Part I: The Awakening
Chapter 7: Gardening lesson & wildlife discussions
Between my arrival in Liverpool and Alice’s graduation party were a couple of days meant to mark my ‘initiation’ in her family’s lifestyle. She actually needed me as a full time babysitter only after a month or so had passed. She wanted me to have time to familiarize myself with everything, which meant that I’d be quite relaxed for a couple of weeks, but which also meant that I’d not sit on my rear end, but help her out in a couple of tasks which needed to be done. Of course, I knew that even before getting to Britain and it suited me just fine. Why should I mind having more time to explore, before I had to actually take up the job real seriously?
Even on my first day out there, on a Sunday, me, Mark and little James went for a walk through the neighborhood, up to an allotment-filled patch of land not far from their home. It was the first time I’d seen or heard of such a great use of city space — allotments are basically patches of green land within a city’s limits which are bought or sometimes handed out to denizens of the city in order for them to play at gardening and thus reconnect with nature. Instead of having just parks near your home (of which Britain has plenty, don’t worry), you’d have an even more greener space, more often than not with plenty of colors coming from all those flowers, vegetables and fruit trees which are usually planted in such a garden’s soil.
On that first Sunday, after breakfast, Mark rounded me and James up for a “fun activity”, as he put it at the time. The three of us exited the house through a small door at the side of their kitchen and entered a small backyard filled with flower pots and all kinds of gardening utensils. Clearly having done that before, James jumped into a wheelbarrow lying in the middle of the backyard and awaited enthusiastically to be pushed around the neighborhood by either me or Mark. We took turns in doing just that, handling the wheelbarrow with care so it didn’t capsize and after a while we reached the said allotments. And my, they were a sight to behold!
“Mark, how come you have such a marvel within the city limits?” I asked, curiously.
“Well, the city council sells these patches of land to whomever wishes to buy them. It is not just in our city, but pretty much every other town and city in the UK. We make of them what we want, some plant vegetables, some flowers. As you can see, most of these green patches of land have something in common though: trees, as many as possible. The actual configuration of the land, the types of plants each owner has depends on personal choice and varies greatly. Some people have small sheds in which a couple of persons could actually sleep during summer days and most of them choose to built such sheds themselves, thus trying out and augmenting their build-master skills” he answered.
“Oh, that is great indeed. I’ve never heard of allotments before! And are there more areas like this in Liverpool?” I asked.
Mark said that there were plenty of them in Liverpool and the whole UK: “But for now let’s focus on ours right here in front of us. I’ve some work to do around here and you can help me, but the two of us have to keep an eye on James as well, you know. As much as I admire him for being daddy’s good boy, there are a couple of things which could go wrong around here, hurting him. You know, tools, crappy-built fences, stuff like that.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him, don’t worry! But show me what you need help with around here” I said. ⇒⇓
We got to work right away. The soil was real muddy as it had rained a lot before my arrival in Liverpool, but as Mark instructed us before exiting the house, the three of us had work clothes so it did not matter in the least if we got real dirty. Amongst other stuff, Mark needed me to unearth some beetroots and some carrots – which I had no experience with but managed just fine – while he worked around a small, ‘cozy’ greenhouse he had built in the middle of the allotment. In there he had some quite-funny-shaped tomatoes, but which in turn looked and smelt real ‘bio’, to express myself like some health enthusiast. After finishing our first tasks respectively, we moved on to some other tasks he needed done and which required an extra pair of hands. It sure did feel nice helping him out! All the while, James had fun with some little pebbles he kept throwing in a small pond formed between and beneath two adjoining allotments. We adults kept watch so that James did nothing perilous, but no incident occurred. Mark and I spent like two hours or so accomplishing different gardening tasks (which was more than I had ever spent in a garden before), after which we packed up our stuff and headed back towards home.
James found some orange flowers on the side of the path leading out of the allotments area and, without asking, stopped to pick some out, for his mummy, undoubtedly. Me and Mark stopped as well and chatted for a bit:
“You know, Luck, these gardens of ours help all of us to reconnect with nature, which is great, of course, but for me, as a bird-watcher kind of guy, they mean even more. All throughout the year you can spot so many types of birds that you can hardly keep track of all of them. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise, I’m tellin’ ya’! And the most beautiful thing is that down in Sheffield, where I have to commute daily to reach my work place…there I encounter, apart from the usual birds found all throughout Britain, a couple of some more rarer species of birds. It’s great for me, you know?” Mark said to me.
“Well, I’m happy to hear that you’ve got so good an opportunity to spot birds. It must help you greatly to understand their lives better. In my country, for some reason or the other, there seems to be a problem in this particular wildlife area,” I said, looking kind of upset. “Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m overreacting or not seeing the whole picture, but in the last few years I seem to have encountered less and less birds, especially the migratory ones. I could swear there were more of them a couple of years back. You know, the area in which I live ought to be great for any wild creature, so it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like they avoid us for some reason, probably pollution or stupid people acting destructive towards nature. But I can’t say that it’s near that bad. Yeah, people keep doing stupid things all across the country, but there’s still a lot of places which feel, I duno, untouched. Maybe it just appears to be so, I’m just saying…it worries me…”
“I don’t know the situation over there in your country, but what you’re saying may very well be true. We, in Britain…we kinda destroyed our environment ’cause of all that industrialization. We’re proud and all that to be the first industrial nation in the world, but the pollution caused by the stupid industrial expansion polluted a lot and up until the 70s-80s the situation was dire, very dire. It almost seemed like we found ourselves in a man-caused disaster of catastrophic proportions. By all means, we did our best to redress to situation, but even as we’re speaking not all the consequences are gone away. And it all has to do with plants and trees, everything is connected, ya’ know? The more and diverse the flora is, the more wild animals we can have. Especially birds. So you see, that’s one reason we so love these allotments of ours. We regard them as live-giving, wild life enhancing gardens, which of course, we also use as our personal farmer markets” Mark said. ⇒⇓
Mark continued to explain to me what exactly had been happening in Britain for the past few decades, all in order to undo the mistakes the whole populace kept doing for even more decades. The way he spoke made me smile. He spoke like some botanist-wildlife-nature-activist, passionately, but not furiously so. He understood why people acted dumb and, well, forgave them their folly. He did his best to study and help wildlife, and oh my!…those birds of his were pretty important for the whole life-chain in Britain. He explained it clearly, how everything was important, starting from the worm and the insects most people hated. Of course, he had a particular passion for birds, of all living beings. But it was not like he knew little of other species. In fact, he knew much of everything concerning wildlife, be it botanical or animal alike. That detail about him made me appreciate him more and more, the more he spoke. And it was not like I was some greenhorn when it came to wildlife, I knew quite a lot myself, but he managed to further initiate me into the subject.
James had finished producing a lovely bouquet of flowers for Alice and gave me one too: “Luck, here’s some flowers for you!” he said, handing over a little bouquet made up of orange and lilac flowers.
“Oh, thank you little chap!” I said, kissing him on his forehead. “As a matter of fact, I like lilac, purplish and violet colored flowers best…and I also enjoy the color orange pretty much, so you nailed it! Thanks, James!” I also said, not acting like I appreciated it, but actually appreciating his gesture. “I think your mummy will love your bouquet even more than I do!” I added, beaming.
We continued on along the narrow path and got to a playground bordering the allotments. After spending half an hour or so in the playground, enjoying himself, James hopped into the wheelbarrow again and we resumed our walk towards back home, all full of vegetables, flowers and, well, a lot of dirt and mud. We reached a tiny Turkish shop, which as most such shops did, had some fresh fruits on display just outside the shop window.
“Daddy, look, bananas! I want some yellowy bananas!” little James said, looking at those bananas like they were some very rare fruits he never or just very seldom had eaten before. As James told me, in fact it had been a while since they had last bought bananas, so, possibly, for such a small child that length of time must’ve felt like ages, I thought. Obviously enough, Mark bought some of those bananas and the three of us ate two of them each as we continued walking towards home.
When we reached their house, I noticed that the street’s name was ‘Druid’s-something-Road’ and that in the area there were a few more alleys, closes and gardens whose names contained ‘druid’ in some form or another. I took joy in observing that insignificant (for some) detail, as the fantasy fan inside me got himself thinking of Arthur, Merlin, the Round Table, tournaments and of course, druids of legend – druids, which apart from being part of Celtic mythology, were actual high ranking members of the Celtic people in Britain, Ireland and Gaul during the Dark Ages. The real druids had no magic powers, of course, they were no wizards as the mythology makes them look like, but they existed alright and were in fact poets, doctors or law-makers. I really delighted myself in noticing all the little details in Britain which pointed to some historic or mythological events and figures. And there are a lot of the bastards, believe you me!
We knocked on the door and Alice opened it for us. Little James handed her the flower bouquet and she was, naturally enough, charmed by her son’s thinking of bringing her flowers. “Thank you so much, darling!”