Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

This is perhaps the eighth Wimbledon fortnight that I have attended as a journalist, and before that I went to quite a few as a spectator, but in all those years I have never purchased a traditional tub of strawberries and cream, and not merely because they come at traditional rip-off prices.

For one thing, it would destroy all professional credibility for a hack to be seen enthusiastically spooning Wimbledon strawberries into his mouth. In the press box on Centre Court it is considered somewhat infra dig even to be seen applauding, for heaven's sake, so imagine the disdain from one's peers if one were spotted in the strawberries-'n'-cream queue.

And even before I needed to consider such things as peer pressure, it just felt too damn clichéd. I'm all for doing cheesy touristy stuff even in my own country, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I'm only sorry I didn't draw it before I allowed Jane to persuade me to go with her and the kids to Madame Tussaud's on a wet Friday in February half-term a couple of years ago. I would almost sooner disembowel myself than repeat that grim experience. And not just because I got fined for not paying the congestion charge as I drove around for three hours looking for somewhere to park.

Anyway, what I've been getting round to saying is that this year I have an extra reason to eschew the All-England Club strawberries. Indeed, I practically wince when I see others tucking into them, because I have a marvellous crop at home in Herefordshire that started reaching full, juicy fruition on precisely the day that I set off for London. I picked half a dozen deliciously flavoursome whoppers and had them with my organic muesli shortly before I pointed the car eastwards along the A44, knowing that I would not return until the best of the crop had gone, consumed by other members of the family or, because none of them are remotely as diligent as I am in visiting the fruit cage, left to rot. Which, happy though I am to be at Wimbledon, casts a bit of a blight over the tennis, I can tell you.

It's not as if it's just the strawberries. The pea pods were beginning to swell beautifully, and there were about six immaculate little courgettes, dwarfed by their papery yellow flowers. Not even a Roger Federer forehand is an assertion of Nature's beauty quite like a glossy little courgette in flower. Moreover, Jane has been promising to cook the flowers in a tempura batter this summer, but without me there to nag her, the flowers will wilt and the courgettes will grow into unwieldy great marrows. Another tempura-less summer will pass.

And that's not all: the runner beans had just reached the top of their wigwam canes as I packed my bags for SW19, and the broad beans were just about to burst forth. It's like a cosmic joke at the expense of Middle England that Wimbledon coincides exactly with the most exciting fortnight in the kitchen garden. In the conservatory, too, the first purple explosion of hibiscus occurred practically while I searched the house for my passport, required by the CIA-like authorities at Wimbledon in order that I might be handed my press accreditation. By the time I get home, the hibiscus will be fully ablaze.

Obviously, I've been phoning home daily to ask after the well-being of the fruit and veg. "How are the strawberries? And the peas? Have you been watering the cucumbers every morning? - they don't like it at night. What's going on with the beans? Don't forget to look at the gooseberries, they should be ripe by now. Is the spinach bolting? Oh yes, and how are you and the kids?"

I'm exaggerating, of course. My priorities aren't that skewed. When I get home on Monday, there will be a big hug for Jane and each of the kids before, not after, I rush out to check on the produce. And then it will be time to start fretting about our holiday in Cornwall in August, which is when our raspberries will be at their magnificent best. I might have to let the others go without me.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is out in paperback (Simon & Schuster, £7.99)

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