The rules governing daily life under lockdown are wonderfully ambiguous and open to interpretation, as, I suppose, one might expect from a country reluctant to eliminate ambiguities by having a written constitution. The disjuncture between ‘government advice’, broadcast to the nation every hour on the hour, and the law governing what the citizenry can and cannot lawfully do, leaves a multitude of gaping loopholes. So, taking care not to offend the ‘social distancing’ principle behind the advice, and taking full advantage of the underlying notion that exercise is ‘a good thing’, my civic conscience isn’t overly pricked by the potential abuse of the rules involved in getting on my bicycle to ride to my allotment and, once there, doing some gardening. An officious policeman could probably regard this a two different forms of exercise rather than the one allowed, but it is clear that the police are as confused about the precise boundaries of what is permissible as anyone else, and they have recently been coming in for a good deal of flak for overstepping the mark. So I don’t think I am likely to land myself with a criminal record.
The risk is worth it. The singing of the many birds breathlessly celebrating the warm spring sunshine – up to 23 degrees today – is in itself enough to make me thankful that I was prepared to run the gauntlet of local advice-enforcer wrath. But no digging today: civic conscience has intervened and pushed that down the list of priorities. I need to clear a pile of bramble cuttings from the patch of ground I intend to dig next, and it is not an insignificant pile. The 450-odd square yards of my allotment-and-a-half are bordered by some 55 yards of bramble hedge, which provided local foragers with quantities of berries in the autumn, and generated some 25 wheelbarrow loads of cuttings when I pruned them in the winter. Every year I make two very thorny piles that I always leave to dry until spring when they can be burnt almost entirely smokelessly. But this spring’s lockdown has led the Allotment Association to issue dire threats to anyone who lights bonfires on their allotments while people are holed-up in their locked-down houses four or five hundred yards away. Pruning and tying-in the hedge takes around 15 hours every year; burning the cuttings usually takes 20 minutes. Fortunately I had the foresight to burn one pile, with no detriment to neighbouring households, before the lockdown came into operation. Today I completed the five-hour task of cutting every branch and twig in the other pile into two- or three-inch pieces and then wheeling each barrow-load off to an out-of-the-way pile where they can spend the next five to ten years languidly disintegrating. Even 18 months of lockdown, entirely possible, even if as yet unspoken, would be a comparatively short interval in the life of an allotment.