· life ·

I've been thinking a lot about allotments recently. At the beer festival yesterday, we met up with an old friend of Mr. Bsag's, who was telling us about his battle with Sainsbury's. They are trying to buy up land — on which he has an allotment — to build a supermarket. This is really beyond satire. The supermarket buys up land so that people — who previously grew their own healthy fresh fruit and vegetables very cheaply on that land — can pay large sums to buy poorer quality produce from Sainsbury's instead. For those not familiar with allotments, they are large areas of land in urban areas, sub-divided into strips (about 30ft by 20ft), which can be rented by anyone who wants one. They were devised in the Victorian period for the slightly patronizing purpose of keeping the working class from spending all their non-working hours in the pub, but they came into their own in the world wars, as people used them to 'Dig For Victory', growing produce to supplement rather meagre rations of fresh food. The rents are generally very cheap (on the order of about £20 a year), and the allotment users form a wonderful community. In over-crowded, urban areas, they are a place where all sorts of people with different backgrounds can come together, get some fresh air, and a sense of achievement from growing their own food. If you travel on trains in the UK at all, you'll see plenty of allotments near the tracks. In fact, you'll probably have plenty of time to study them in detail, while you are stationary for two hours due to a points failure at Clapham Junction. Allotments have a slightly shanty town look, with home made bird-scarers and tumble-down sheds. I've always rather liked this look, and prefer it to over-manicured gardens.

We also watched a programme on BBC2 about allotments, which had a selection of fantastic characters. There was a Brazilian woman who mainly used her allotment to grow plants to dye cloth: woad, madder and dyer's chamomile. Woad is particularly magical, as cloth dipped in a solution of the plant initially looks yellow when it's removed. It's only on contact with the air that the chemicals in the plant react, and the cloth slowly turns blue, like a photograph developing. She said a wonderful thing--"I'm growing colours on my allotment." What a fantastic image.

There was an elderly West Indian woman with a bit of an obsession with gooseberries. She demonstrated how to make her special gooseberry drink which she said she has for breakfast, instead of cereal. In case anyone reading has a glut of gooseberries, here's the recipe. You liquidise gooseberries, then add some condensed milk for sweetness, some nutmeg, half a can of Guinness and — on special occasions — some rum. It's the breakfast of champions, I tell you!