Something-for-nothing joy

The light in their eyes as they arrived at the plots! You'd have thought it was a collective birthday.

There was Carlo, smiling loudly. And Peter the Pole, who is actually Ukrainian and has his plot just behind Betty and her husband (his name has so far escaped me). Peter wore an expression of almost-joy I've never seen before. And Alec with his sheepdog, Hey You. Hey You was sniffing around appreciatively, and Alec, who does grin a great deal, was grinning a great deal.

And Jeannie. Jeannie of the "problem family." Jeannie who is "having a really bad time." Jeannie who has "just had to escape to the plot to get away from it all." But, this morning, Jeannie laughing and garrulous with expectation, animated leader of the something-for-nothing pack.

"Ah, here come the vultures!" I exclaimed, not very politely. Did they care?

They did not care. Gleeful concentration was total. Carlo said (in his ebulliently Italianate Glasgow speech): "I was - ah - parking my car - ah - yesterday and I hearda this louda bang! I thought - ah - someone has run into me! No! No! This big white van had just opened its back door, and whoosh! They hadda throwna all this stuff outta by the gate!"

A coffee table. A semicircle of plate glass. An armchair. A stepladder. An odd object that looked to me like either a sun lamp or a hair dryer. Two heaters (one gas, one electric). A confusion of Christmas decorations. And heaven knows what else.

Did the plotters cry out indignantly against the antisocial behavior of today's litter-louts? They did not. What they did was lay claim, with jubilant whoops of bonhomie and thankfulness, to whatever they fancied. Within a day and a half every last trace of the unsolicited gift package had vanished.

I saw a cartoon yesterday of two chaps talking in some outdoor place clearly used as a repository for castoffs and rubbish. "No, no," one was saying, "this isn't the city dump. This is the allotments." The joke, it must be admitted, is not without a certain justification. A visiting American friend of some friends, an interior designer by profession, looked at our allotments recently and said: "Fantasy ramshackle." A neat stylistic summation, I thought.

Except that "style" is really the last thing on most plotters' agendas. In their academic study of "The Allotment, Its Landscape and Culture" (Five Leaves Publications, revised edition 1997), David Crouch and Colin Ward wrote of "the reciprocal give and take" that characterizes allotmenteer attitudes.

Giving is endemic and of- ten delightful. So is taking. Not usually from other plots or in any serious breach of the law, but certainly with an eye to anything going for a song.

One plotter confessed that his near relations now refuse to walk along a road with him in case they come on a "skip" (British for "dumpster"). He cannot resist inspecting its contents, hoping for useful materials, discarded tools, whatever. And when I asked Red where he obtained the lengths of stiffly flexible blue-plastic pipe he is using to construct the arched roof of his new ad hoc tomato house, his reply (inevitably) was: "Oh, in skips."

One day, Joe Gallagher was walking by my car as I unloaded some bricks to extend my unfinished paths. His disapproval was palpable - until I assured him they were waste from a wall I'm demolishing. "Ah, that's OK."

For a moment there he'd suspected me of buying them.

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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