The Dog’s Paws


Her father had taught her about hands. About a dog’s paws. Whenever her father was alone with a dog in a house he would lean over and smell the skin at the base of its paw. This, he would say, as if coming away from a brandy snifter, is the greatest smell in the world! A bouquet! Great rumours of travel! She would pretend disgust, but the dog’s paw was a wonder: the smell of it never suggested dirt. It’s a cathedral, her father had said, so-and-so’s garden, that field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen – a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal have taken during the day.”
Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient

There is something fundamental about walking in bare feet on bare earth. It ‘s quite a wild thing, a proper primeval thing – but in modern life you don’t walk around in bare feet, not if you want to be taken seriously you don’t.  Unless you are a dog.

 It’s a bit like politicians holding hands.  It’s unusual in ‘average’ society. So I was quite pleased when, reading the news, I saw a photo of the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, holding hands with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels. I’d like to see more of that kind of thing.

 I’m genuinely interested in politics and the economy. But that doesn’t mean I get what the papers are on about. On the 9th Feb, to take a random sample, The Daily Telegraph was reporting on “Global economy at risk” whilst The Daily Mail  thought that “British economy on course to be world’s best performing economy” and on the very same day in The Independent, an economist said “we expect growth to slow as deeper Government spending cuts are implemented.”

 For someone who grew up in a rural backwater and lived on a farm for years, away from Westminster, Fleet Street and Canary Wharf, this can be confusing. It’s not just that different papers put an entirely different spin on the state of the economy. It’s also that the economy may turn out not to be the fundamental issue. In fact one day we may judge politicians on their policies for looking after soil. The Daily Mail will berate left wing soil care pointing the finger of blame at Ed Milliband for erosion; The Guardian will run an in depth critique on what George Osborne said at the Soil Summit in Davos. The point is, one day it may be all about soil. Which brings me neatly to the subject of allotments.

 In 1086 William the Conqueror completed his famous record of land and who owned it, and called it the Domesday Book.  Meanwhile common land was set by for all the non-landowners to feed themselves. This went on in a back and forth manner and then, after the First World War, a duty was placed upon local authorities to provide land according to demand, enabling the allotment movement to spread across Britain.

The effect of this news got to some places quickly and other places slowly. It got to Presteigne in November 2009. A small piece of land that had been meadow and bramble patch managed by the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust was passed to the Town Council for allotments. A small number of Presteigne folk who had been keen to get allotments for the town were delighted.

Lin Scrannage told me “We thought about having pigs to root up the ground prior to us starting cultivation”.  A bit too bold perhaps. In the end farmers on the council ploughed and harrowed the soil and then the zero-waste recycling team from Cwm Harry, delivered some fine trailer loads of rich compost to get things started.

Lin continues, “ It is a revelation to go down and have a look at the site – every allotment is different and reflects peoples’ different approach to cultivating and growing!! There are the traditionalists who dig and turn over the soil before winter and leave it bare, there are those who favour raised beds, those who like straight lines, those who mulch, those who compost, those who like to grow the same varieties every year and those who like to experiment.”

  Its good to know that allotments are still thriving in 2015 – and, to return to the original subject, that dogs paws still smell of the wild. They do. I checked.



First published in Broadsheep Magazine March 2015 Issue




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