Editor-At-Large: Digging is good for you. Just don’t expect to enjoy it

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The Independent Online

Great news that the National Trust is releasing land for 1,000 lucky gardeners to grow fruit and veg – but it’s a shame there are 100,000 on waiting lists for allotments, so this grand gesture won’t make much difference. Surely the NT could have doubled the acreage, given they are the custodians of palatial spreads surrounded by acres of parkland. I’d be more inclined to celebrate if supermarket chains would hand over a fraction of the land they’ve stockpiled over the years so that loyal customers who’ve bolstered their profits can produce their own food.

Rising prices and a recession have made almost two-thirds of us say we want to grow stuff to eat, but I wonder how many people realise what it really entails? Monty Don is a charming man and a wonderful gardener, but he paints a rose-tinted picture of the joys of growing vegetables as some kind of mass therapy, claiming it’s a way of “restoring our self-respect”. During the Second World War Britain’s 1.4 million allotments (now shrunk to a pitiful 297,000) formed the basis of the “Dig for Victory” campaign, and it’s tempting to think that we can dig our way out of the current recession and harness that war-time spirit again.

Trouble is, that generation of gardeners were reared on frugality, making and mending, repairing and skimping. Today we want quick results. Do we have the right mindset? I am an expert – my grandfather turned his garden into a self-sufficient plot. My father made our tiny lawn into a potato patch, ripped out the herbaceous border for runner beans and had an allotment. He used it as a way of escaping from my mother every evening and most of the weekends when he wasn’t being tortured watching Fulham play football. We hardly saw him as he flitted between these two consuming passions.

I resisted growing fruit and vegetables for years, but eventually accepted I am genetically programmed to do so. A few years ago my vegetable patch gave me chronic backache from digging – Monty doesn’t mention that. I stopped to regain my health. Now I am completely addicted again.

Let’s lay a couple of myths to rest: it’s no bloody cheaper and, contrary to what Monty and his mates say, it completely does your head in. You spend months lavishing care on these little sprouting things. You spend money on special feeds, you prop them up, protect them from the elements, and then what happens? All this toil is undermined by two things over which even the most fanatical control freak can’t alter.

First, the British weather – guaranteed to be crap for whatever crop you’ve planted. Second, pests. You name it, I’ve waged war on it: moles, rabbits, pigeons, slugs, butterflies. My sanity vanished last summer after the prolonged wet period when I got up every morning at 7am to kill green caterpillars and drive away cabbage-whites. At the end of a couple of months, what did I have to show for it? Seven tasteless cabbages and six cauliflowers. Exactly 10 runner beans.

Yes, I will be going through the same mental turmoil this year. But don’t tell me that growing vegetables will help me deal with the recession. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I hope all those new allotment owners are prepared for what’s in store. Just don’t cry when you cut your carrots in half and find they’re full of weevils – I’ve been there.

Show business: Looks come first when women go on stage

Went to the Brits the other night … and on the way I nearly stumbled over five tiny women tottering up the red carpet in terrifyingly high heels. Two wore weirdly ageing long frocks that would have looked perfect on a cruise circa 1980, one sported a frock that seemed to be dropping off her fake tanned chest, while Cheryl had so much hair there was a chance her neck would snap.

Yes, Girls Aloud are a phenomenon, but what image of womanhood do they represent? In the flesh, they seem horribly over-made up and over-styled, and on the stage they exuded about as much sex appeal as an air freshener. Triumphantly prancing down floodlit stairs in beaded bodysuits, surrounded by blokes in white top hats and tails, flailing their arms around like a posse of aeroplane parkers at Stansted – honestly, if this sums up creative Britain, then we have hit rock bottom. Duffy, a tiny bird with more big hair, may have been repackaged in a designer stretch black bandage of a frock, but basically she’s just a decent pub singer from the sticks.

The Brits has become a corporate affair in the cavern of Earls Court, with dining tables stretching into the far distance and the stage – even for those in the front row – several bus stops away. It can’t decide whether it’s a stadium show with pyrotechnics for a large audience or a television spectacular geared to millions at home. With Lady GaGa and Katy Perry both wearing their underwear and nothing else, it’s clear that the real winners of the Brit awards were the stylists. The industry is in meltdown, and any female artists who want to succeed have to succumb to the full marketing and remodelling package. Funny how the blokes don’t have to submit to any of this humiliating stuff.

Boss leaves staff with a nasty taste

Gordon Brown likes to hang around with bankers, and one of his favourites is private equity boss Damon Buffini. He’s been appointed an adviser to the Prime Minister, but what kind of lessons can we learn from a supermacho man who summoned 100 of his London staff to a lunchtime meeting recently and is reported as having ordered them to eat warmed-up hamburgers that were two days old?

Tired of his staff’s attitude and determined to impose his authority, Damon told them how lucky they were. This kind of gesture just confirms that the stock market and banking have spawned a culture where such people rise to the top. Damon might be a committed Christian, but it appears he doesn’t let his beliefs inhibit him at work – sacking thousands when he was involved in the takeover of the AA. He’s repulsive.

Sick people are not for profit

Sign of the times. A London banker who’d attended the Brits went on to party at a London club and blew £43,000 on champagne and vodka, giving the waitress a £5,000 tip. Obviously this chap wasn’t worried about having his bonus clawed back by Gordon.

On the other hand, if you’d been forced to watch the show from a hospital bed in North Tyneside, it would have cost you a whopping £7. Clearly committed to profiting from misery, Hospedia, the company who install television, radio and telephone equipment in NHS wards, have more than doubled their charges (previously £2.90 a day) in hospitals in the North-east. With the astronomical parking charges imposed by some NHS trusts, pretty soon it will be cheaper to recuperate in your local Travelodge. At least you know it will be reasonably clean, there’s room service and the television comes free.

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