We moved to the country about 15 years ago from London, to give our two children a chance to grow up in traditional surroundings. Now they have both grown up and moved back to the city, I have a lot more time on my hands. Last summer I went into chutney-making for the first time. This, despite the warnings of my neighbour, Brenda.
'That's the trouble with this country these days,' she said. 'All chutney and no meat. All service and no manufacturing. No wonder the frustrated housewives of England are making enough chutney to float a battleship in. Not that we've got any battleships to float in it any more. That's the trouble with this country. All Channel ferries and no battleships. God knows what they think of us in the EC.'
I soon discovered what they thought of us in the EC when I received a visit from an EC official who said he had 'heard' that we were making chutney in our own home, for profit, and did we know that there were certain EC guidelines to be obeyed in chutney manufacture? I found to my horror that to make chutney to EC standards, I would have to install machinery costing more than pounds 20,000, and this would mean selling at least 50,000 jars just to cover the expenses. So I gave up chutney.
My husband, who has a job with the local council looking after vagrant and nomad minorities, was incensed by this news. He was even more incensed when the very same inspector turned up at one of his gypsy sites, and confiscated equipment used for hedgehog-baking.
'This is an ancient craft,' he told the inspector. 'You have no right to interfere with it.'
'I have every right,' the man retorted, waving a thick book of regulations. 'Would you like to hear first about the safety regulations on wild game cooking, or the restrictions on the hunting of the endangered hedgehog?'
'If you had your way, you'd close down everything,' said my husband, 'starting with the WI market and ending up with the Smithfield Show.'
He shouldn't have said that. The man made a note in a book, and next week turned up at our local WI market, seizing most of the goods there and briefly causing the arrest of the WI chairman. The local policeman who was hauled in to make the arrest looked dazed by the whole thing, but he said that when you had people breaking more than 15 international rules on the making of lemon curd, then something had to be done.
'I'm not too unhappy about it,' Brenda said to me. 'If I never eat another jar of lemon curd, I won't worry. Who needs lemon curd, anyway? When you think that we have to import all the lemon juice used in lemon curd, you begin to realise why we have a trade deficit. Too much lemon curd and not enough sloe curd, that's the trouble with this country.'
Brenda turned out to have got many of her opinions from her husband, who had been away on a work trip for so long we had forgotten she had one. He returned the next weekend. I wonder if you can guess who he was. That's right. The very same EC inspector who had been causing such havoc to the chutney, hedgehog and lemon curd industries, to name only three. There must have been other people even more deeply wounded, as not three days later Brenda's husband was found face down in a ditch, murdered. 'The police think they'll make an arrest soon,' sniffed Brenda.
'Got a suspect in mind, have they?' asked my husband.
'The weapon should lead them straight to him,' said Brenda. This seemed odd. The weapon, as far as we knew, had been a stout branch dragged from the undergrowth.
'Ah, but it was an elm branch,' she said. 'Elm is protected under EC regulations, as you know. So the EC law enforcers are out to put the finger on the murderer because he infringed a very strict tree conservation programme. If I know anything about them, they'll get their man . . . .'
I'm afraid I have to interrupt here with the sad news that this story is not, after all, eligible for the EC fiction prize, as it is apparently true and therefore not fiction. So there will be no prize this month. Competition as usual next month.Reuse content