Killing the good life

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My father had an allotment for pretty much the duration of my formative years. My younger brother and I could never really see the point; all that effort and for what? A handful of gnarled vegetables and palms riddled with mucky blisters.

It was not until we gathered around the family dinner table as independent grown ups that we began to understand why dad had that plot of land. He asked us: “Do you really think it was because the fruit and veg was cheaper, or even that it was any better than the stuff I could’ve bought from the market?” The real reason he took on that responsibility was as an experience for we two boys. “Can you remember the first time you looked at a spark plug,” he asked us. We could. He laid his hands on an old rotavator that wouldn’t start. He took us step-by-step through the process of quite why a petrol engine wouldn’t start. In the end, we got the thing running and ploughed some wonky furrows into the parish land. “Do recall the tonne of manure I had delivered that we only spread on half of the land,” he went on. We did, and whilst we’ve never really forgiven him for that week of shovelling horse muck, the life lessons were beginning to stack up. He also stressed that he struggled to do any exercise in his later years, and that the fresh air of the allotment was the biggest benefit to his health of all his hobbies put together. It goes without saying that there was a kettle and a pack of Hamlet cigars in the potting shed, with a stack of Classic Car weeklies. Allotments are more than just veg-producing plots. Sheffield must rally to preserve them.

By James Mitchinson