This is maybe going to sound like a short story, but it’s true. A couple of years ago I got a new allotment neighbour. She seemed very nice, very keen. Her plot was overgrown with weeds, and she didn’t have the time or the energy to dig it over herself, so she hired a couple of likely lads to do it for her. I was there most days while they worked; i.e. drank beer, smoked, sweated and dug pretty ineffectively. They didn’t go deep enough to get the weeds out properly, but they did shift a lot of stones. They left them piled in a heap at the front of the plot. Then they scarpered, in their white van. I discovered later that they they had broken into several sheds on the site and nicked tools. They didn’t take any of mine. I figured it was because they saw me working on my side of the fence, and didn’t want to risk anything.
So the weeds grew again, and my new neighbour figured she would torch them to clear the ground. I wasn’t around the day she decided to do it, but I heard all about it from my allotment pals. She had not only set fire to her weeds, but to the railway embankment just over the fence. Apparently she’d made half-hearted efforts to put the flames out with a watering can, but the neighbours had persuaded her to call the fire brigade. By this time the flames had reached the area behind my shed, where I had some plastic mesh netting stored. That caught fire too. The fire brigade closed the East Coast Main Line because of the smoke, but they managed to dowse the flames pretty effectively.
The next time I saw her my neighbour was very apologetic, and offered to recompense me for the damage to my property, so I told her £20 would cover it.
She cultivated the rest of her plot quite effectively that summer, putting in raised beds, garden furniture and a very gaudy scarecrow. However, after my Canadian trip last October, I returned to find she’d done nothing since the Autumn, not even harvesting her sweetcorn. The plot was overgrown with thistles, fireweed (appropriately enough) and other weeds, whose seeds were blowing across into my plot. The heap of stones was now a weedy hillock, and there was no sign of anyone doing anything. Over the winter the scarecrow blew down into my fence, and the heaps of timber and building materials were lying about weathering.
I don’t know if she’s abandoned the plot, but I’ve seen nothing of her since last summer. Yesterday I decided to repaint my shed with the usual timber protection paint. The front and sides were fine, but it was when I tried to squeeze between the shed and the railway fence to do the back of it that I discovered just how badly the fire had blackened the back of it. It must have come very close to being totally consumed by the fire, but thankfully there isn’t much permanent damage, just a hole in one corner where the voles got in to nibble my plastic containers of slug pellets and weed killer. I’ve plugged it up with wire now, but it’s amazing what the wee beasts managed to consume over the winter, including several of the onions I had hung up for storage. I finished the painting by tying the brush to a long stick.