Our allotment came with a shed. We acquired it in bygone days (about twelve years ago) when there wasn’t a waiting-list list of 50 to 100 aspirant fruit and vegetable growers anxious to get their hands on a piece of earth to till. We even had a choice of allotments, whereas now people are lucky if, when they get to the top of the list, there is a vacant quarter of an allotment for them. There is an element of lottery to what one finds. If you are very lucky your allotment will come with a greenhouse, or established raspberries, or apple, plum or pear trees. One of the ones we were shown had three knarled apple trees at the far end, but was some way up the hill from both the main path and the nearest tap; another was an impenetrable bramble jungle. The one we chose was on the main path and, in addition to a world-beating crop of couch grass, it had a shed, inherited from many generations of allotmenteers who have tilled that piece of land before us.
This isn’t the kind of shed David Cameron bought to lick his wounds and write his memoirs in after the Brexit referendum, nor is it a Roald Dahl bottom-of-the-garden, cosy book-writing type shed. Our shed looks as if it was somewhere on the fringes, rather too close to the trenches, during the Battle of the Somme. The vintage looks about right, and, while it doesn’t appear to have sustained a direct hit from which it has been resurrected, it gives every evidence of having had its now rusting corrugated-iron sides pierced by a variety of shrapnel and the occasional stray bullet. This is surprisingly helpful in a number of ways. We were able to have a choice of allotments partly because there had been a spate of vandalism at the time and a number of the tenants had given up in despair. Our shed looked as if it had already been so severely vandalized that there wasn’t any point in setting it on fire. It appears never to have had a door and looks so decrepit that nobody in their right mind would dream of keeping anything valuable in it. So through all these years I’ve kept all my garden tools there quite safely, using a motorcycle lock to secure the wheelbarrow, spade and fork to one of the still very solid uprights.
Best of all, the shed allows free passage to any intrepid bird interested in exploring it, and right now it boasts three blackbird chicks in an appropriately dilapidated nest on a high shelf in the far corner from where the door isn’t. The nest, like the shed, has clearly been inherited from a venerable lineage of previous tenants.
The morning’s jobs being done, we sat down to have tea in the only significant shade on the allotment at present, which happens to be beside the shed, to the evident consternation of the two adult blackbirds who were intent on feeding the chicks. The male had tried a couple of intimidatory fly-pasts quite close to me during the course of the morning to let me know I wasn’t welcome and, deciding there was no mileage in that tactic, concluded that stealth was the answer. As the female sat at a safe distance waiting her turn with a beak-full of grubs, the male flitted nearer and nearer from cover to cover: from behind the cordon apples, to the rhubarb, from there to a clump of lupins, getting closer and closer to the shed with each flit. If either of us looked directly at it, it suddenly remembered that it had urgent business elsewhere and headed off back to the cordon apples to start again. When we pretended not to be watching it, once it had stalked close enough it would make a couple of feints to see what we might do, which was obviously precisely nothing, and than take a giant leap for blackbird-kind by flying in through one of the shrapnel holes and depositing its worm into one of the eagerly waiting mouths. As soon as the female saw that her pioneering mate had made it past us, she flew straight in herself. He, however, still didn’t share her newly acquired confidence and, once he had collected his next mouthful, which he did surprisingly quickly, he started the whole routine all over again. So our tea took much longer than usual. TV and Netflix have their uses under lockdown, but there is a greater immediacy to live entertainment, and one gets it where one can.