You may have read the bad news that the UK is in the grip of a severe food crisis. Not quite on the same scale as the one afflicting east Africa you understand but in some quarters this rapidly approaching humanitarian crisis has already taken its toll. We have had paramedics on standby in our local supermarket carpark to deal with panic attacks and one woman from Abbots Sepsis has been arrested for ram-raiding a green grocer’s shop with her four wheel drive and all because she couldn’t serve up a Ratatouille at her supper party.
‘I’ve got a vegan sister-in-law staying the weekend,’ she sobbed as she was led away from the scene in handcuffs and floods of tears.
You see here in Biddermouth on Sea it seems you cannot buy a courgette for love nor money.
As Councillor Bella Bynge wrote in her lifestyle column in the local Gazette we’ll all soon be reduced to eating kale and mashed swede, which is odd because only last month she was extolling the virtues of ‘clean eating’ in general and kale in particular. She also has a friend Miranda who has only eaten grass for the last ten years and still gone on to be the mother of three bouncing baby boys and the PR director of a charity for a disease nobody has ever heard of. But unlike grass, kale, or so Bella also claimed to have discovered, could also be used as a suppository for an instant boost to the immune system.
‘I blame Theresa May,’ she wrote in her article. ‘Next it will be the mange tout disappearing from our dinner menus and don’t expect to be able to buy Lollo Rosso or Pyrenean endive in the spring.’
Of course there are others who take an even more extreme view, namely that the combined psyches of Trump supporters and Brexit voters have somehow managed to create adverse climate conditions over Spain thus ruining the crop upon which her vegetable farmers depend. They haven’t. It’s just rained a lot, which if you’re staring at a blue sky in Ethiopia day after day I would think could be seen as a bit of a bonus.
Not that any of this cut much ice with our friend Vera Preston, but then that’s hardly surprising when she allows her Chantal to pack little Kira Marie off to nursery with a can of Red Bull and two Kit-Kats. Neither did it resonate with Karen Braithwaite from ‘Karen’s Kakes’. She said she was lucky when it came to food because her partner Derwent didn’t believe in vegetables in any shape or form.
‘Unless it’s chips,’ she added, a comment our friend Vera heartily endorsed. ‘Or a pork pie’.
When my neighbour Beattie pointed out that as far as she was aware pork pies didn’t have vegetables in them Karen disagreed.
‘They do if you eat them with chutney’, she said. So there was really no arguing with that was there?
‘Well I don’t see what’s wrong in eating vegetables when they are in season’, said a slightly miffed Beattie as we left Karen’s shop. ‘When my Arthur was alive he was up his allotment in all weathers and we never went short of anything.’
Having lived next door to her for over ten years part of me could understand why he’d want to risk pneumonia harvesting sprouts in the winter chill but as usual I held my tongue. All the same it wasn’t difficult to imagine his disappointment when his pride and joy were served in front him having been rapidly boiled for over an hour. Beattie still cooks them like that now. But if you pretend they are foul tasting spinach and swallow quickly they aren’t too bad.
Vera said she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and Lila Morris agreed. She said it was just like the war and was thankful she’d seen a programme on the television about making parsnips taste like bananas just in case things got really bad.
‘After all,’ she added, ‘we never had courgettes when we were growing up and it hasn’t done us any harm has it?’
‘We didn’t have toilet paper till 1957 either,’ said Vera.
‘Well we did,’ replied Lila,’ but then we also had a toilet. Unlike some people.’
Anyway toilets aside Lila has proved to be uncharacteristically right about the wartime mentality as it seems that, just like stockings and tinned fruit during the Blitz, courgettes are to be had for those with the right connections. Not that you’d suspect for one moment tiny Ida Jenkins and her veg stall were the epicentre of the Biddermouth black market but it seems in these hard times the Devil and Ida look after their own.
‘I’ve kept something underneath for my regulars,’ she said with a wink when Beattie and I were giving her cauliflowers the once over and within seconds we both had two courgettes hidden in our shopping baskets under our potatoes.
Not being a huge fan of them, especially at a pound each, I had been on the point of saying no when I felt a swift kick from Beattie telling me to change my mind.
‘But I don’t like them,’ I said as we walked away. ‘And neither do you.’
‘Who said anything about liking them,’ hissed Beattie? ‘Hand them over. All that rubbish about parsnips and bananas has given me an idea.’
Clearly there was more to all this wartime bonhomie than doing the Lambeth Walk in a gas mask because Beattie walked swiftly up to a nearby Range Rover, rapped on the driver’s window with her umbrella and just as swiftly came back ten pounds better off.
‘There’s a war on,’ she said, handing me four pound coins. I know it should have been five but she was claiming a handling fee of twenty percent. Still I suppose that explains what Vera said about Beattie’s family being the only ones who didn’t celebrate VE Day. And I thought that was just her being malicious.
To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE
All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2017