Kate Chapman’s first weekend on Sheppey

It was a chilly start – the coldest weekend for ages but all wrapped up and ready to go I embarked on my audio adventure with the Sheppey Horticultural Society.

I started off at the Medway Road site – not many folk around on a Saturday morning – the plots were looking perky in spite of the cold and there were figures in the distance bent over their spades and forks. I decided that the first step was to introduce myself to people and to start some conversations.

My idea for this project is make sound postcards – that’s postcards made in sound. Yes – it’s a tricky thing to explain but quite a simple thing to make. I want to ask people what sounds they enjoy or notice on their allotment and then record those sounds with them. Then I’d like to ask people to write a postcard to someone from their allotment – sending a message as you would when you’re on holiday.

I’ve no idea how people will respond to this idea on day 1 I decide that the most important thing is to meet people and to have a chat.

It’s good to have such a simple mission on a cold and windy day but I also feel slightly awkward interrupting people as they work.

At the Medway Road site I chat to Norman who is trying to work how best to secure a rotivator inside his estate car. He’s been on his allotment since 7am even though he was MC-ing at a ballroom dancing gig the night before. Ballroom dancing is his main passion with vegetables coming a close second. He calls me over to his rows of enormous leeks and gives me a couple. There’s an amazing oniony smell as he cuts away the heavy soil from the roots.

Everyone I meet on the Medway Road site tells me I should chat to Mr Poppy – an allotment veteran with many stories to tell. Strangely I don’t meet him until Sunday but when I do it turns out that his weekend is not going well. His wheelbarrow is missing and one of his chickens escaped on the A249 whilst he was transporting them.

Amanda and Tom are running the shop. I ask them about sounds they associate with their allotment. Tom talks about the Easyjet planes heading for Southend airport that cross the site every day at 2.30 and make that distinctive sound that planes make as they get into landing mode. He says its regular as clock work “Mr Poppy sets his watch by it”. I also meet Jim who’s emptying sacks of manure onto his plot. I ask him about sounds he likes and he talks about his kettle coming to the boil on his stove in the shed.

Over at Richmond Street, the shop is open and there’s plenty of activity. Dave makes me a coffee and I meet Chris who shows me his new homemade chicken coop complete with four handsome inhabitants. He’s new to the allotments but he loves it already. In spite of the cold day, he’s brought burgers, buns and a barbecue which he’s planning to fire up later. I admire his optimism. I ask him about sounds he notices. He says the sound of the geese that fly over the canal next to the allotments and just as he says it, the geese are off – honking away as if on cue. Yvonne has the plot next to Chris, she’s treasurer of SHS and she’s putting two new panes of glass in her greenhouse. I record the sound of her clipping the glass in and I admire her elegant painted nails.

“How do you keep them so perfect when you’re down here so much?” I ask. She says “They’re acrylic – tough as anything. Lots of people comment on them. When you’re retired, you have time for things like that”. I ask her about sounds she notices and she refers to the rotivators which have been humming away all morning. The earth is thick and clay-like – really hard to turn over and so rotivators are essential. Yvonne describes a symphony – or perhaps a cacophony – some low pitched and some high pitched, some close up and some in the distance. I like this idea.

So – once Dave has shown me his beehive,  I’ve chatted to the community police officer about preventing allotment break-ins and I hear about frogs in the canal that sound like ducks (intriguing) I make my way back to Chatham feeling as though I’ve got off to a good start.

post by sound artist Kate Chapman

 

 

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