I’m not very good with keys – so when I arrived at the Medway Road allotments in Sheerness on Saturday afternoon, I was convinced I’d brought the wrong set. I couldn’t get any of them to work in the padlock. Perhaps I’d brought the keys for my allotment back home in Nottingham by mistake.
After a phone call home and a deep breath I went back to the padlock and tried a few more times. I opened the gate and my panic subsided. It just takes patience – patience is a virtue – patience is a virtue which I seem to have in small quantities.
It strikes me that patience is something that good allotmenteers have plenty of – patience and faith. Looking at the rotated plots of heavy clay with the tops of tiny onions poking through, I was impressed at the patience and faith of experienced gardeners.
I needed a good dose of these myself. I was getting worried that I wasn’t explaning my idea for the art transmission project very well to the allotmenteers. Did it sound like pretentious nonsense, do they think I’m some kind of journalist, will I be able to make it work?
I’ve discovered that the only way to keep my doubting heart at bay – is to stop thinking and start doing. On Saturday afternoon , even though the sun was shining, the allotments were quiet. I had forgotten about the Grand National…………..
I decided to take a simple route and start with an easy question. I’d ask people if I could record what they were doing and then see if that would lead into a conversation about what they hear when they’re on the allotment and what the sounds mean to them.
I spotted a woman I hadn’t met before doing some digging so I asked her if I could record her. She agreed quite readily. I pointed the microphone at her spade and off she went. It’s hard work – the earth is heavy. This was more than just digging – she had to dig out big clumps, set it down, chop them up with her spade and then put it back into the bed. All for this for spuds.Good old spuds. “Good for the bingo wings too!” she assured me.
She told me that she’s a carer, and the allotment is her way of getting away from it all for a while. She liked the sound of the birds. She didn’t know anything about them. She just liked to hear them.
After that I wandered around in the sunshine, recorded the birds and the resident cockerel who was in fine voice. I headed to the Nursery Close allotments and recorded Dave’s bees. I was so mesmerised by the sound that came through my headphones as I recorded them that I forgot that bees might sting. It was like entering another world, eavesdropping on a conversation in a language I couldn’t understand.
Back at Medway Road I found Steve hacking away at the ground on his plot in preparation for rotivation and then a spot of spud planting. As I approached him across the site, it struck me that the image of him leaning over, chopping into the earth with so much effort, is an image as ancient as mankind. The sound was intense too – his physical effort, the pause as he swung the cutting tool above his head and then brought it down onto the hard ground with a deadening thud. I recorded him for a whie and then he wanted me to have a go – so we agreed that he would record me doing it. At first I was barely tickling the surface of the ground – but I eventually got a bit of a technique going. After a few feet of ground I was exhausted. We stopped and looked at all the ground he still had to cover. Rather him than me.
After some rotivator recording for the rotivator symphony I’m planning, I chatted to Mr Poppy. Peter Poppy is 87 and he’s lived in Sheerness all his life. He has many stories to tell. He showed me around his allotment. He’s planted 100s of onions – he likes them baked with a Sunday roast. When he was five he could drive a horse and cart. He grew up delivering coal across Sheppey until trucks and vans took over from horse power. This still pains him and when he talks about it, it seems as though it happened only yesterday. He’s a horse lover. He talks about the horses he had as if they were members of his family.
In spite of all this recording, I still unsure about what it is I’m making. People suggest more sound for me to record and they help me to do it: kettle boiling, tea making, hoeing, mowing, potato planting, the polytunnels flapping in the wind, watering seeds in the greenhouse, filling a watering can, distant voices chatting. Where it all leads I’m still not quite sure but with a little patience and faith I think green shoots will start to show.
post by sound artist Kate Chapman