Page 72 - ALG Issue 4 2019
P. 72

Mr Jeff Barber
39 Seagry Road, London E11 2NH 07900 328797
Grant Smith
0845 478 6351
Paula Owen
07838 344408
   Public or private?
 It was just the notice at the entrance to my own allotment site, there against incursions; a somewhat flimsy piece of sheet metal attached to a more substantial metal post. It always was a provocation and so on one languid, sapping, becalmed August evening
it got wrenched off leaving a forlorn, meaningless piece of metal. We dug it out over the winter.
The land, as is so much of allotment land, is owned by a public authority – the local council. It is public land. Yet, as we all know, that 10 rods or 250 square metres of allotment plot is fiercely defended by the tenant as ‘his’ or ‘hers’ or ‘ours’. All sites have quite intricate protocols for plotholders to observe before being allowed on or even near another allotment holder’s piece of land. One of any new plotholder’s tasks is to try to read these protocols. All this seems to show that allotment holders practice a fierce individuality and sense of private ownership on land that is
in the public domain, and over which you have only a yearly but renewable tenancy. Putting those two together can be regarded, perhaps unhelpfully, as somewhat schizoid.
But this wish to be private in public resonates in quite a few other areas
of our lives. They will share many of
the characteristic facets of allotment life but are shaded in ways that can show allotment life in a far better light than it is sometimes given credit for. Eating a meal in any type of eating establishment is one of the easiest places to start these comparisons and contrasts. Even in fast food outlets there are conventions of practice to observe such as taking the tray back
to the rack required, a limited contact with the staff as you give your order and pay before you eat and there is a clear
social distance to other customers.
In more sedate or more pretentious establishments those protocols are multiplied as there are more people in the establishment with whom some interaction occurs and is expected. The employees come to attend to you rather than you go to them and at their best, wish to make your time with them enjoyable and worthwhile. Some restaurants even have their tables spaced sufficiently distant from one another so that you can only half-hear neighbouring conversations. It is not good restaurant etiquette to strike
up conversations with other tables. If you make a booking you turn up and you pay the bill. Or you should. The sense of service on allotment sites is
far less formalised but still there from experienced growers and others with that reciprocal gift relationship of plants, tools and advice. That service may become more formal in an allotment association where various officers exist and are expected to deliver a specific service to all members.
Everyone has the right to have an allotment and everyone can go to the eating place of their choice. But there are different time scales as it is unlikely that any meal will take more than a few indulgent hours, but the allotment has the growing season as its timeframe. Even if you are a frequent customer at any eating place you are unlikely to have a similar relation with its staff than you have with your neighbouring allotment holders. Restaurant staff are more likely to change quicker than your allotment neighbours. Allotments have a different and longer timeframe for making
and having contact with others. Your allotment neighbours are there not only for their gardening skills of whatever level, but also as individuals with their personalities and character embedded with their own distinct life histories, some of which may get shared with you. Their only legally binding contract
All sites have quite intricate protocols for plotholders to observe before being allowed on or even near another allotment holder’s piece of land. One of any new plotholder’s tasks is to try to read these protocols
is with a remote landlord, not an ever- present employer setting down clearly what is expected of you in a place of work in a restaurant.
Trying to move these patterns into wider public areas where you might still be acting in a private capacity is more of
a challenge. A gathering of several allotment holders on a site is committed to the collective cause of growing fruit and vegetables in quiet enjoyment. Crowds at sporting and musical events
           72 Allotment and Leisure Gardener

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