To A Plot (Selected article from the magazine article writing course)
I wake, full of excitement like a child on Christmas morning and listen carefully. Outside the birds are singing and I hear an early morning train pulling out of the nearby station; but I don’t hear rain. Perfect. Within the hour we’re ready to go, the battered old flask is full of hot, strong tea and bread and cheese are stuffed into a bag. My husband, Alex, chucks boots and spades in the car and we’re off. After a year-long wait we’ve got an allotment.
Leaving our small town behind, the scenery changes to gently rolling countryside, fields of sheep and new-born lambs surround us, nodding daffodils by the roadside look like little yellow flags telling us spring is here. Away in the distance I see the smudgy blues and purples of the Ochil hills. Soon we’re standing on our 10 x 10 metre plot grinning at each other and itching to get started.
We start to dig, the spade I’m using belonged to my late mum and for a split second, as I take hold of the smooth, wooden handle, it feels almost like our hands have touched again. I quickly get into a rhythm, thudding the blade into the earth, stepping hard on it and heaving the load up. Before long I’m huffing and puffing and glad of the cool breeze on my face, and I start to tune in to other sounds around me-Alex, breathing hard but still grinning, saying, “Great way to spend my birthday”, the hungry-sounding bleat of a lamb calling to its mother, a tractor’s engine chugging as it ploughs the neighbouring field and the noisy seagulls following it. Far above us larks sing. Then suddenly, as if someone has flicked a switch, the sun bursts through the cloud turning the tractor a brighter red, the earth at my feet a richer brown and even the worms a deeper pink. My mind empties and I feel as free as the larks.
Two solid hours of digging later, we’re more than ready for a break and sink down heavily on a knee-high pile of turf, gulp the hot tea and tuck into our bread and cheese. Somehow this closeness to nature and working the land gives me a comforting feeling of timelessness and I think of Robert Burns, that great Scottish poet, writing “To a Mouse ( on Turning her up in her Nest with the Plough)” centuries before.
But there’s work to be done. Another couple of hours of back-breaking digging and we decide to call it a day, I ache pretty much all over by now and have to drag myself to the car. We stop at a pub called the Four Marys and stepping inside, our eyes slowly adjusting to the dark interior, it feels warm and inviting with a fire crackling in the hearth. We order beer and find a seat by the fire-the place is full, there’s a hubbub of voices and outbursts of laughter. Stretching out our aching legs we feel tired but contented and raise our glasses, “Happy birthday!” I say. And we drink to life.