Balmore Allotments, Caversham, Reading, RG4 8JN.
By Stewart Harding
Eating in Reading – or anywhere for that matter – isn’t just about restaurants or takeaways. Or even supermarkets. You modern types might not know this, but it’s possible to grow your own food and eat it. That’s what I do and it’s bloody great.
Where? Balmore allotments are laid out in a crescent on the southern hillside of Balmore Walk, Caversham’s very own mini Hampstead Heath. They run down the slope from the back of the old Prince of Wales pub (now called The Last Crumb) to the back of Balmore Health Centre in Hemdean Road. There are 40 or so plots. There used to be more but, in pursuit of the health of the population, some plots at the bottom were nicked to build the health centre car park.
What is an allotment? It’s a patch of poor quality ground measuring 10 poles (or is it perches? Or rods…? Fuck knows, ask Tenpole Tudor). That’s some 302.5 sq. yards or almost 253 sq. metres that is enshrined in law as the ‘allotted amount’ (do you see?) of dear Olde Englande that each of you peasants are entitled to cultivate from after the Norman overlords, aka the landed gentry, stole your country from you.
What’s the point? Bon viveur and dead restaurant critic AA Gill famously said “growing your own veg makes about as much sense as whittling your own car”. A big mate of Clarkson, Gill was obviously a bit of a cunt, so let’s see how much sense he had before he died prematurely.
Is it worth it? I’ve had an allotment up there for 22 years so I know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t. Gill’s point was that growing vegetables is more work than is worth it, seeing as how they are so cheap to buy. He’s right on one level, but he’s also dead so his opinion counts for nothing. I, on the other hand, live triumphantly on, and on and on. Like a typical establishment ex-public schoolboy Gill is looking at this in purely economic terms but there may be other aspects to allotmenteering that he hasn’t considered.
Financially, allotments are a waste of time: pay the rent, buy the seeds, buy the fertilisers and the string and the bamboo sticks and joojits and whatnots you need. You bloody fool; you can’t compete with multi-million pound businesses with all their planet-raping technology. A waste of money and a waste of time are allotments.
BUT on the plus side? The time spent thrashing about in the mud and shit dramatically reduces the time you would otherwise spend ogling porn on the internet and wanking, so there’s that.
You are out in the fresh air – if you ignore the fumes wafting across from the backed-up traffic on Prospect Street.
You get to enjoy peace and quiet and listen to the birdies cheeping away while eyeing up your crops. Well, some of the time anyway, if the mad drummer in the flat opposite and the abandoned barking dog down the way give it a rest for FIVE FUCKING MINUTES.
You get to take home sparkling fresh fruit and veg every day until your fridge is full of courgettes and the shed is full of spuds and onions. And do they taste better? Yes they do. They fucking well better had after all that work.
You are helping to save the planet. Air miles? Nil. Supporting wildlife? Yep. Too many of the bastards, if anything. I think they’re taking the piss.
Smoking area: The whole allotment site is a dedicated smoking area. You can smoke your lungs out next to a planet-destroying bonfire if you like.
Seating… is provided by hauling a chair out of a skip on your way to the allotment. There is no dedicated shelter but, being the last refuge of vernacular architecture, you can build your own out of old sash windows, scaffolding planks and bits of string. Let your imagination run riot.
Punterwatch: Loonies. Every last one of your fellow allotment holders is a Class A fucking mental case. Bitter old gits, alcoholics who drink strong lager in their sheds, clueless idiots who make up for not having a clue by laying old carpets over everything and then going home, hardcore Republicans, dope fiends and lost souls. By and large an inspiring bunch who generally hate talking to each other.
Shit rating: Strangely enough allotments thrive on shit. Perversely, Balmore allotments have no access to get shit delivered which mean lugging arm-breaking bags of shit up an alleyway. Luckily me and Allotment Dave know a pigeon fancier who brings bags of FUCKING HELL THAT TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY pigeon shit and decomposing bodies to the gate, from there it’s a relatively short wheelbarrow hop to the plot…
If I’ve given the impression that allotments are horrible I retract every word. They are great. I love mine. GET ONE.