In a small and muddled garden. Dorset. England. Thoughts about gardening and thoughts while gardening. Housework, politics and book reviews too. Esther Montgomery.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It's in the news. It's on Twitter. It's on Facebook - that short spikes have been set into the ground outside a block of flats in London to stop people sleeping there. Everyone is cross, horrified, shocked, offended - except, it seems, for me.

I once slept in a doorway.

I'd arrived in Edinburgh in the middle of the night. There wasn't a connecting train till morning. I couldn't sleep on a bench because chairs for waiting passengers were in circles - to stop people sleeping on them. I'd once or twice slept on a bench at Kings Cross station - again between trains. It wasn't restful. Men kept turning up and asking me to come behind the station. Even to go home with them. In Edinburgh I couldn't lie down - and there was a man lurking.

I decided to go for a walk, thinking I'd shake him off. But he followed. What to do?

A friend lived in a basement flat. I marched confidently to his steps and went down them into the little entrance space, hoping the man following would assume I lived there. It worked. I put a note through the letterbox telling my friend I was there in case he was startled when he opened the door next day, got out my sleeping bag, laid it on the concrete and went to sleep in his doorway. By the morning, I'd gone. If he'd had studs there, I wouldn't have been able to lie down. I'd have wandered the streets or hung around in the station, fending off men wanting to cart me away.

So why do I think studs are a good idea?

Because I've also lived in a block of flats where glue-sniffing children hung out in the indoor-bin area; where people piled freebie newspapers on landings between floors and set them on fire; where guests were sometimes pelted with stones while they waited for me to answer the intercom and let them in; where a neighbour turned up naked at my doorway late at night. If we'd had homeless people sleeping there too - well, I'd have been un-nerved.

I've known a lot of homeless people in my time; not people stuck for somewhere to go between trains: people who are homeless because they drink too much to sustain a more conventional, settled life. I used to have a friend who'd been so messed up by war he was too unpredictable, too suddenly violent, to share a flat with others. Much depends on the context. If you get to know people when they are not drunk - or happen to get on well with someone whom no-one else likes . . . you might think it's anti-social, unkind to 'the poor' to put studs in a doorway so they can't lie down to sleep.

But I don't. I wouldn't want somebody so messed up by the violence in his own life to be lying in an alcove by the entrance to my home. I wouldn't want anyone lurking there when they are drunk. I have been grabbed in dark streets, even in city centres. Exposed to in parks. But that is in the past. For many years now I've lived a sheltered, secluded, isolated life. With epilepsy I cannot risk independence in the way I used to. With children, I need more possessions - possessions I wouldn't want anyone to take away. I've not wanted to give my family the company of people of uncertain temperament in our own home. I no longer invite strangers in.

When you are weak, when you can't run, when you don't have the physical or emotional energy to defuse situations - when you are these things - you don't even like children in your street banging on the door and running away. It can be deeply startling.

These studs bring us up with a start. Why are we so cruel as a society that we want to stop people taking shelter in doorways? It is un-nerving to see them. But what I'm not clear about (though I might be if I investigated further so I might be all wrong in this) is how many of those who are shocked by these anti-sleeping spikes really know what they are talking about. How well do they know fear? Do they think they could interview those who want to sleep in alcoves by their doors and choose their outside neighbours?

Well, that's not how it works. It's random who you get. It might be some inoffensive woman waiting between trains. Or it might not.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I wanted to say 'Avocet' on Monday. But Monday is for maths.

I chose the word 'Avocet' because it came up on Twitter along with Black Tailed Godwit.
A Black Tailed Godwit! If you need to strengthen your mouth say it over and over. Feel it in your muscles.

'Avocet' sounds like a missile. (Not 'avocado' dear spell check.)
It's in the area of 'Advocaat'. (No, not 'advocate' .)

This is fun.
Mesembryanthemum (spell check thinks I mean 'chrysanthemum')
Aquilegia (Aquiline)
Hornbeam (Moonbeam)
Medlar (Armed!)

I wouldn't want to work in a spell check garden!

* * *

I think Spell Check should be Spellcheck but spell check doesn't like that and I suppose it knows its own name.
(I've used capitals because I wouldn't want it to call me 'esther'.)

* * *

The Avocet on Twitter was the kind we see in England - Recurvirostra avosetta (Or Electrostatic rosetta, as Spell Check would have it.)
North Americans might be more familiar with Recurvirostra americana (Otherwise known as Electrostatic Americans. Brilliant!) 

P.S. Don't you think it looks as if this Avocet patting its chick on the head has four legs?

Monday, May 26, 2014


There were five votes between winner and runner-up in our local elections. Five!

* * *
Imagine you'd been sitting around on Thursday afternoon drinking tea, gazing at grey rain dribbling down the window and reckoning your one vote was neither here nor there. Then on Friday afternoon when the votes had been counted - you suddenly realise you do have a place in history; that if you, your husband, your three voting-age children and your mother-in-law could have been bothered to potter up to the polling station, maybe as a minor aside when you took the dog for a walk . . . you could have swung the whole thing. The horror! The pride! You may have failed but it's shown how much you matter.

I voted Green. Green lost. Not by five votes. But 38. So close! Maybe next time. Momentum builds. None the less I'm disconcerted. Nobody I vote for ever gets in whatever kind of election it is - whether political or something silly about singing and dancing on the television - my favourite always loses. Do I make foolish choices? Or jinx whoever I vote for?

Except . . . except . . . it turned out differently in the European elections. The results were announced late, after our children had gone to bed. So I crept to their rooms and whispered "A Green got in!". As any responsible mother would.

"Just one?" asked Worthing, struggling out of sleep. "Wow! That might have been my vote!"
"One Green,"  I said. "Not one vote."

(It's as if we've been voting for Martians!)

It went quiet. What was happening? Thinking or sleeping? It's sometimes hard to tell in the dark. I turned away.
"Imagine!" he whispered. (I don't know why we were whispering. I'd already woken everyone.) "Imagine if it had been by only one vote - everyone who voted Green would think it was their vote which decided it."

Of course we would!
It's an exciting idea.

People died for this.

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