I am for my sins the chairman and secretary of my local allotment Association here in Midsomer Norton. People have all sorts of erroneous ideas about how difficult such jobs are and how thankless. I can tell you that this is complete nonsense. It is very satisfying to run an allotment consisting of say 50 or 60 tenents and seeing the produce coming forth in the autumn and people chattering to each other ‘over the garden fence’ to to say.
My job includes filling vacated plots as and when people retire or otherwise resign their plots. Recently, we had a very well-qualified applicant trained in organic horticulture, permaculture, sustainable forestry and water management. This morning, I met the intending occupant on the allotment to show them around.
The first potential problem I noticed was the presence of two of her children, one of them aged two years of age and the other three years of age. A more delightful and pleasant duo you could not hope to meet. They were however almost impossible to keep under control and insisted as children do to explore all over the allotment. Unfortunately, the area is open to the road and it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility them to escape through the wide-open entrance.
Although I was quite happy to entertain the children I have a duty of care to look forward and see if there might be any problems preventing a tenant from giving full attention to their plot which quite frankly is time-consuming at certain times of the year. She was a single parent and she said that she would try to find nursery places in September this year so she could have some me time. In my conversation with her, it was very difficult to get her attention because the children were making demands on the mother exactly as you would expect, so we had to downgrade the conversation slightly into the mere fact of us meeting and her having seen what it was all about. Job done in a way.
I totally admire this ‘get up and go’ spirit especially when someone is starting a new life after one or two traumas here and there but I have to be the voice of realism and my rather pointed questions were to make sure that we could anticipate and sort out potential problems in advance rather than find ourselves entangled in trouble because of conversations we could and should have had at the initial stage.
A few hours after the visit, she wrote to me saying:
that on reflection I decided not to take the plot as it will not be suitable for us. She wished me well.
I replied saying:
There is an alternative that you may not have thought of. There are many older people who do not have anyone to cultivate their garden typically because the husband passed away.
If you get to know people you could offer to cultivate their garden in return for a few vegetables here and there. They would really enjoy it because they don’t like to see their garden going to rack and ruin and this is very common with people over the age of 70 or 75.
This has the added advantage of being able to look after your two children in a confined space in which I’m sure that they would settle well and in the fullness of time would start to give you a hand with the gardening.
My wife thinks that you will find the whole thing very healing, with or without participating in our particular allotment. I leave those thoughts with you and good luck.
She then replied saying
Thank you very much to you both. I am going to set up my own forest garden initiative. If you know of any disused scrub or semi industrial wasteland in the area which is council maintained then do let me know!
I replied finally
Go into the Town Hall offices (entrance at side) and ask for the Town Clerk. He will help you if anyone can because it is that everyone’s interest to have a tidy town.
She replied finally:
Will do, that is a very good suggestion thank you!
So let’s have a look at this conversation and see what we can draw from it. Is it a role model for communication? In my book, I feel it was well-nigh a perfect dialogue with mutual respect and guidance where necessary, but that’s just me and my opinion.
First, this dialogue has nothing to do with how we got on with each other as people. It has to do with the situation, the timing, the effect on others, not to mention the offer itself. The conversation above required of us both to take a long-term and abstract view. I took the view that I had to discuss the positives and negatives that might happen in the future. This is what I call a duty of care. Many problems arise because people think that other party understands the terms and conditions so at the risk of insulting people it is better to spell it out in words of one syllable (well, two or three if you must). Then you put it in writing.
She had to take a more pragmatic view about timing for herself bearing in mind that the fact that she had not even moved into the area. Sometimes, an idea can be right but the timing can be wrong. In some instances, people can be so enthusiastic about what they see in front of them and they make rash promises. That is why I think a cooling off period is very important. In the correspondence which I have quoted verbatim above, there was no ‘personal’ stand-off, it was all situationally based which is as it should be and to my knowledge, nothing was hidden. Even if it was it, but those situations would not have been any of my business as we have to be boundaried in such work situations.
So, as with a marriage, there are three parties involved. The two people, and the situation. The situation is like a person. These are the three points in a triangle. If one of them fails then the whole becomes unstable. For example if a couple who were seeing each other live too far apart, the strain of the travel and the limited time together might put more pressure on the relationship especially as it needs time to grow and it will falter. I call it “blowing the fuse”. It is no one’s fault, it is just the way it is. Another frequent example is when you fall in love with someone who has children by a previous marriage and you don’t get on with them. That again is a situation with a slow motion fuse. You can have all the good will in the world and indeed all the love you can muster but you are defeated by countervailant circumstances over which you have little control.
Back to the dialogue again. I did not have to send the last letters but I felt I had a duty of care to help in particular when someone who was not in the strongest position. At least we present other possibilities. I think if you don’t do your best, they can linger around your consciousness and do your head in quietly. I don’t know how Teresa May our Prime Minister manages at the moment without going mad.
So many voices … and from powerful people at that.