There are essentially, I have learnt, two approaches to allotment gardening. On the one hand, there is the meticulous development of a gameplan. The textbooks (one of which lives in the bedside table here) recommend the perusal of seed catalogues in November, the drawing of various complicated diagrams during February, and a streamlined programme of timely planting starting as soon as the last frost has passed and lasting deep into the summertime. Careful adherence to the right plan- the textbooks are at pains to assure us- will result in a satisfyingly steady harvest, with the optimum amount of comestible greenery emerging unfussily out of the ground just at the exact moment it is needed and no sooner. This meticulous approach has much to recommend it, clearly- and each year I sit down at the kitchen table with the most trusted of the textbooks, several marker pens and a sheet of A3 paper, with a view to coming up with a forward plan worthy of Joseph Stalin himself.
The trouble with all of this, of course, is that we are not Joseph Stalin and cannot rely on our absolute command over the apparatus of the state in order to control the supply of potatoes. Instead we are hopelessly subject to various day-to-day vagaries and incidental inconveniences, such as the weather, a full-time job, a small child whose idea of a Saturday afternoon's entertainment does not always involve the succession planting of radishes, and the insistence by one's family members in presenting you, on the occasion of your birthday, with packets of butternut squash seeds which need planting three feet apart from each other. All of which, as you can imagine, plays havoc with a man's spreadsheets, and leads to the adoption of a less textbook-favoured approach to allotment gardening essentially consisting of planting whatever the hell you have to hand and hoping for the best.
All of which will explain why me and Frankie found ourselves last Sunday spending seven hours digging up an entire plot worth of plate-ready produce (well, I was digging, Frankie was mostly foraging for blackberries in the undergrowth and constructing a scale model of spaghetti junction out of bricks and old plastic drainpipes). It will also explain why at the close of the day we were to be found hauling a large, heavily laden wheelbarrow down the cycle track (a sight which occasioned quizzical glances from a passing streetgang of Gorton scallies on BMX bikes, who clearly considered mugging us for the wheelbarrow's contents before concluding it wasn't really worth the bother, sackfuls of King Edward potatoes no matter how carefully cultivated not commanding prices on the black market equivalent to high-end mobile telephones).
Needless to say every cupboard in the house is now bulging with potatoes, some the size and indeed furriness of small mammals, and an edict has been issued banning the purchase of pasta, couscous and other exotic staples. We shall see how long that is adhered to (my guess is less than two weeks, my command over the state apparatus being flimsy at best, especially in some of the more rural outer regions such as the kitchen). In the meantime, however, I have the house to myself for the day, and in preparation for an afternoon watching non-league football (of which more in the next post, probably) I am off to make myself a hearty breakfast featuring potato cakes, a tortilla espanola and perhaps a plate of homemade oven-cooked chips. Further recipe suggestions for our standard staple gratefully received (oh and if anyone has the first idea what to do with approximately thirty five butternut squashes three times the size of lightbulbs, that would also be most appreciated- thank you).