3 May 2008

Vegetable virgins

There is a line in Look Back in Anger where anti-hero Jimmy Porter tells somebody that, having never seen a dead body, they are suffering from a rather serious case of virginity. I share that virginity - as I've blogged elsewhere, watching the death throes of chickens was the closest I've come and that was horrifying enough.

It seems to me that a more serious case of virginity is being suffered by those who have never grown a vegetable. And a much more dangerous one too. As food prices rise around the world, the rush to get hold of an allotment has turned into a stampede. But the consequences of always buying your food in a plastic bag may run deeper than having to tolerate the vagaries of the global marketplace.

A dear friend I've met through the Transition process here in Stroud, Helen Pitel, works at a closed hospital for the criminally insane. She is a permaculture gardener, a pioneer of the Centre for Alternative Technology, and she is employed to share her love of growing living things with the inmates. I was concerned that they may be mad, bad and dangerous to know but Helen says that are rather torpid and hard to raise from their chairs to lure into the garden.

She told me of the amazement many of them have when they first understand that a small seed, placed in dirt, will produce a lettuce, cabbage or carrot. This complete dislocation from their natural environment seems to go a long way to explain their mental disorientation - a total lacking of grounding must surely lead to madness as well as badness.

I have a soft spot for Jimmy Porter, odious and self-pitying though he is, because it was via him that I learned what is still my favourite word: pusillanimous. I wonder whether he might have been a little bit less angry if, instead of going to grammar school, he had spent more time with his father on the allotment?

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