits the fan and the wailing and howling starts.

But alas, I am going to have to demur over one or two bits of this starter pack – so, in the spirit of bruno’s allotment blog, lets dwell on those.

First up, it is immensely long. Anything more than one side of A4 is likely to be interrupted with a snooze. It then goes on to urge the applicant to “think carefully about the size of plot that you can reasonably manage” (guffaws all round – we have plenty of existing tenants who can’t manage, reasonably or otherwise).

“Take on a half of quarter of a plot first. Master this and then plan for a larger plot.” Yeah, and how is that supposed to work? What am I supposed to do with the other quarter plot that is busy going to seed while they fail to master the bit they have been allocated? A half plot is not just the maximum allocation at the Hill, it is also the standard allocation – and no one has the chance to expand beyond that. But anyone who is offered less than that in the first instance may well have cause to grumble. Am I to be left with a clutch of neglected quarter plots to offer to new recruits who may well be the real McCoy (or not)?  Wotever. We’ll work it out.

It goes on to list a fair number of aspirations (“keeping the plot clean and free of weeds”, “areas of grass and hard standing to be kept to a minimum and occupy no more than 25% of the total plot area). Forgive me for saying so, comrades, but we all know that these requirements are at best guidelines, and at worst, a work of fiction.

I can’t  bring myself to scoff at much of what this pack says, as it is mostly reasonable enough, even if it is a bit Noddy and BigEars for anyone who knows one end of a spade from the other (and there are a few of those around too).

But to round it all off, part of the covering letter to me contains the proverbial killer blow: “There will be no change in the decision making process as to when a tenancy will be issued or refused. It will remain the decision of both the site secretary and the allotments office.”

Righto then. Not much change there. So the site secretary tells the prospective tenant to take a hike because they’re crap; the prospective tenant then goes and has a good whine to the republic; then, in the interests of avoiding an expensive and time-consuming row over something that they don’t give a toss about, the republic pulls the rug on the site secretary, tells the prospective not to worry about that fascist bastard, and yes, of course it will be alright. You just do what you can manage and the rest of it can go to hell in a handcart.

Starter pack? Y’know, my friends, I’m getting a bit old for this stuff. I wonder if they do such a thing as a finisher pack.

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The big freeze

Praise be, fellows, for we have a small and equally rare snippet of good news to impart this week. Our esteemed but somewhat skint landlords, the People’s Republic of Haringey, have gone all Michael Gove on us and withdrawn the proposed 100% rent rise. Marvellous. No, not even a 50% rise either. Nothing (above inflation at any rate). So there.

And what prompted this, one might ask? ’Job to say really. The head honcho for the environment, mentioned in posts passim, wrote to all 27 site secretaries borough-wide a few days ago. She didn’t tell us all much, apart from “having listened carefully to people’s concerns and reviewing all the feedback, we have decided to freeze the charges for 2013/14”. The extra £60,000 they hoped to raise from this hike was never going to be any more than a drop in the bucket in any case, given the dire financial straits they are in – but I guess she could be forgiven for not mentioning that.

However, she went on to say: “We still want to develop an improvement plan for the allotments, as previously discussed, and have asked officers to draft a scoping document to share with you before the end of 2012/13. Your comments on this will be most welcome”. Uh huh. Scoping, eh?

I’m afraid I can’t help feeling mildly exasperated by this – not least because we went through most, if not all of these hoops about six or seven years ago when the republic carried out a “review” of the “service” and came up with a detailed report as to what needed to be done on a site-by-site basis. The whole lot ended up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, not least because the bill for infrastructure repairs came in at something in the order of £500,000, and in the absence of any external source of funds to match the council’s promise to stump up half of that, nothing very much has changed – or been done. The neglect at some sites remains rampant.

Since then, responsibility for the “service” has been transferred from the parks department to the tree section (presumably to save money), we have lost our dedicated allotments admin officer and we appear to be back at square one so far as listing all the outstanding repairs is concerned as these people do not appear to be in the habit of talking to each other.

There is, however, one bit that was not considered during that review and which, I am led to believe, may pop up in this “scoping report” (the report already exists in draft form but has yet to be seen by any of us at the coal face). And that bit is self-management.

This is a big subject which was touched on the last time I paid a visit to the talking shop known as the Haringey Allotments Forum. The reaction was pretty hostile when I mentioned it, with one old duck referring to it as “privatisation” (no doubt the appalling Gove would be in favour if it meant knocking yet more lumps out of local government), but I fail to see how the notion of “stakeholders” (apols for that ghastly bit of jargon) becoming masters of their own destiny could add up to privatisation.

A more useful contribution came from one of the more sensible forum stalwarts who flagged up recent experience in neighbouring Barnet – a Tory-controlled borough where they appear to be hell-bent on flogging or hiving off absolutely everything. Those allotment sites where a measure of self-management already existed (i.e. those big enough to have a site committee) were pretty much bounced into taking the whole shooting match off the council’s hands with results that could euphemistically described as mixed.

For my part, I can see some obvious attractions in paying the republic a peppercorn rent for the site and sorting the rest of it out amongst ourselves, but I am far from persuaded. The republic may be totally crap in various respects but, like education for example, there is a stack of things that they do behind the scenes that would otherwise have to be done by someone else.

And as my forum colleague said, most of us volunteers have already got quite enough to do without taking on another great pile of admin and management. If there was money in it – a part-time job or two, perhaps – then maybe it would be worth exploring, but once the subject of money raises its ugly head, could we find ourselves wandering down the road of commercialisation? And once that happens, the nature of the beast may well change radically.

Did someone mention peppercorns? ’Never tried to grow those before. Any tips?

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Out of ordure

DUNG!!

This is the News at Ten with Trevor Muckdonut.

 

Big Ben? More Bill and Ben, really

Big Ben? More Bill and Ben, really

DUNG!!

Manure thief strikes at Shepherds Hill allotments

DUNG!

Pilfering of bags ‘a sackable offence’

DUNG!

Culprit is in deep shit

DUNG!

Site secretary sniffs out the brown-fingered bastard

 

So what’s the story? Well, last Friday I took delivery of another lorryload of the well-rotted fruits of a horse’s bottom and bagged up 52 sacks with the aim of delivering it to a private customer the following Monday. I put a signed note on it stating “Private manure, hands off”, which also listed the number of sacks.

Then blow me down, Monday comes and there’s only 50 left.

Yes, it’s true, comrades, that I have been known to jump to conclusions before, but on this occasion, I knew exactly which way to head. Why? Because there were precious few folk around over that wintery weekend – except for one old bugger who’s always about, and this is exactly the sort of thing he would do. I saw him and he saw me before he skulked off, and he saw what I was doing as well.

I guess I’m going to have to be a bit coy about his identity (he most certainly won’t be reading this, given that the interweb is not something that is likely to clutter up his modest little brain any time this century). Established Hillbillies will know who I’m on about – one of the last of the “old guard”, a crap gardener, daft as the day is long, sometimes helpful and sociable but potentially hostile and difficult too.

So off I trotted in search of the missing dung. I peered over the barricades that surround his shanty town plot, and lo, there it was – a somewhat modest pimple amidst 10 poles of bugger all. Why on earth the silly old sod would want some in the first place remains the only mystery, given that his plot hasn’t seen an ounce of the stuff in decades, and two bags was neither here nor there.

I am now going to do something totally out of character and enlist the help of you, dear reader, in resolving the dilemma of what to do next. Below are the options, with value added judgements in brackets. Please feel free to comment, or email me direct if you prefer.

1. Report him to the Filth. (Entirely futile. You’re ’aving a larf).

2. Report him to the People’s Republic with a view to getting him kicked out. (Entirely futile. This will involve a row, and the republican guard don’t like rows because they cost time and money).

3. Nail him by the balls to the roof of his shed and then boot him off. (This has potential but the crummy old shed won’t take the weight of both of us).

4. Confront him politely with the allegation and point out that stealing from one’s fellows is very bad form, and stealing from the chief oberleutnant gruppenführer is fantastically stupid to boot. (He will deny it and turn nasty. Then what?)

5. Hop over the barricades and recover the missing dung, and then tell him where to shove it. (Well, if I’ve already recovered it, how can I tell him where to shove it?

6. Hop over the barricades, recover the missing dung and say nothing at all. (This has potential, especially if he then comes whining to me about someone having nicked his manure).

7. Do nothing at all and simply lament the fact that amongst a large number of decent, honest folk, we have nasty little shits as well. Such is life. (A bit on the sanguine, placid side for me, but I guess it has its merits).

Any views, my friends?

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Campbell’s soup

I guess it’s a sign of the times, comrades, a feature of the weird sort of world that we have made for ourselves – but twice in the space of eight months, I have found myself on the wrong end of a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

 Your long-suffering blogger has never been known to be all that shy when it comes to spilling the beans – one would expect nothing less from a former hack – and there’s nothing terribly private or confidential about the comings and goings up the Hill. But there’s something about such bureaucratic, strongarm tactics that gets my goat.

The first demand was last year. I won’t rehearse the tiresome details, but suffice to say that I got involved a spat with a truly ghastly little woman who is not a tenant at all – a squatter no less – who appeared to believe that she had all manner of rights which did not exist at all. She moaned about me to just about everyone and anyone who would listen – the police, the People’s Republic, her MP, you name it – all of whom did absolutely nothing at all as she hadn’t got a case.

I was, however, obliged to account for my conduct, which I did by way of a written report to the site committee, copied to the Republic, which was then subject to a request for disclosure by the poison dwarf under the FOI Act. Had she asked me nicely, I would have sent her a copy without any fuss or bother, but alas, a polite request was beyond her and the maximum amount of  fuss and bother was her chief priority.

The second case popped up this week, and what a curious one it was (I have been roundly ticked off for what follows – see comments below – and I have also deleted a somewhat gratuitous swipe at the foot of this post).

However, there’s no need to be in the least bit coy about it as this lady has got form – and lots of it. Her name is Margaret Campbell and she appears to have some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder. Google her and FOI and you’ll see what I mean (see screenshot). She appears to be a major disciple of an web-based operation called What Do They Know and seems to have made it her business to trawl the country, demanding to know all manner of things about allotments and waiting lists, the answers to which are already well known and understood. This, however, has not dissuaded Ms Campbell from making no fewer than 1,450 such requests of exactly the same nature. Bizarre.

Here she is, in all her 1,450 very similar guises

Here she is, in all her 1,450 very similar guises

And what information was I obliged to supply? Nothing private, secret or contentious – simply the number of people on the Shepherds Hill waiting list (the answer, since you ask, is 93). And what else was she after? The number of sites across the borough, the total number of plots, the size of the waiting lists, whether any of them are closed, along with details of new sites and the number of plots on each (Ha! Ha!).

Tell I’m wrong here comrades, but how tedious is this? Does she get paid for doing this? And what conclusions does she hope to draw? There is only one – that we can’t meet demand because there aren’t enough plots to go round. Would anyone care to email Ms Campbell and tell her that?

So what’s the crack then? Could it be that Ms Campbell gets a kick out of eliciting useless information from officialdom in a somewhat officious and overbearing way? Or is she on some sort of mission to shame local authorities into spending a load of money that they haven’t got to set aside a load of spare land that they haven’t got in the interests of expanding allotment provision nationwide? A fine objective, no doubt – it’s just that what most people want is yet more retail parks (or a roof over their heads. Delete as appropriate).

One way or another, I’m sure she deserves a medal. But I’m not sure exactly what for. But then again, when the gongs are being dished out, I’m not sure what it’s going to say on mine either.

What a tangled web we weave.

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Seasonal adjustment

It’s that time of the year folks – the one where my former fellows in the meeja reap the rewards of 1,001 dodgy cuttings jobs, cobbled together several weeks ago and passed off as a “review of the year”. And if that’s not enough, they then pad this baloney out further still with a load of naff “predictions for 2013” – most of them of the flying pig variety.

