… the other thing I would say is, that if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.
David Bowie in 1997, interviewed on inspiration and the creative process
Flashbacked to this slice of Bowie at the allotment this afternoon, while hacking away at an eruption of comfrey and stinging nettles on a little patch of earth at the back of the plot where I envisage picnics and lingerings in the summer months ahead.
The purpose of an allotment is not picnics. The purpose – the council are particular about this – is to grow things. Things other than stinging nettles. Things edible, mainly, and things of horticultural appeal. But things like that won’t grow for me. The sweetcorn shoots, so lovingly nurtured at home in peat-packed eggboxes before graduating to individual plastic flowerpots on a rack in the greenhouse, get uprooted and scoffed by an after-hours visitor who arrives by tunnel. Everything with any kind of edible leaf that I plant outside in the ground, is consumed by slugs and snails. Or maybe rabbits. Birds take the seeds I sow, and bugs get the berries. I rot roots by over-watering, or forget to go to the allotment for two weeks during a heatwave and return to parched and lifeless vegetable beds. Once again crushing my confidence as a would-be provider of fresh, cheap, self-grown produce.
I go through this every year in return for a small haul of potatoes – and even more than that because I simply enjoy being out in the fresh air, grubbing around amid wildlife while the day unfurls.
But we live and learn. To my surprise I’m getting a feel for soil, and a sense of what kind of thing popping up from the ground might be a nascent weed and what’s not. I still step backwards onto the young plant I just bedded into place, but maybe not so often. I pledge, this year, to water frequently and responsibly.
It’s like going from being disastrously, pointlessly out of my depth in this growing-things game, to being just a little out of my depth. Suddenly a lot more seems possible. Hence Bowie. And by the way, it’s probably also true of every endeavour I’ve ever tried. Good advice for artists too, no doubt.