Defining Leisure to a T

"Can anyone tell me the difference between this and work?"

It's one of Red's ("Wee Red," as Jeannie calls him) favorite rhetorical questions. It's said with satisfaction, not complaint. He doesn't play at his gardening. I am sure that if nothing obviously needs doing on his plot, he redoes something already done, to make work. Or he'll go and dig in "that old man's plot at the far end, to help him out." That "old man" is in his 90s. Red is a mere stripling in his early 80s.

Purportedly, his plot is "for enjoyment - just a hobby." He doesn't mean it for a second. This is no mere filling of the empty hours of retirement.

And he says it's his way of getting out from under his wife's feet for a while: If she catches him dawdling after breakfast, she remarks pointedly: "Time you were out of the house, isn't it?"

But that's not really why he's here, either. There are less-demanding places, with armchairs, he could shuffle off to, to waste the morning. But Wee Red is not about waste. Or shuffle.

In our adjacent plots, Red and I keep finding small round white things, and they're not mushrooms. I put a bucket by the gate to carry the day's harvest home. Typically, I'll chuck in a cauliflower, some beets, zucchinis, blue cornflowers, a clutch of "pink fir apple" potatoes, some chives, and a golf ball or two.

Of all my crops, the golf balls are the easiest to grow.

Like Biblical manna, they just appear on the ground. If I'm quick, I pick them before the dog does. To her, they are chewables: logical in a vegetable patch. And although this does seem to me one of the better uses for a golf ball, I am altruistically mailing uneaten ones to a southern golfing brother for his "practice bucket."

The balls are strays from the course over the roadway. Their coming sets me musing on a few pertinent matters.

One is the question of accuracy. Another has to do with economics.

Golf balls, I'm informed, are not cheap. So the "leisure pursuit" called golf is not one for paupers. Well, not for inaccurate paupers, at least.

Allotments, by contrast, originated as places where paupers could grow food virtually free. Our levies, even today, are peanuts: 10 a year.

Jeannie, who has plotted here for 35 years, clearly recalls her parents' plot in the 1930s, when poverty was literal and savage in Glasgow. Their plot was no "leisure pursuit." Nor was it some after-work extra. "It was all they did," she says. "All day. And the only food we had, came from the plot."

Times have changed. Lately, emphasis has been laid, by a government committee report called "The Future of Allotments," on the notion that allotments are "an extremely valuable recreational and leisure asset enjoyed by people of all ages, from all walks of life."

Such a definition is intended to help save allotments from a surge of takeovers by developers: To persuade city councilors that allotments are needed. Or at least no less, say, than golf courses are "needed." For beneficial recreation. (Or accuracy practice.)

Yet somehow, after a vigorous spell on the plot, "leisure" doesn't seem to me the most apt word for allotmenteering.

And another thought: What if we plotters were to dig up our potatoes and pluck our sprouts with the propellant abandon of yonder wild drivers? Just how sporting would they be about a shower of unexpected vegetables landing on the green?

Need I ask?

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