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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments