Every visitor we have had these last couple of weeks has arrived with a trug crammed with vegetables just picked from the greenhouse. "Gosh, how wonderful," I say, making space on the shelf for yet another marrow the size of a canoe (we've acquired seven so far). "Those courgettes look delicious, I've never seen speckled courgettes before." This is my first mistake: up here, homegrown vegetables are not simple peas, beans, potatoes, cabbages and courgettes. They have proper names, like people, and pedigrees like racehorses.
"Ah yes, I think you'll find those Dapple Glory Manley-Hopkinsons particularly sweet-tasting," agrees my visitor. "They may not be quite as firm as the Coleridge Carousel." We have half a dozen varieties of lettuce, ranging in size from snooker to rugger ball and in colour from pale-peppermint to purple. Storage is becoming a problem. It's easy in London, where visitors arrive with a bottle of Bulgarian red and a box of After Eights. They don't need refrigeration. Up here, especially in the heatwave we've just had, they aren't consumed immediately. Your Luton Longhauls, your Golden Gatwicks and Prestwick Pipers soon droop, fester and rot. "That's because they're completely natural," explained another vegetable-laden visitor. "The stuff you buy in supermarkets only stays fresh because of all the chemicals they pump into it."
The result of all this generosity is that my kitchen now resembles a church vestry during harvest festival, and we eat six portions of vegetables with every meal. Scrambled eggs with runner beans and lettuce is an unusual but not unpleasant breakfast combination. Black pudding works well with broad beans, although boiled eggs, cabbage and sprouts was not a great success.
That still leaves the marrow, 11 at the last count. I don't know what it is about marrows, but they daunt me. That huge, swollen belly into which I must plunge my knife like a surgeon performing a caesarean. And, having taken the plunge, is it worth it? A marrow is a tasteless brute. You can ginger it up and make a woolly sort of jam, or stuff it with well seasoned mince, but frankly, strawberry jam and shepherds pie is nicer and a lot easier. My Burmese aunt makes a traditional delectation called Buthi Kyall, pronounced Boothy Jaw, like marrow fritters but this needs a traditional curry to go with it and that really does take time.
The point about having my own greenhouse would be that people would stop bringing me vegetables, assuming that I grew my own, and I might - just a few - for appearances sake. They would hide the sun lounger, cushions, portable radio and icebox full of cool drinks at which I would be working hard all day. Well, why not - everyone knows what men do in tool sheds and it isn't carpentry.
Besides, in the Firth of Lorne, the only thing men keep in their tool sheds is fishing tackle, which explains the other surplus in my kitchen - mackerel. The cornucopia of vegetables in my fridge is nothing compared to the mountains of mackerel in my freezer. Behind every trug-carrying female guest stands a bucket-carrying male - offering you his afternoon catch, some cuddy, a little pollack, but chiefly mackerel. "I've gutted them for you but I have left the heads on," says your visitor, cheerfully tipping the contents of the bucket into the sink. "They taste better with the heads."
I scrabble desperately in the freezer, trying to make room for this new shoal. Yesterday's haul saw off the ice cream, the day before we had to ditch the chicken drumsticks. "Pity to freeze it," says the fisherman. "Tell you what, why don't I fry some up for you right now?" Good idea. We might even stuff it with a bit of marrow while were about it. It's a variation of that old Scottish recipe, Two Birds With One Stone, I believe.Reuse content