This seasonal load of tripe has at least five major benefits:

a. it enables aforementioned fellows to take at least a fortnight off as these “reviews” can be assembled any time after the middle of November;

b. there’s sod all happening at this time of year anyway as everyone is too busy stuffing themselves and getting pissed to do anything;

c. even if there was anything happening, no one would be interested in reading about it because they’re all too busy etc etc.

d. the chances of anyone actually being held to their “predictions” (i.e. made to look deeply foolish when said predictions fail to transpire) are somewhere between zero and minus two because no one was paying any attention in the first place;

e. and even if they were, how does that stuff differ from any one of a veritable tsunami of kite-flying tales throughout the year in which such giveaway phrases as “may face” and “is poised to”, when inserted into an intro, tell you everything you need to know.

Undaunted, however, brunosallotmentblog has cobbled together a small handful of highlights and lowlights of 2012 but I am going to leave it to you, dear reader, to toss in a few predictions of what will/will not happen in 2013 (in keeping with the tone of this blog, extra points will be awarded for facetiousness).

Unless I am much mistaken, 2012 was a very bad year for:

1. Weather

Yup, apart from a warm week in March and another one in May, it was completely crap, going from drought to absolutely belting down. Only August acquitted itself rather better than usual (it is, after all, we are drearily reminded as the campsite gets washed down the hillside, traditionally the second wettest month).

2. Slugs

2012 was a truly crap year for slugs, unless your name happens to be Mr or Mrs Slug, or you are a badger or a hedgehog. This may have something to do with point 1 as the slimy bastards like it wet.

3. Whitefly

For some reason, the clouds of these pesky little critters that billowed out of my brassicas throughout 2011 seem to have found 2012 tough going. I have no idea why this is but I’m certainly not moaning.

4. Squirrels

Our grey furry friends have apparently been feeling even more peckish than usual in 2012, given the paucity of seeds, nuts and other things that they occasionally tuck in to before they come and trash all our broad beans, sweetcorn, plums, sunflowers, etc etc – again related to point 1. Sadly for Mr and Mrs Nutkin, not all of our fellows have taken this lying down (see posts passim), and I don’t think the grey furry ones have come out on top.

5. One could go on (and on and on) – but I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to chip in the odd comment should you wish.

On the plus side, 2012 was a very good year for:

1. Hedgehogs

This is related to points 2 and 4 above. For some reason, we Hillbillies have seen a huge spike in the numbers of these spiky little fellows. In years gone by, they were a very rare bird indeed – but not any more. And how do I know this? I refer you to the small but equally clandestine handful of activists who comprise the grey squirrel regulator OFFSHAGS (Office For the Flagellation of Shepherds Hill Allotments Grey Squirrels) who have seen rather a lot of Mr or Mrs Tiggywinkle, all of whom, when caught, are left to snooze it out until the following morning when they are set free unharmed.

2. Badgers

We don’t have any badgers, or moles, both of which feast on point 2 (above), but given that the badger cull has been suspended, I guess we can call this a good year for badgers. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Brock would like to follow in the footsteps of our foxy friends and colonise the city for a change. After all, we’re much more friendly than Farmer Giles.

3. Bindweed

No let-up here. Has there ever been a bad year for bindweed?

4. One could go on. And on. And on. But haven’t we all seen enough of churnalism this year? Your comments would be welcome – emailed if you prefer (my address can be found on the Muswell Hill Gardeners website. I’m not going to post it here as I have enough spam already).

In the meantime, in the spirit of off-the-wall, “sideways looking” takes, I have decided to remove the allotment snowscape scene from the top of this page and replace it with something much more cheerful. After all, it won’t be long before we’re up to our necks in the beastly white stuff again – and that’s not a prediction. It’s a racing certainty.

Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture, Wildlife | 1 Comment

Tidings of joy

Skirmish of the week this time round has to be our full-frontal assault on the Kremlin – the Republic’s citadel in Wood Green, to which I was invited, as honorary winner of the BBC Loose Cannon of the Year award, as a stand-in member of the cabal also known as the Haringey Allotments Forum steering group.

