A Country Life: Potatoes for beginners

Share
Related Topics

My wife Jane is reading
The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory's riveting tale of sex and violence in Elizabethan times. Between running one house and three holiday cottages, and caring for three children and 14 animals, the only time Jane gets to read it is in bed, which is also when I get to read my book; another tale of sex and violence, also with an Elizabethan subtext.

My wife Jane is reading The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory's riveting tale of sex and violence in Elizabethan times. Between running one house and three holiday cottages, and caring for three children and 14 animals, the only time Jane gets to read it is in bed, which is also when I get to read my book; another tale of sex and violence, also with an Elizabethan subtext.

Most nights, we read each other choice passages. Jane tells me about her characters - the scheming Anne Boleyn, the guileless Mary Boleyn and the manipulative Duke of Norfolk. And I tell her about mine - the versatile Duke of York, the vigorous Lady Balfour, the shapely Belle de Fontenay.

My book is Alan Romans' Guide To Seed Potato Varieties, and hugely engrossing it is, too. He touches on the history of the potato, its arrival in Europe from South America in the 16th century and how a seed potato industry was started in Scotland, where the climate kept the aphid vector of virus disease down to low levels - I confess my mind started wandering slightly when I got to that bit.

As for the sex and violence, it mainly relates to blight, Phytophthora infestans, which evolved from seaweed. Until a decade ago there was only one breeding blight in Europe, but now there is a second, which reproduces both sexually and asexually and has even more diversity to help it overcome blight resistance. Intrigue at the Tudor court had nothing on the stuff that goes on between tubers.

But the most enjoyable part of Romans' book is where he lists 151 spud varieties, and endearingly offers a potted biography of each one. The Pentland Crown, for instance, was the first variety to be banned from a supermarket for lack of flavour, whereas the Pentland Dell is used to produce all kettle crisps.

Maybe it's a sign that my mind is beginning to vegetate, but I find all this fascinating. Apparently, the Dutch potato Desiree has enjoyed a comeback in Britain thanks to Delia Smith's enthusiasm for it, while the Ballydoon, bred in 1931, is prized in Ireland as the boiled potato to go with boiled bacon and spring cabbage.

Best of all, Romans does not withhold his own prejudices, informing us that the Victoria potato is not the famous variety of 1863 bred by William Paterson of Dundee, which is a great shame, apparently, because nearly all the classics bred by people such as Nicol, Clark, Penn and Findlay had Victoria in the parentage. "One of the great missing varieties of the past," writes Romans, "a small number of us held a tiny hope that it would turn up one day in Nepal or New Zealand or some such. I can't bear to dwell on this new yellow chipping variety, presumably named after Mrs Beckham." Hear, hear.

One fined day

Last week I wrote that, befitting the rural folk we are rather than the city folk we used to be, we took the children to London during half-term, and visited Madame Tussaud's. This, it turns out, was not the only way in which we behaved like typical London tourists; we also strayed into the congestion-charging zone and copped a £40 fine. Added to the Madame Tussaud's admission prices, and lunch for five at Pizza Hut, this propelled the cost of the afternoon to over £150.

It was the first time I had driven in London since the congestion charge came in. Being a backwoods hick I didn't realise that I was entering the charging zone, and even if I had I wouldn't have known what to do about it.

Anyway, the letter from Ken Livingstone tells me, in language that could perhaps be simplified, that my contravention location was Chiltern Street, my contravention time 13:49:13, and, deep lawyerly breath, that the contravention was supported by a number of evidential images. Bang to rights, in other words.

I wondered whether to appeal on the grounds that I don't live in London, rarely drive in London, and didn't see any signs telling me that I was committing a misdemeanour. Instead, I decided to draw satisfaction from the fact that I am now officially befuddled when driving in London, which makes me officially from the sticks.

Leafy Birkenhead

A couple of columns ago I expressed surprise that Norman Thelwell, the artist whose name became synonymous with little girls riding squat ponies along country lanes, had been raised on the banks of the Mersey in Birkenhead. This, I asserted, was deliciously improbable. The only children to be found riding horses through the streets of Birkenhead, I rudely ventured, were those being pursued by a formerly mounted policeman shouting, "Hey, come back here!"

As a Merseysider myself I should have known better, and a couple of readers rightly took me to task for such snotty condescension. Rod Jones cheerfully pointed out that Birkenhead has "excellent rural credentials" and that Britain's first municipally-funded park, Birkenhead Park, was the model for Central Park in New York. Nearby, he added, is Arrow Park, venue for the Scouts' 1929 World Jamboree.

"And if memory serves me correctly," he concluded, "Frankby, a village just on the outskirts of Birkenhead, once had the highest ratio of horses to residents. Maybe this is where Thelwell was inspired." I hang my head, and paw at the ground, in shame.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The truth about kids on holiday

Rosie Millard
 

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home