A bountiful harvest of ha-has
'Red, you're at it again!" I yell admiringly from the main path. He is fashioning long, deep trenches between pyramidal mounds of dirt. The universe at large, and the plots in particular, would be duller if Red didn't keep doing this - though I don't understand why he does. The sowing and planting days of spring are a long way off. Yet he delves and heaves with a will, as if he can't bear to let the soil settle for even a day.
"Yup." Then: "They tell me," he says - stooping over one of his valleys of black earth - "that China is down there somewhere. I want to find out what he's up to!"
I can't help liking Red's humor. It is extremely gentle and, like naive art, deceptively simple.
One day last week, he was clearing up rubbish: miscellaneous lengths of wood, sheets of this, jumbles of that. He is a magpie of the "may be useful one day" kind. But though he continually reorganizes it, his plot never quite arrives at immaculate order. "Just sorting the clutter," he says. Then: "You know, if I get this job finished, people walking by will start asking, 'Where's Red's plot gone?' "
I am discovering that almost as many species of humor flourish on the allotments as plants. Tommy, for instance, is a fund of humor. Some of his stories are like root crops - a bit earthy, but not filthy. They have native Glasgow wit.
Then there's blatant sock-it-to-you humor, as when the dog was sniffing one of Big Ted's buckets, filled with something indescribable. "What on earth's in there?" I asked. Ted and Dan were on the bench outside Ted's hut, effectively impersonating two old gaffers.
Dan grinned. "Show him, Ted."
"Them's old rhubarb leaves," Ted said. "I let 'em sit there, and they get good and rich. I water my cabbages with 'em. Does wonders. 'Ere." He stuck in a stick, stirred, and held it to my nose. "Sniff that!"
I did. I reeled back, gasping and spluttering. "Aw! That's unbelievable! Pooh! Phowah!"
The gaffers rolled about laughing. A week later they were still laughing about it.
Joe Gallagher is just across from Ted. He moseyed up one morning when I was talking to Ted. I asked Joe what he thought of Ted's plot.
"It's terrible," he replied with deep Irish emphasis. "He hasn't a clue. Not a clue!" A mischievous chuckle escaped his teeth.
"And Joe's plot," said Ted with mock disapproval. "Just look at it! Everything's in straight rows! He measures everything! Me, I just plant things any old how." On good terms, these two.
Modesty is an essential here, and laughing at yourself is the warmest degree of allotment humor.
Neil described one day how he digs his potatoes. "Like this," he said, flopping his hands about, "I like to do it quietly, just like a mole." I thought: "Yes. You can find yourself funny. Good."
Nurse Elizabeth can, too, and the patch of wild nature she sanguinely calls her plot. She told me her daughter amused herself by touring all the plots, counting "which are in a worse state than mine. She came back the other day and said: 'There are five worse than yours, Mum.' "
Joe has no reason for modesty about his plot, but one of his favorite (subtly self-deprecating) jokes is: "Well, I've taught you all I know, and still you know nothing!"
It's hard to argue with that.
* A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.