The battleground, of course, was the Republic’s attempt to sneak in a 100 per cent rise in allotment rents, the sneakiness of which was firmly blown out of the water last week by yours truly in a post a fortnight ago, followed  up by a blast in the local press. And for once, the local rag (or what remains of it) managed to distinguish themselves by simply regurgitating my press release, thereby completely failing to misquote me – and, better still, also heeded my warning that if their somewhat weary sub-editor was rash enough to reach for his even more weary, clichéd “lost the plot” headline yet again, I would never, ever speak to them again.

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

We digress. The invitation for a little chat was issued by none other than the Republic’s head honcho, the “lead member for the environment” – who clearly hadn’t got much of a grip on her brief at all, flanked by the generally avuncular but somewhat slippery head of “recreation services” – a man who is very difficult to dislike, even when he’s telling you that you are about to be forced to eat worms and die. He was basically there to dig said lead member out of a hole – and she did indeed manage to find herself at the bottom of one or two.

The ruck got off to a flying start when I found myself in total agreement with said lead member as soon as she opened her mouth, urging us all to switch to an adjacent bunker as the one where we had gathered was insufferably hot. Said member is quite a lot better padded than me so she obviously felt the heat even more than I did, and I reckon she was expecting things to get hotter still (if they really want to save some money, why not turn down the thermostat, for heaven’s sake).

Once ensconced, she then kicked off with a grumble about the volume of abusive emails she had received since her comments to the Republic’s “scrutiny panel” meeting the previous week, at which I quoted her as saying that having an allotment was “a privilege” (which is exactly what she did say). Alas, in her attempts at qualifying what she said, she dug herself even deeper into the same hole by noting that there are not enough allotments to go round (yes, we know all about that), that there is a long waiting list (yes, we’ve got the hang of that bit too), and it is therefore not unreasonable to attempt to price the hoi polloi out of the market. Charming.

The remaining 40 minutes of trench warfare involved various grenades being slung in various directions, punctuated by the odd bayonet charge. The long and the short of it is that the Republic is frantically seeking to scrape together as many rabbit skins and bungo beans as possible, regardless of the source, in their attempts dealing with a £25 million cut in grants from the filthy Con-Dem coalition over the next three years while attempting to fob us gardeners off with a load of baloney about how they are going to spend all this extra wonga on infrastructure improvements and repairs across its 27 allotment sites.

You may not be surprised to hear, dear reader, that the cynics amongst us would argue that no such thing will happen, and that what has happened here is that the Republic have simply hit upon the idea of turning the allotment “service” into nothing short of a money-spinner.

So what happens next? Well, we take the cudgels to the rest of the “socialist” ruling group in the hope of getting them to vote the whole lot down come the budget-setting beanfeast early next year. And the chances of that? Somewhat slim, I would say.

Still, one small ray of hope did emerge – a notion of the flying pig variety. The lead member, as she ducked and weaved her way around the torrent of grapeshot and tumbled down an assortment of elephant traps, came out with surely the best news I have heard for some considerable time – that what we really need is more allotment sites …

Hurrah. Quite so. Let’s bulldoze a few retail parks and turn them over to cabbage patches, shall we? After all, they’re all going bust too, aren’t they? Digging for victory? It worked before.

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Class war

Another week, and another howl of horticultural indignation – but this time, though the source was not unexpected, the occasion was.

I took a freezing bike ride down to Regent’s Park today to be “screened”, inducted and enrolled for my part-time garden design course – a 90-minute process, a fair amount of which I spent sizing up my fellow students. A mixed bag? I would say so.

The screening process was revealing enough in its way. It amounted to two 24-question quizzes to check for very basic literacy and numeracy skills (I have to ’fess up to the embarrassing admission that I got only 23 out of 24 on both counts – but I never got the chance to find out where the foul-ups happened, which at least would have given me the opportunity of indulging in my typically middle-class habit of arguing the toss about the question and/or the answer).

