The allotment 

You can’t relive your life through your children and shouldn’t try.

It’s daddy’s First Law of Keeping your Sanity.

1. Push an adolescent too hard in one direction and they’ll surely end up going the opposite way.

And it’s not the 1970s anyway.

My son’s childhood experiences bear as much relevance to mine as an ironing board does to German measles.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t try and give them a little nudge now and again.

I grew up in a farming environment. There were no other kids within miles of our remote house on the top of a hill.

There were fewer attractions to being indoors then and less fear of what was outside.

My brother and I would often disappear into the fields and barns which served as our hideouts in the early morning and often not appear back until it was feeding time at night.

Nobody sent out any search parties.

Our currency was mud.

Mud seeping over the tops of our wellies, marrying together the bruises on our legs.

Imprinting itself so deep in the lines of our hands and fingers that you wondered if it would ever come off.

There were always animals about, or crops growing in a nearby field.

You ate blackberries straight off the bush.

One of my earliest childhood memories is walking through the fields with my uncle as he carried a shotgun, blasting crows out of the sky to keep them from the crops.

I missed the party on the day of my First Holy Communion because I was driving a tractor for my da.

As I said, it’s not the 1970s anymore.

My son grows up in a world of suburban comfort, filled with experiences designed to assist his development.

Even though he’s an only child he has so much contact with his young peers that he may soon need a PA just to organise his social schedule.

He has shown no interest in the provenance of food.

And why would he in a world dominated by giant supermarkets and plastic wrappers? Where blood and offal are thought of as something which belongs in a horror film, rather than the natural order of life.

He can sit on the sofa munching sausages while he watches Peppa Pig without any obvious sign of awkwardness.

I’ve taken him to an open farm a couple of times.

But when I ask him what’s his favourite bit he inevitably responds ‘the bouncy castle’.

I really don’t think he’s getting the authentic experience.

So I was a little unsure this week when I tried him with a new adventure.

The allotment.

I’m very lucky in that my da has his own allotment. He is virtually self-sufficient in fruit and veg with plenty left over for me.

But in order to get my son to the allotment we first have to go to my Da’s house.

And that means the distraction of Uncle Giggie’s computer.

It’s easy enough to get my boy excited about going to what is essentially a big field. It’s just about judging how long you have before the novelty wears off.

The day is dull and damp.

I put his wellies on.

Wellies today are no longer black. They’re bright colours with cartoon characters emblazoned on the sides.

The day when my son came to me crying and said ‘Daddy, there’s mud on my wellies!’ was, I think, the day when I realised the world had moved on and left me behind.

We arrive at the field. My da, me, uncle Giggie and my son.

A quick game of hide and seek breaks the ice for him.

Then we’re at the plot.

I know the trick.

Get him involved. Get him to take ownership.

He helps my da to pull cauliflowers, beetroots and corguettes. To cut rhubarb.

We get him to hold the fork and turn over some soft soil, unearthing a hoarde of little white potatoes.

We pretend we can’t seem them and he gets excited as he finds spud after spud, glistening in the mud like shiny smooth stones on the seabed.

It’s a lightbulb moment. Realising that the food he eats comes from the ground.

Potato waffles don’t just grow ready-made. There’s a natural process to it all.

But he’s young and there’s only so much you can push on him at a time. This is all alien to him.

Soon he’s whimpering quietly. Then a little louder.

‘Daddy, when can I play on uncle Giggie’s computer?’

There’s no point forcing it beyond that.

We take him to the water tank to wash his hands.

It’s an old plastic tub with a drainpipe catching the rain and running into it.

As his hands are being cleaned he looks at my Da.

‘Granda, is this how you did it in the olden days?’

Soon we’re back at my Da’s house and he’s upstairs with Giggie.

There’s nothing he shows as much enthusiasm for as the computer and nothing can keep him quiet for as long.

I get the feeling I could leave the house and nip off on an excursion to London, return, and he’d still be sitting in the same place playing the same game.

Do I wish he showed that sort of interest in the allotment and the veg?

Yeah, maybe a little.

But the world’s a different place now and he’s much more likely to make his way in the world with computers than he is by getting his hands dirty.

Besides while he’s up there it gives me a chance to do a little bit of food prep.

Spuds are scrubbed. Carrots peeled and chopped. Beetroot the same. Peas popped.

I’ll boil the hard veg and then roast them with some herbs and vinegar.

I’ll fry the corguettes lightly and then add peas and egg for an omelette.

From the ground to the plate in a matter of hours.

The way it should be.

I’m content because I’ve given my son a little nibble of the natural world of food.

Now the next challenge is to try and get him to eat some of it.

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