Five-Minute Memoir: Jonathan Trigell recalls a childhood attack on his dad's beloved beans


When I was a boy, I loved books and I hated beans. My dad adored beans. Especially his beans: runners, grown on bamboo poles, that should have made excellent wigwam structures, but instead would provide endless months of hairy, stringy, mottled, tooth-clogging torture; or so it seemed to me.

This love of books and hatred of beans collided when I was about nine. The start of the daily bean harvest was in sight: the beans had grown through the initial stages of dead larvae and dried locust until they approached the appearance of wizened witches' fingers, at which point my dad would declare them perfect. And at this same moment – in one of those synchronicities of which so much great history is made – I had borrowed from the library a book about the French Resistance. Parts of that book have stayed with me: a partisan who cut his own throat in his cell so the Nazis couldn't make him talk; a mother who smothered her baby, because its crying would have cost the whole group their lives; but also, more importantly for this story, several chapters on sabotage.

I have my doubts about the ability of children to reason between right and wrong. Clearly we know that most of the time most of them can. But we can also say with some certainty that they do not do it in the same way as adults do. That is part of what being a child means. So as far as I recall, through the frosted front-door glass of time and memory, I did not think I was doing anything very reprehensible, as I went into the garden with my penknife and carefully severed every single stem. I must have known that what I was doing was wrong. But I lacked the empathy to see why that was, or who it could hurt. It didn't seem to me – while enacting my Lilliputian recreation of beanstalk-cutting Jack – that my family would be any worse off, with inedible green gristle missing from our daily diet.

The childish mind is also evidenced in the transparency of crime. An adult – in the unlikely event of one being so set upon vegetable vandalism – might have used weed killer, or made it look like the dog had done it, or at the least sliced beneath the soil line and covered it up. I'm not sure how I thought that the demise of all the beans would pass as a natural event, or how the penetrating gaze of blame would possibly look towards anyone but me.

Normally my mum didn't much go in for the "Wait till your father gets home" style of child management. Generally she did her own shouting and punishing and seat-smacking. On the occasion of the discovery of the beans she did both: she delivered what I considered to be disproportionate vengeance, for what was after all just some beans, and then sent me to my room to await the wrath of Dad.

To await the back door opening, to await the muttered increasingly angry voices, to await four feet accelerating up the stairs.

I must have somehow bristled as I stood at their entry into my room, because I remember very clearly my mum saying: "Don't you square up to Dad, you're not ready for that yet, not by a long shot."

Which struck me as very strange, because not only was I not aware that I had done so, but her words carried within them the sense that one day such a thing would be possible, that one day I would square up to dad and that notion seemed very strange indeed, to a nine-year-old me.

I was reputed to be the third or maybe fourth toughest boy in my year at school. But that said considerably more about the size of the diminutive village school than about my martial prowess. The lurking oedipal ponderable that I might one day fight my father had never occurred to me, even while watching Star Wars.

Thankfully, that event never did arrive. I never grew strong enough to beat him, until long after the time I grew sensible enough not to want to, if I ever did at all. Recently I opened a jar that he couldn't – that's about as macho as it gets in our family. And even then, I put my victory down to superior technique rather than strength. My dad, after all, in his sixties, is still the men's singles tennis champion; though that may also say something about the size of the diminutive village tennis club.

I have a garden now myself. And though I don't grow beans or kids, I can empathise with the pleasure of watching little sprouts grow into bigger things. Even if your produce is somewhat flawed. Even if your little sprout might one day square up to you.E

John Llewellyn Rhys Prize-winning author, Jonathan Trigell's new novel, 'Genus', is out now in paperback, published by Corsair. To order a copy for £7.49 (usually £7.99), including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0843 0600 030

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing