Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Shed of the year

This is no ordinary shed. It may bear a passing resemblance to the sort of construction which can be found on allotments up and down the country, but there is much more to it than that. It is in fact, Art. It has been created by the chap on the right here, Thomas Pausz, an MA student at the Royal College of Art in London, and is meant to be a recreation of the community shed at the Manor Gardens allotments in Hackney Wick, the ones that were bulldozed to make way for the 2012 Olympics.

Thomas - who has lived in this country for 10 years, but was born in Paris to a Polish father and Breton mother - made it as his contribution to the college's design and architecture interim show. It is about shared memories, collective experience, and the political and social aspects of shed life (You didn't realise there were political aspects to shed life? Where have you been?).

The story about how Thomas came to build it is quite interesting. He lives in Hackney, and likes cycling around the area. One day he chanced upon the Manor Gardens site, and decided to have a look round. After a while he tried to leave, only to discover that he had been locked in. So he then spent the next hour or so having a really good explore, and was overwhelmed by the profusion of sheds there (and indeed anyone who knew the site would agree that they had some pretty good sheds). "I was completely amazed," he said. Finally he left, by climbing over the fence.

Funnily enough, when he came to do his project, he realised that the one shed he had not discovered was the community shed. He turned that omission into a virtue, by deliberately avoiding any photographs of the old shed, and instead re-created it by asking plot-holders what it looked like. They all had quite different memories; one recalled there being a photograph of the Queen inside, while another swore blind it was decorated with a picture of a Page 3 girl. Easy to confuse the two, I suppose. His technique explains why his shed - which is currently on view outside the Royal College of Art, next to the Royal Albert Hall - is not an exact replica of the original. I saw it the morning before it was completed, and told Thomas that I thought the original had more carpet, and more comfy chairs. (It was very well appointed, the Manor Gardens shed).

Meanwhile the evicted plotholders are trying to settle into their new home, on a specially constructed site in nearby Leyton. They are not having a very good time of it. Julie Sumner, who led the campaign against eviction, told me: "It is like a prisoner of war camp, built by B&Q. It is very sparse and bleak and regimented. Because it is very open it is much more windswept than our previous one. Also the soil is not draining properly, and we are standing in water half the time. They [the London Development Agency, responsible for bringing the Olympics to London and kicking out the Manor Gardens plotholders] spend £1.5 million in building these new allotments and they cannot even get it right. It does not give you a lot of confidence in them, does it?"

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sprout tops

I don't think I had even heard of sprout tops until about seven or eight years ago; or at least, I certainly had never considered eating them. Now they are everywhere ("everywhere", in this instance, meaning all the best restaurants). My very wonderful colleague Fay Maschler, in a review of some west London gastropub, mentioned the other day how she was served "a side dish of sprout tops, a vegetable currently in vogue", while Giles Coren in the Times seemed to like the sprout tops he ate at Rowley Leigh's Café Anglais*. I assumed he liked them, because he described them as "sleek and buttery", which sounds to me like a good thing. But you never know.

Anyway, here are ours. The more observant amongst you will deduce that they are not this year's sprouts, because they are photographed against a snowy background, and we haven't had any snow in London this year. In fact they are last year's, but I thought it was OK to put the picture in, because it is so pretty.

The first time I ate sprout tops was one Christmas with my brother-in-law, who is a top bloke in many respects but who had chosen - for reasons best known to himself - not to wash them, or indeed to cut them up in any way: they were served whole, and somewhat gritty. But they were delicious, and despite the slightly crunchy texture I was hooked. I have since learned that it is OK to wash them, and to chop them up.

The only problem is that they are the cause of a slight disagreement with my wife. She is basically only interested in growing sprouts for the sake of the sprout tops. I like the sprouts too, and reckon you ought to let the plants stand while you work your way through the sprouts. She says we ought to get on with it and eat the sprout tops while they are still looking good. It leads to tense times on the allotment, with me in a constant state of anxiety because of the worry that Mrs Low will cut down the sprouts as soon as my back is turned. I am thinking of posting an armed guard next to the sprouts, just in case.

[*It is my birthday today, and we are going to the Café Anglais to celebrate. I hope the sprout tops are still on the menu]

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Hello and welcome from Plot 8

Like most allotment holders, I love looking at other people's plots. When I can't get to look at other allotments, I like looking at fellow plot-holders' blogs. What are they growing? What do their plots look like? Are they suffering from the same problems as me? And what are they doing about them?
After spending rather too much of the past couple of years gawping at other people's efforts, I thought: why not have a go myself? After all, isn't that the whole point of this blogging lark - anyone can do it? So, welcome to my blog. And indeed, welcome to my plot. I share it with my wife Eliza, children Kitty and Orlando, and rather more slugs, pigeons, flea beetles, foxes, snails, greenfly, blackfly and whitefly than I care to mention. There are also a couple of cats which make the occasional appearance, and some mice (last spotted when I was digging up my potatoes last year: there were three babies, so small they were still blind, so I guess I can say I really have seen Three Blind Mice), although the former have never actually been spotted giving chase to the latter. Perhaps they do it when I'm not around.
Where am I? The plot is part of the Acton Gardening Association, in west London. The Association has several sites: ours is called Bromyard, on Bromyard Avenue - just off the Uxbridge Road. It is a tiny site, just 15 plots: number 8 is slap bang in the middle. Our nearest neighbour is the Virgin Active health club - basically we are surrounded by its car park. It is all very salubrious.
The greatest joy of reading people's allotment blogs is looking at the photos. So here, by way of hello, is a picture of me with a pumpkin I grew last year. It made an excellent Halloween lantern.