This is what I think of your subsidy cuts, you Con-Dem bozos

This is what I think of your subsidy cuts, you Con-Dem bozos

The revealing bit was ear-wigging on the subsequent, far from discreet conversations between tutor and those fellow students who had clearly ballsed up the questionnaires completely. The fact that English was not their first language no doubt had something to do with it in at least one instance.

The next revealing bit was where the ruck broke out – and guess what it concerned? Quite right – our old friend, money, again. And who was kicking up the fuss? Err, unsurprisingly enough, a white, middle class lady of a certain age.

The revelation concerned the extent to which these courses are subsidised by the government. You see, they’re not really meant for well-heeled types such as me who have decided to chuck in their rather comfy, well-paid office jobs and eek out the final 10 years or so of their working lives on extended gardening leave before cashing in 25 years’ worth of company pension. They are actually meant for (and I am at risk of being roundly contradicted here) those who maybe didn’t do terribly well at school and need to get themselves set up in some sort of useful trade so that they can make some sort of useful contribution to the economy (and there were examples of that there today as well).

And the ruck? Well, the moderately posh lady was deeply underwhelmed when she found out that from next year, all subsidy will be cut for the advanced course that she intends to do when this one finishes. Me and the other poshies were obliged to stump up a little over £500 for our one-day a week, one-year study, while those enrolling today for the advanced course would be charged something in excess of £600. But next year? Oh no. How much for the advanced course? Something on the wrong side of £3,000. Ouch.

“Had I known that, I would never have done de-blah-de-blah-de-blah,” my posh-ish fellow protested. Indeed. Quite so. Well, she might well be in luck. As readers of last week’s missive will be aware, petitions are about to be signed, m’learned friends instructed, barricades erected, and so on and so forth.

More on the revolution, horny-handed sons of toil and bourgeois colonisation in next week’s post, comrades.

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Exemplary damages

It’s grovel time folks. I wish to make an unqualified apology concerning last week’s post which left readers with the clear impression that peace and harmony prevails – a rare and unusual thing in itself – on the normally vexed question of money. I have to retract everything I said, which, it transpires, was complete codswallop. And worse still, it may well be that in saying it, I have shot us all in both feet big time.

Oh dear, I hear you say, now what? I regret to report that our landlord, the Marxist-Leninist cabal that runs the People’s Republic of Haringey, has just decided to spruce up its capitalist credentials by doubling our rents from April 2013 – from £45 a year for a typical five-pole plot to £90 a year. Mass disobedience beckons, picket lines must be manned and barricades installed.

A large hole in the ground, similar to the one where all our money's going

A large hole in the ground, similar to the one where all our money’s going

Could all this be my fault? Could the politburo have read last week’s post and decided to cash in on the back of such a sang-froid view of the filthy lucre? Demands for my resignation may well merit serious consideration, if not my head.

All of this, by the way, is supposed to be top secret. I got a tip-off from one of my spies at the heart of the republican machine yesterday (Tuesday), suggesting that I should shift my ass pronto over to their bunker in Wood Green to attend the euphemistically titled “Environment and Housing Scrutiny Panel”. I was told that this could easily be a three-hour meeting, so bang went my hopes of watching Johnny Foreigner thrash the entirely useless Gooners at footy (again).

As it transpired, I was out of there after 25 minutes, but not before I had picked up one or two little nuggets of confusion and told them all what I thought. Not the least of those nuggets came from the mouth of the “lead member for the environment”, Councillor Nilgun Canver (is that an anagram for something?), who advised that £90 a year is not even the price of a modest lunch to the average burgher of this borough, resplendent as they are in their £2 million mansions on the Highgate/Crouch End/Muswell Hill border.

The psephologists amongst us may well affirm this to be the case, but sadly, it drives a coach and horses through Cllr Canver’s own back yard. Those with even the most fleeting understanding of the demographic and/or political make-up of this borough will know that it is split from stem to stern, with Cllr Canver’s Labour-voting benefit-scrounging largely unemployable heartland to the east while on the other side of the tracks (literally) lies the wall-to-wall Lib Dem opposition in the tax-avoiding Chablis-swilling bourgeois west.

