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Still spinning our wheels

'Good morning, young man," I said through the hawthorn dividing my garden plot from the park road. Joe Gallagher, walking along it to the allotment gate, looked round, mock-startled.

"You're here, then! Bot where's your car?" True. You can generally tell who is on the plots by whose wheels are parked nearby. That morning, mine weren't. So I could be presumed absent.

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"I walked down with the dog," I explained. "On six feet."

Joe looked approving. Joe's approval is not to be sniffed at.

"That's good," he said. "You'll get fut."

I was not sure, though, how to take that. Was the implication that I was becoming corpulent above the belt? He himself sveltely arrives for his plot stints on shank's mare. Although his "retirement" is of some years' standing, one may address him as "young man" with hardly any irony.

Fut as a fuddle, I'd guess.

But isn't digging and mounding and trenching and hoeing and cultivating and sowing and weeding and thinning and picking - not to mention, in my case, dog-walking - more than enough? Without having to walk to the plots as well?

Well, maybe. A lot of plotters arrive by car. Monty and the Macleods in their small white ones. Neil the carpet man in his large old Fiat (when it isn't in dry dock for its latest refit). Some come by bus. Jean of the yellow shed does, carrying her shiny spade in a plastic bag. Some summer visitors roll up, image-conscious, in Land Rovers - or Japanese look-alikes.

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I myself am shameless enough not only to Honda my way to the plot, but before that to the woods with the dog in the back. Yes, we drive to the morning walk. But then I have lived in America, where I learned that to leave your house without a car roof over your head was to leave your house undressed. OK, OK, I even drive to the post box.

But part of the appeal of having an allotment is that one is playing at peasants. It is that fantasy, a resurrected folk memory, of "living off the land." And there is, it has to be admitted, a degree of cheating involved in burning fossil fuels en route to grubbing and delving in the basic earth, with nothing but old hand tools (the only acceptable wheel being on the front of the barrow).

One of several plotters all hoary with time (who, for some reason, are also all called "Alec") put the anticar case to me with frightening ferocity one afternoon. I was loading tools and buckets into the car, about to head home. He was astride a bicycle so ancient and rickety that heroism was clearly required to mount and pedal it.

HIS tirade - the slogan of which might have been "two wheels good, four wheels bad" - would take up more space than our sound-bite culture allows. Suffice it to say that the greens and ecologists and global-coolers of our good world would have given him a medal.

When he'd finished, and wobbled off toward the main road on his squeaky wheels, I turned back to my vehicle as one just banished from Eden. His message, nutshelled, was: "Unless we all immediately abandon cars and ride bicycles, the doom of the earth - and those who live upon it - is nigh."

Come to think of it, I haven't seen him since. Glasgow's traffic cannot be called cycle-friendly, and bikes here have become as rare as some old species of broccoli and beans. I just hope the modern world hasn't, as it were, rendered Alec redundant.

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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