Thursday, August 1, 2013

Holidays in the Sun

In his 1973 book, Anarchy in Action, Colin Ward argued that anarchist society “is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.” He felt that anarchism was not some “speculative vision of a future society” but “a mode of human organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society.” For Ward, one of the best examples of anarchy in action was the allotment site, where ordinary people were the catalysts and designers of their own space and community.

The site where I have an allotment is leased from a fruit farmer by the parish council, who in turn rent plots to individuals. But the organisation of the site is carried out by an association of allotment-holders: mowing the communal paths and areas; maintaining the seed exchange; organising seasonal celebrations and events; helping or clearing struggling plots. Put simply - anarchy in action.

The allotment is blooming this year: an abundance of strawberries; a huge harvest of early potatoes; brassicas bursting out of their netting; plump beetroot; our best garlic crop yet; and with lush sweet corn plants and rampant pumpkin and squash stems yet to produce, it will be the best year we have had. With the sunniest summer since 2006, when we had a bumper vegetable crop in our garden, it is not hard to work out why. But it is not sunshine alone that has produced this exceptional crop: last autumn I bought a tractor load of cow muck from a local farmer and top-dressed the whole plot with it.

But the allotment really comes into its own when the kids are off school. It is an extra open space for them to relax and play in, or help with weeding and harvesting; and the site’s communal area can host impromptu football and cricket matches or shared family barbecues during the long summer holiday. This is, of course, the six-week break that Gove wants to move, reduce or traduce because he sees it as an anachronistic throwback to a seasonal rural economy. Well, some of us depend on these holidays in the sun and are still governed more by that cyclical, regenerative calendar than we are by the diktats of the hard-nosed metropolitan political elite.

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