9th May – Week 7
How are you doing? Well I hope? And welcome to the seventh of these weekly broadcasts from home, a slightly different one this week.
A few weeks ago I’d thought of doing one of these as what I’d called ‘an outside broadcast’ from Sarah’s allotment, but got carried away with doing the writing at home that week and so no outside broadcast happened. But this week it will, or more accurately, it might. Meaning I’m at home now listening to early morning Radio 3, as you might expect, but by the time I press ‘Publish’ and send this out to you I’m planning to have completed its writing on the allotment. Let’s see.
The story of the allotment is that twenty years ago, when Sarah and I had been living in this house together for around five years, it had filled up with plants. Our house and small yard had become so like a garden that Sarah decided she’d like a real garden. So we toyed with the idea of moving to a house that had one for about five minutes. Before Sarah decided that getting an allotment would fit our wildly varying self-employed income from our company ‘A Sense of Place’ much better than the bigger and riskier mortgage a garden would cost. Plus we didn’t want to move any further out into the suburbs than here by Penny Lane.
So Sarah’s been gardening this allotment on Greenbank Lane for two decades now. With help at times, and increasingly, from me. It’s never been a rows of carrots and potatoes sort of place and also used to be twice the size you’ll see today. But a couple of years back when her funeral work got busy and she also wanted to spend more time on her sea kayaking she decided to give up half of the plot, so that end is now rented from the Council by someone else. And yes, these are municipal plots. Managed by a local committee that Sarah’s served on for some of her time here, but the more than reasonable annual rent is paid to the Council.
Anyway let’s walk over, not much more than ten minutes away from our house on the other side of Smithdown, and I’ll write the rest of this week’s ‘Home Life’ there.
Here we are then, at Sarah’s Allotment. And it is Sarah’s place. I’m a visitor who helps, but I’ve only had my own key for these past couple of years while Sarah’s been so often away sea kayaking. Meaning I can walk over here and look after things while she’s on the water. But Sarah’s very definitely the Head Gardener here, and the design and major choices are all made by her. I shift things, dig things up, weed, strim and water. And over these lockdown weeks I’ve begun doing my sociology work here too.
I bring the books I’ll need, walking here for my walk and exercise under the lockdown restrictions, even doing some extra exercise as sessions of gardening work when the writing slows down and it’s time for a bit of movement. As you can see I’ve got my music here for company, mostly my ‘Music to Write By’ classical compilations, though this week I’ve added in some Kraftwerk after hearing Florian Schneider had died. ‘Metropolis’ by them is playing as I write, just moving on to ‘The Model’ with ‘Neon Lights’ to come after that. Just gorgeous. So it’s a practical, idyllic and distanced by design kind of place for an introvert like me to come and work. It also fits in with my PhD, which I’m attempting to write only in places that I find utopian in some way. This is called a ‘heterotopia’ for any passing Foucault fans, a very ‘other’ sort of place, set apart yet operating perfectly within its own rules, a fragment of utopia some might say, including me.
I’ve been coming here to work with increasing frequency over these past weeks. Up, out and set up here sometimes as the day is dawning. Finally in a working rhythm again, the old one having been turned upside down, like for most of us, by the virus. But having thought I’d soon be writing words by the thousand for a PhD that will eventually be the length of a book, I’ve found my new working rhythm to be a more peaceful yet deeper thing than chasing after word counts. I’m working in a garden now, and I think it shows. It needs tending and I love to do that while I’m thinking and working. So I’m tending my work more carefully too. Like an anthropologist whose writing is here with me says:
“I do like being outside, and I do like getting my hands dirty”Marilyn Strathern
Which is her talking about her own thinking working better if she gives it the time and curiosity that her gardening takes. Me too, and I’m taking the time it takes over my work here now. A chapter on the history and genealogy of utopianism I thought I’d have finished by now? Well it isn’t, but is feeling better the more tending it gets. Working at the speed of a garden, with my hands in its earth.
And, well knowing what a privilege it is to have access to this little plot of earth, I think being able to come over here and work has helped keep me sane over these lockdown weeks.
What I’ve written here today is much more about philosophy than I’d imagined I might write. But I’m happy here, happy to be thinking so much through. Sarah will be arriving some time soon, and we’ll have lunch together then, and probably talk about Campions, the Pinks, the next family of plants for us to find and study on the Identiplant horticultural course she’s doing. Which will be good.
But that’s about it for this week’s outside broadcast. So until next week, as Kraftwerk play us out with ‘Trans-Europe Express’, stay safe and stay well x
Sarah’s arrived now and is at the table working on her latest pandemic project, a blue-green velvet scarf, being designed around some leftovers.