independent

Monday 14 October 2019

Know your onions and know when to temper ambition with neatness

David Medcalf - Opinion

Long-suffering Hermione makes allowances. She bestows forgiveness on he who leaves the back door wantonly open on the coldest of nights. She smiles heroically through gritted teeth as the smell of smoked herring permeates Medders Manor and lingers for days. She is graceful under the pressure induced by the sight of beer bottles and takeaway containers littering the living room.

But it clearly took considerable effort on this occasion for my esteemed spouse to contain feelings aroused by the disarray which greeted her when she walked into the kitchen. A slight pursing of lips, an almost undetectable reddening of complexion and a swallowing gesture signalled her inner turmoil. Hermione blinked, blinked very slowly, blinked in the measured manner of a very wise, very old owl, lowering her eyelids and then raising them.

When she raised them, it was clear to her that she had not been hallucinating. The mess she saw around a space left immaculate that morning was no trick of the imagination. The kitchen table really was covered in muck. There really were mucky boot-prints besmirching the floor. The counter around the sink really was lost under a jumble of plastic and tools and general muckiness.

'You're home. Great to see you,' said I with brightness and enthusiasm - slightly overdone brightness and enthusiasm.

'I…am…home…yes,' came the reply with a shell-shocked shake of her pretty head.

'I wasn't expecting you back for another little while, to be honest.' Honesty, hopefully, being the best policy.

'Maybe then it would be better then if I did not actually come back for another little while.' She spun thoughtfully on her heel and walked woodenly out, her departure soon followed by the sound of a car disappearing down the drive. It was time to tidy…

When a little boy, my ambition was to be a milk-man. In those days the dairy had a fleet of horse-drawn floats for door-to-door deliveries. Though fond of the gee-gees, I was not drawn as a chap to being a jockey. Better team up with the placid steed which brought the morning pinta than with a raging thoroughbred.

Once a teenager, thoughts of a career in retail distribution were replaced by a desire to play for Ireland. Soccer for Ireland. Rugby for Ireland. Tiddlywinks for Ireland. It mattered not which code. The problem was that, though endowed with bottomless reserves of enthusiasm, the would-be international came up irredeemably short in terms of pace, skill and temperament.

The selectors never came to call and targets had to be adjusted in adulthood, with the setting of more attainable, less precise goals. It would suffice to hold down paid employment and find a loving life partner, aspirations which were substantial but achievable.

Now however, as the middle-aged me gradually fades to become the elderly me, I find that the light of specific ambition has been re-kindled and re-focussed. The allure of the dairy was extinguished once motorised vans replaced the gentle mare that pulled the milk cart. No longer is there a yearning to line-out on the wing at Lansdowne Road.

Instead, the Holy Grail is growing an onion from seed. Oh to be able harvest and cook such an onion. Oh to have such an onion fit for competition at the Bridge Castle Show. I dream of such an onion. Peas, beans, parsnips or courgettes from seed are a doddle but onions are a challenge.

I discover that onion germination is not the problem, with plenty of wispy green shoots poking their heads above compost in the Side Garden. As it is raining, it seems sensible to bring the pots containing these fledgling onions into the kitchen for closer examination. Then it seems that maybe, just possibly, it would be a good idea transplant these young plants into larger pots. This requires the fetching, not only the larger pots, but also a bucket load of extra earth.

At this point, the notion dawns that it might be efficacious to season some of the pots with chicken manure, by way of an experiment. Just as this wheeze is being executed, Hermione arrives home.

So now it is time to tidy.

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