Allotted Time: Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea by Robin Shelton

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Allotted Time: Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea by Robin Shelton

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An inspiring story of how two men with little knowledge took on an old allotment and grew their own vegetables. It's not a step by step guide for the novice allotment owner but it's an amusing, easy read and at the end of it you'll know whether an allotment is for you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0330441254

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Robin and Steve got talking one night and thought how good it would be to get an allotment and grow some of their own vegetables. Each thinks that it was originally the other's idea. Neither of them was all that keen on vegetables and didn't even know a great deal about gardening, but they took on the allotment, got it into a reasonable shape and grew a decent crop or two in their first year. When you say it quickly like that it sounds like a relatively simple task, but it cost blood, sweat, minor injuries, bad language and quite a few tears.

Neither Robin nor Steve had much of a history of succeeding at what they did. Robin was newly divorced, had moved home more times than he cared to remember and seventeen months in one job seemed like a long time. If you add in to the equation the fact that he's also a manic depressive and flat broke you can see that the success of the venture was far from guaranteed.

The allotments are in Twyford in Hampshire - a sleepy place full of birdsong, as Robin describes it. The only deafening sound seemed to be the noise of the weeds growing as they attacked the plot with more enthusiasm than knowledge. There's a whole gang of fellow allotment holder waiting to give advice though, but some of it is more useful than the rest. Gradually the plot is cleared and planted, a shed is built and there's even a greenhouse elsewhere to provide some seedlings.

I've grown tied of the TV gardening programmes despite the fact that I never missed them in Geoff Hamilton's day. I look at them now and wonder if the compost came in a bag from Harrods - along with the natty little outfits they all wear. This book is a splendid antidote to such gardening. It's about people who have no money to spare, no knowledge and not even a history of success. There are good moments but we're told the bad ones too. It's about getting knowledge from cheap books picked up in charity shops and people growing similar crops all around them. It's about being part of a community.

If you're looking for the definitive 'How to Run an Allotment from Scratch' book then this really isn't the one for you. You'll get some ideas and you'll certainly get inspiration but you won't get step-by-step instructions. There are fact sheets in the appendices, but they only cover the specific varieties grown. If you're looking for a reason not to have an allotment then I would say that this is the perfect book as you'll hear an awful lot about the trials and tribulations. It's painted with a humorous brush, but if you read this then you'll know exactly what you're taking on. If you do decide to go ahead then the book will be an inspiration.

Allotted Time is very easy reading. I finished it in a couple of evenings and there were times when it was laugh-out-loud funny even verging on slapstick comedy, but most of it is just self-deprecating good humour. I really felt that I knew Robin and Steve and Robin's two children who were beginning to take an interest in gardening at the allotment. Most of all though I just felt proud of the blokes and what they'd achieved.

Thinking back over the book a couple of days after I finished reading it I'm more convinced than ever of the value of such open spaces. The allotment gave Robin and Steve exercise, fresh air, food and a sense of achievement. There ought to be more spaces like this with people being actively encouraged to discover that food doesn't come out of a carrier bag and needn't come laced with additives and pesticides. Read the book and you might just find yourself getting hold of the spade and wondering where the gardening gloves were left.

Bookbag would like to thank the published for sending this book.

You might like to read Ellen MacArthur's Taking on the World for another story of achievement against the odds.

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Magda said:

Poles are or used to be obsessed with these things - I always found them really rather claustrophobic with all these people tending to theirs around (they were 300sq m under communism as a standard, I think it's similar to UK allotments but not sure); but then the second thing I would do if I was rich is to hire somebody to work my garden. I think this book would make me shudder too much (in fact the spring is coming and I have been already shuddering about having to do something in the garden if it's to even approach reasonable).