Saturday, September 05, 2009

Season to taste

A couple of weeks back, when ex-Saturday-job-comrade N and her family came to stay, we went to the Elder Stubbs Festival. We'd probably have gone anyway, it is a highlight of the East Oxford summer calendar. But it was even more fun with a bunch of Lancastrians-turned-Mancunians, who boggled gratifyingly at the patchouli-and-patchwork people, the wicker sculptures, and the bands who all sound like Hawkwind. This scene somehow blends seamlessly with whatever the collective noun is for upscale off-road pushchairs full of Boden-clad kids. We played NGO X bingo, and it didn't take long to get a full house.

But the festival's raison d'etre is mental health awareness. The allotment site has strong links with Restore, a fine organisation which also runs a cafe, garden and craft shop round the corner from us. The party bag contained a copy of One In Four magazine, which I found myself reading in bed the other day. It had an article about SAD, which I thought was a bit odd, as *I* struggle with summertime, but I thought I was unusual.

But then I realised that the magazine was nine months old. Maybe it's because we got there late.

And then I carried on reading, and discovered there is also 'reverse SAD': rare but real, apparently. I wouldn't claim anything like full-blown depression, it's more that some days are edged with black. The sunnier the day, the deeper the edging. As soon as there's a chill in the air, I rest a little easier, despite the price of gas. So yeah, I can vouch for the existence of the summertime blues, and minimal research confirms I'm not alone.

But I can also vouch for the therapeutic value of growing stuff. Or, for that matter, just having your hands in the earth. I have spent hours over the last few days digging the summer's spent allotment beds, breaking the big chunks into little chunks, pulling out the couch grass roots and making a pile of weed spaghetti. The soil needs to be in the right heart (as I believe it's called) before you can do this ... too dry and you'll never break it up, too wet and it sucks you down. Right now, our soil is perfect for it. Most people don't do it by hand, but I'm cool with that. Then I put my jumper on and smile inside.


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