Which fruit features in more jokes than any other? You'd think it would be bananas, which are inherently comical, but actually it's mangoes, as in "a man goes into a pub with a parrot on his shoulder etc..." Now I know that's beyond limp, but at least it's got you thinking about mangoes, which have been much on my own mind recently.
It all started last week while I was staying in London SW19 with my sister-in-law Jackie and brother-in-law Tony, reporting on the tennis. I hope Tony won't mind me describing him as a man who never knowingly under-enthuses about something that has impressed him, be it a book, a play, a person or indeed a fruit. This makes him the perfect recipient of a glass of the 1989 Vouvray you've been saving for a special occasion, for example, because he will give it the extravagant rhapsodies it manifestly deserves. On the other hand, it does mean that one needs to treat with circumspection some of his tips, as I did last week when he raved about the mangoes he had bought at Brixton market, describing them as "heaven" and assuring me that I would never want to taste any other kind of mango, or possibly any other kind of anything, ever again.
It was asparagus that got us onto the subject of mangoes. We were talking about the short season of English asparagus – which I know all about because the stubby spears in my asparagus bed are now metre-long fronds – and Tony said that he had recently been introduced, by his friend Philip, to a particular variety of the Pakistani honey mango that only has a four-week season and is preternaturally sweet and succulent.
Not only that, but at Brixton market they are sold in the colourful boxes in which they have been air-freighted, lending a jauntily cosmopolitan air to a chap's pantry. Last Friday Tony told me that Philip was going to the market that very day for his regular mango fix, and so, forgetting my circumspection, I asked if he could get me a box. It felt excitingly illicit, arranging for my brother-in-law's supplier to include me in his latest score from the fields of Pakistan via the mean streets of Brixton, and certainly Tony had talked about the mangoes as if they had hallucinogenic properties. He even advised me on the best way to eat them. It is iredeemably suburban, apparently, to peel a mango. And forget the tired old advice that you should do it in the bath. Instead, the seasoned mango addict rolls his fruit vigorously on a flat surface, then cuts off the tip and sucks out the liquidised flesh. Crack mango, if you like.
Anyway, since I was going straight home to Herefordshire after Saturday's play at Wimbledon, I had to take my £3.50 box of six honey mangoes with me to the All England Club, where my bag was routinely searched on arrival. The friendly young security guard looked up at me quizzically as she found the exotic box. "Mangoes," I said. "Oooh lovely," she said. There's something charmingly genteel about the security check at Wimbledon. I'm sure that even if they found a high-powered rifle you could tell them that you'd just come from a game shoot on your uncle's estate in the Chilterns.
By the time I got home with the mangoes, at 10.30 that night, I was worried that their journey on a hot, sweaty Tube to Euston, then a hot, sweaty train to Birmingham, then in the boot of the car, might have taken its toll. But on Sunday we tried them, and the family consensus was that Tony had not been exaggerating their delights. The Pakistani honey actually looks more like the papaya than the Co-op mango, and is indeed gorgeously sweet, without that fibrous texture that you sometimes find. Yesterday I had the last one all to myself, and decided to go native, following Tony's advice. It was a triumph, apart from when I sucked too hard and the stone shot out and hit the back of my throat with the velocity, not inappropriately, of a tennis ball served by Serena Williams.
Once Jane had successfully implemented the Heimlich manoeuvre I texted Tony and told him that he'd converted us all to the pleasures of the Pakistani honey mango, and also that I'd tried the rolling and hard-sucking strategy. He texted me straight back. "You're a braver man than me," he said.