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

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager

£37000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has a track record...

Recruitment Genius: Solar Field Sales Executive

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s Director of Communications  

i Editor's Letter: Poultry excuses from chicken spin doctors

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Women come back from the fields to sell vegetables at a market in Bangui, Central African Republic  

International Women's Day: Africa's women need to believe in themselves and start leading the way

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable