Coats And Clouds | 451life

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Coats And Clouds

Bi-weekly blog by guest writer Lia Leendertz

My allotment work coat is faintly ridiculous: reversible, one side black, the other shiny silver. When I bought it sometime in the early 90s that silver lining seemed a very desirable thing indeed. I wore it shiny side out with pride, its combination of silver and puff seeming just the thing for standing in frozen but stylish nightclub queues.

It is now this jacket I reach for on these changeable spring days at the plot, for although its charms for me faded alongside my desire to hang around in dark, smoky rooms full of strangers, its thermal properties did not. It is still the warmest and most waterproof coat I own and as suited to my windy north Bristol hilltop plot as it was to the outside of those clubs, just down the hill. Today the jacket stays firmly black side out, and I blush faintly at the glamour of the lining, by the way it lays bare a never-quite-realised desire to be that girl - Neneh, Mica, Sharah - the sort of girl who can really carry off shiny puff. The black side is now faded by the sun to a charcoal grey, streaked with mud, ripped by rose thorns, artificial innards poking out here and there. The lining, however, remains as stubbornly bling as the day it was bought.

My allotment is at almost at the highest point in Bristol and from here, at the path end of the plot, with my small kingdom of fruit trees, leeks, well-bitten salad leaves and all behind me, I can see right across the bowl of Bristol, down towards those streets where I once shivered, silvery and self conscious, and up and out to the hills and fields right across the other side of the city. In the sunshine I can pick out the line of rooftops that marks the street on which I had my first Saturday job. I am about 12 minutes walk from the site of my first (unimpressive) kiss. I have not fallen very far from my tree.

Today’s job is painstakingly separating couch grass from soil where path meets bed, the Sisyphean task that has perhaps taken up more of my ten years on this plot than any other. It is energetic enough that in the thin sunlight I have worked up enough of a sweat to dump the jacket on the grass path, from where the liner is blinding passing seagulls. Both this particular task and the plot itself lend themselves to plenty of standing and gazing: the second I need to straighten up from bending there is that oh-so-familiar view to admire.

One of the great things about having an allotment in a city is the way it gives you back the sky. I may well live at one of the highest points in Bristol, but mostly I wouldn’t know it. Houses crowd around cosily, and only rarely does a vista open up unexpectedly down a particularly straight road, or right up at the top of the common where you can see beyond the trees. But up at the plot I see exactly where I am in the scheme of things. The view is big enough that I can see weather ‘coming in’, like some hoary old countryman sniffing the air for change or feeling it in his bones. I can spot a big rain storm on its way across Bristol and get home just as the first fat drops hit the pavement. I’ll be smugly drinking tea with my wellies off by the time it is pounding the windows. But perhaps my favourite allotment sky is this one: a scudding spring sky full of little fluffy cumulus clouds, with silver linings far lovelier than mine. Sometimes they are wondrously evenly spread, reminiscent of the opening credits of The Simpsons, with perfectly flat bases as if they have been dropped softly onto a vast glass plate. And almost always they go on for miles, stretching away as far as the eye can see. Right across my world. Digging out couch roots and gazing at the sky, shedding layers from working and pulling them back on from standing around; these are the ways I have spent my many hours on this little plot of land.

Lia Leendertz