So there we have it – what were once referred to as looney lefties seeking to stitch up the stockbrokers with a bill that will be no more than a flea-bite to them while poleaxeing their own hard-pressed supporters in the east with what to many will be a very hefty hike indeed. Regressive? I would say so. A political own goal? Certainly.

As for my own ha’peth, I confined myself to pointing out that the £30,000 that the republic hopes to raise from this raid (no, the sums don’t add up either) will be a drop in the bucket in dealing with the colossal backlog of outstanding infrastructure repairs (costed six or seven years ago at up to £500,000, borough-wide). And that what this amounts to is that we, the tenants of this borough, will in effect be penalised for the decades of managerial oversight, omission and neglect that has left us with such things as the environmental catastrophe that is the Rectory Farm site.

And where does all this leave us? A 50 per cent rent rise over last year and this; next year a 100 per cent rise; and then what? We all knew the flat-cap-and-ferret brigade had long since gone, but at this rate, allotment gardening – once the preserve of the urban peasantry – will become, like so many things, the exclusive preserve of the filthy rich.

Anyone for picket duty then?

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Pennies from heaven

The bills have gone out this week, my income evaporates this coming Friday as I take voluntary redundo from the somewhat knackered Guardian, the planet is going bust, but what the hell. It’s only money. And we didn’t become allotment gardeners to get rich off the fat of the land, did we? We do it for love (and the occasional bottle of the red stuff), don’t we?

On the question of getting rich though – a curious little snippet turned up in my ex-employer-to-be’s organ a wee while back that stated that the “average” allotment gardener saves £1,400 a year in food bills by growing their own – a not inconsequential sum, especially when you are about to join the ranks of the impoverished classes.

Harvesting the gold. © Getty

I mentioned this little factoid to one of my heathen chums in the pub recently, and met with the usual disbelief and derision (“and why bother with all that back-breaking-getting-wet-and-muddy-stuff anyway when you can nip down to Tesco’s and get the lot for £25 a week?”) Yes, I responded, but £25 a week is £1,300 a year – not far short of my fellow hack’s apparently bonkers statistic. So who’s the mug there then? (Yes, OK, what price my time etc)

We digress. To come back to the bills, how much is the People’s Republic of Haringey demanding that we cough up to rent our modest slice of north London clay? It’s a question commonly asked by new recruits or those joining the waiting list. The answer, at 2012 prices, is in most cases about £45. “What? £45 a week or a month?” they ask. Errr, no. That’s £45 a year, all in, and you can put your chequebook away as you won’t be getting a bill for a wee while yet (unless, of course, we are back to the subject of bungs). That adds up to about £9 a pole (or rod), including water.

It’s not exactly big bucks, is it? Even when you are staring at penury, as I may well be. And it’s about half that if you are retired or registered disabled. Beyond that, it is entirely up to each tenant how much money they throw at their plot. Some go down to B&Q and spend many hundreds of hard-earned rabbit skins on some crummy little matchwood shed that would fall over with one good kick. Others, like me, wait until we pass a skip stuffed with old floorboards and build something much more robust for free.

The subject of money has never been very high on my agenda (I try not to chuck it around in reckless fashion, but neither do I see any particular use in accumulating it for the sake of it), but I fear the same may not apply to our landlords. The closet capitalists of the Republican Guard have spotted an opportunity here to claw back some of the millions they lost in a flutter on Landbankski by jacking up our rents by 50% – which is exactly what they have done over the past couple of years. The trouble is, they were coming from such a miniscule baseline that even that even a 50% hike did not amount to a hill of beans (more on the changing social profile of our tenants and their ability to pay it in a future post).

I have to say that our tenants shouldered this burden with true equanimity. I heard not a single murmur of protest from any Shepherds Hillbilly when this increase was imposed. The only observation, made by one of our fellows, was that this amounted to about 20p a week.

 At last, we’ve found something on which we can all agree. And who’d have thought it? They’ll be telling me that money grows on trees next …

Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Tags: | 1 Comment

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