Odd, the plot-holders on our allotments number far more men than women. True, there's Monty. And Nurse Elizabeth, Agnes Bray, Jean, and a few others. Several wives or partners labor hard (probably harder than their plot-holder men): Molly and Fiona; Cathy Macleod, a young Irishwoman; and a Dutch one whose names escape me.
But across Britain, are "allotment widows" as common, say, as "golf widows"? And the men: Are they here for horticulture or for ... escape?
Who can tell?
* * *
I have just overheard a dialogue between two male plotters that made me wonder. I'll pretend - for the sake of marital harmony - that they're called Bill and Ben. Now both are unquestionably keen gardeners. It's their wives who are not. I saw Bill's wife, one hot day, sitting outside his shed reading. Nobody has ever seen Ben's wife visiting his plot.
Ben, wandering down the main path with his dog before returning home, spots Bill in his plot.
Ben: "Haven't seen you for a long time."
Bill: "Been away for four weeks. East Coast. We've been going there for 25 years. How are you doing?"
Ben: Fine. (Sighs) I could happily stay here all day. Planned to leave at 10 and it's now - what, 11:20?"
Bill (grinning): "Same with me. I'm not really here today, but one foot follows another, and then another, and you find yourself at the plot...."
Ben: "Strange, the way your legs do that."
Bill (fingering earth off his fork tines): "My wife thinks I'm away buying slabs for some paving at home. So I'm spending half an hour here, half an hour getting the slabs, half an hour doing paving. Amazing, the little things we do to keep them happy. And have you noticed when women see something you're doing that's not finished how they always want it finished?"
Ben: "I know. Why is that?''
Bill's face says, "It's a mystery."
Ben (leaning on Bill's fence, confides): "I didn't dare tell my wife about my plot for six months. Thought I'd present her with a large bunch of sweet peas and then.... But I started thinking she might find out before I told her. I didn't want that. So I spilled the beans. She didn't speak to me for a whole day."
Bill (his Glasgow humor showing): "So it had the required result, then."
Ben (laughing hugely): "Well, anyway, we were walking the dog together in the park on Saturday, and she suddenly announced, 'I'm going to have a look at it.' So I said, 'OK, if you promise not to laugh at it.' So she says, 'I'll laugh if your gate is made out of an awful old battered door.' She doesn't really appreciate the ramshackle structures on allotments, somehow. I said: 'It's made out of two, cobbled together. Not my handiwork. But I like it." '
Bill: "So what did she think of your plot?"
Ben: "She was rather nice about it. At least she thought it was less abandoned than some of the others. She even suggested I might grow her some sunflowers next year."
* * * *
NURSE Elizabeth sometimes brings her young daughter along. "She keeps complaining," Elizabeth chuckles: " 'Oh, Mum, you always say you'll only be on the plot for 10 minutes, and you stay for hours!' "
What Elizabeth's husband says, I don't know. Never seen him.
Maybe he golfs while she gardens.
Or maybe ... he doesn't know she has a plot.