Last time I told you how when I was eight I hated wasps and worms and mud and vegetables and how all that changed when I started helping me Granddad on his allotment. Granddad taught me how to plant potatoes, sow lettuces and pick broad beans, and he taught me to cook the lovely vegetables fresh from the allotments. I told you how me and Granddad spent the summer digging and weeding and planting and eating...together.
I didn't see much of Granddad during that winter. I had school and it got dark early and at the weekends I had other stuff to do. Football, mates, you know. I didn't see much of Granddad till the next Spring. I was nine by then and one evening he phoned me up. Said he was going to get started planting spuds again. Asked if I wanted to go down the allotment and give him a hand. So I did. But when I got down there Granddad had changed. He seemed a bit smaller and thinner and his back didn't seem so straight and sometimes he screwed up his face like something was hurting him.
Michael: Are you alright Granddad?
Granddad: Course I'm alright.
Michael: You don't look alright.
Granddad: I'm fine. Just get a bit out of breath these days. Bound to get a bit out of breath at my age.
Michael: You're not that old Granddad.
Granddad: Old enough. Stop fussing. Right lets get started. We've got trenches to dig. Trenches for the seed spuds.
Michael: Can I do the trenches this time?
Granddad: Well I don't know. It's not as easy as it looks digging trenches. They've got to be just right. Not too deep. Not too shallow. And they've got to be straight. Can't have your trenches wandering all over the place.
Michael: Just tell me what to do. Tell me how you do it.
Granddad: Well I don't know.
Michael: Please Granddad. I want to do the whole thing this time. I want to dig the trenches and plant the seed spuds and do the hoeing and the ridging and everything all by myself.
And that's what I did. Granddad got an old wooden chair out of his shed and he sat down and told me what to do. It was strange seeing him like that. I'd never seen him sit still. My Granddad was always on the move. Always looking for something to do. He never even had a telly cos he said he hated sitting still. But now he seemed quite glad to be still and I didn't like that.
Granddad: That's good Michael. Keep it nice and straight. Good. Very good.Very nice. Blimey where did you learn to handle a spade like that?
Michael: Watching you Granddad.
The phone call came in the middle of the night. Woke me up. I heard Mum talking downstairs. She came up and told me. Said Granddad had been taken into hospital. Said he might have to have an operation. Next morning we went to visit him.
Michael: Granddad, what's happening?
Granddad: It's nothing. Where's your Mum?
Michael: She's talking to the doctor. What are they doing to you? What's going on?
Granddad: It's nothing. Nothing to worry about. Just had a bit of a funny turn and they're doing a few tests. I'll be out of here in no time. It's nothing to worry about.
Granddad: Yeah yeah. Now listen Michael. I want you to take care of the allotment while I'm in here. Just till I'm back on my feet. Only be a couple of weeks but there's a lot to do.
Michael: Yeah. I know.
Granddad: Things can easily get out of hand this time of year. Main thing is watering. Keep your eye on the weather. If we don't get any rain in the next couple of days you're going to need to get some water on those veg. You know where the tap is and the can?
Granddad: And keep the weeds down round the lettuces. We don't want them choked off.
Granddad: And the spuds. Lay off the spuds. I know you. You'll be wanting to pull the first lot but it's too early. They're not ready. They'll be too small. You've got to wait. Watch and wait. Be patient.
Michael: How will I know when they're ready?
Granddad: You'll know.
Michael: Will I?
Granddad: Yeah. Think you can manage?
Michael: Course I can.
Granddad: Course you can. You're a good boy Michael. You'll be fine.
And I was fine. I went down the allotment every night after school. Did the watering like he told me. Kept the weeds down round the lettuces. Did everything like he said. And those spuds. I kept looking at them. The plants were green and bushy and they looked wonderful. Every time I went down the allotment they looked bigger and bigger but what was happening underground? Were they ready? He said I'd know when they were ready but I didn't. I wasn't sure. Then one day I said to myself. This is it. I'm not waiting any longer. Today's the day. I got Granddad's fork out of his shed and I stuck it in the earth beside the first plant in the fi rst row. And I dug. Up came the plant and there they were. At least 20 new spuds. They were perfect. The first spuds of summer. I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to show him. He had to see this. I went in the shed and I found a small wooden box with nails in it. I tipped the nails out and went and filled the box with the spuds. I couldn't get them all in. Had to stick the last couple in my pockets and I ran and ran and when I got there...his bed was empty...and then I saw my Mum...and she was crying.
All that happened over thirty years ago. I'm nearly forty now and these days I've got lad of my own. Ben. He'll be nine next week. I've got an allotment too. Not quite as big as my Granddad's but I work hard on it weekends and evenings in the summer and I'm quite proud of it. It's...it's alright.
Michael: Eh Ben ? It's alright down here isn't it?
Ben: Yeah. It's alright.
And today I look around. The sun's shining. The earth is warm and the spud plants look green and bushy. There's a pound of sausages back home waiting for us in the fridge and Ben's standing here with a fork and a little bucket in his hand.
Ben: So are they ready Dad?
Michael: What do you think?
Ben: Um. Yeah. I think they're ready.
Michael: So do I. Then let's have 'em.