By Andrew Culture
If an Englishman’s home is his castle then it naturally follows that his allotment is his estate, and of course the same can be said for Englishwomen, women like Bessie. Bessie took on her allotment when her husband Victor was laid off by Ransomes-Rapier (in Ipswich) in 1964, it wasn’t so much out of a desperate need for a source of cheap food, it was more to get some time away from her husband.
After being laid off Victor discovered the joys of sitting down; he spent the majority of his seated time reading long meandering Westerns and the rest developing a championship level ability to find fault in everything (and everyone) crossing his path. It took a five year long campaign of persuasion to lever Victor off his chair and back out into the world of work, by which time Bessie’s nagging and his mithering had become a constant in their marriage; it was like a background hiss that they were both aware of but both did their best to ignore.
Victor found employment down at Ipswich Docks and it wasn’t long before the erratic hours of his shifts led to him and his wife sleeping in separate beds, and then separate rooms. And so Bessie committed herself to her allotment, and that’s where I’m going to take you now…
Allotments are now more popular than ever - much to the annoyance of Bessie and her fellow long term plot holders. Where once there was nought but weathered men in weathered (but respectable) tweed jackets, now there are young families with scruffy hair and foul language. Bessie knows their fancy new techniques for growing veg are faddy and lazy, it’s a frequent topic of mirth for the long conversations she holds with her grey-haired harem of allotment gentlemen.
Today she’s chatting with Jim; he’s an amiable old fellow with a cheeky glint in his eye. Bessie is leaning on her spade as they chat about the recent spate of break-ins (they both agree it’s all the fault of computer games and drugs). Although an old hand at the land Jim is fairly new on the allotment scene having moved to the area to be closer to his children, his wife passed many years ago but loneliness wasn’t his motive for moving; there was an ‘indiscretion’ with a married lady at his bridge club and he decided the time had come to up sticks and move.
Bessie and Jim have become close over the past few weeks, and much to Bessie’s surprise she’s found herself quite taken with the man, even with his increasingly lewd double entendre. It’s been longer than she cares to remember that someone has been so suggestive towards her, and it’s become something of a guilty secret pleasure. She’d never admit it, but she’s had more than a few lewd thoughts about Jim recently, and being a naturally shy girl she has been pondering the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’.
Jim is commending Bessie on how deeply she has dug over her potato bed, as is his style he’s also making some suggestive comments causing Bessie blush a little on the outside, and spin like a top on the inside. After some mutual commiseration regarding this year’s poor onion harvest Jim tips his cap and wanders off to his own little estate. Bessie is lost in her thoughts for a moment, and then as she moves the spade she was using to hide Victors hand one of his fingers twitches slightly. Bessie furtively looks over her shoulder then grinds the fingers back below the soil with the heel of her boot.
Whistling a merry tune Bessie pushes her spade into the ground until it stands on its own and potters off to the other end of her plot. She chuckles to herself because, well, those courgettes won’t harvest themselves!