Continuity, salad, and Brexit

ROBERT AND MARGARET, my PhD supervisor, and his wife, became my close friends during the execution of my doctorate and for many years afterwards. I had the feeling that they were not as keen as some about Britain joining what we now call the European Union (‘EU’). Today, the 31st of December 2020 at 11 pm, the UK will leave it. Thinking about this reminded me of my old, now sadly deceased, friends and how joining Europe almost wrecked one of their dietary habits.

Robert was an extremely keen and energetic gardener. His home had extensive grounds. Looking after these kept him blissfully busy. The tennis court was separated from the conservatory by a large lawn surrounded by bushes. This was the ornamental garden. It contained one or two benches and a table where tea could be enjoyed in hot weather.  A path led from this into an even larger kitchen garden that was lined on one side by a series of long low huts, known as the ‘goat sheds’. Although they did not contain any goats, they were filled to the brim with … well… maybe many people might have called it ‘junk’. My friends would have disagreed with this assessment. 

At one end of these sheds, Robert, who was a first-class handy man as well as a brilliant scientist, kept a wide selection of tools.  There were few repairs in and around his home for which Robert lacked the skills to perform competently. Once plastic piping became widely available, he carried out many successful plumbing repairs. More than once he said to me with great seriousness that it was senseless teaching children Latin or Greek; they should be taught something useful like plumbing. Amongst these tools, there was also a hand operated mill that he used to grind flour, which he used to bake his own bread.

Almost whenever I arrived at his home, I would find Robert somewhere in the garden. Often, he was hunched over a bed of seedlings, weeding. Sometimes, he would be looking after his crop of potato plants which grew in a field accessed by way of the path between the goat sheds and the stables. He liked this patch of ground because it bordered the large meadow where his horse, Hobo, grazed.  This horse enjoyed company and used to stand by the fence close to where Robert was toiling. Robert valued Hobo’s company as well as that of his Burmese cat, which followed him around the garden.

Beyond the goat sheds and separated from them by a pathway were two adjoining stables. One was occupied occasionally by the family’s pet horse; and the other was filled with the contents of a long-lost friend’s flat. Amongst the various plots for growing fruit and vegetables, there was a spacious elegant Victorian glasshouse. A rusty wide-bore pipe ran around the walls that made up the rectangular base of this. This pipe had once been connected by underground pipes to the house, which was about 70 yards away. In its heyday, the piping in the glasshouse had been part of the house’s central heating system circuit and served to keep the plants warm in winter. By the time that my friends had bought their home, it had been disconnected.

Robert grew a variety of edible plants in the greenhouse. The lettuce he grew there was some of the best that I have ever eaten. Freshly picked, it was so tasty that it required neither salad dressing nor salt nor any other additive. It was grown from seed of a strain of lettuce called ‘Continuity’.

When the UK joined the European Economic Community (‘EEC’) in 1973, something of which I doubt my friends fully approved, the days of Continuity were numbered. Amongst the many regulations that the EEC planned to impose on its members was the banning of the sale of some kinds of seeds including those of Continuity breed of lettuce. This annoyed Robert and Margaret, and it became yet one more reason for them to disapprove of joining the EEC. Not one to be defeated by authority, Robert made sure that he let some of his lettuce plants flower and he collected their seeds in anticipation of the ban. For long after the seeds were no longer on sale, Robert and Margaret and others who ate with them were able to enjoy Continuity lettuce.

Although many people, including my friends Robert and Margaret, benefitted greatly from joining the EEC, later the EU, their disquiet about European judgement about what they could grow in their own gardens was not entirely misplaced. For, over the years, what began as a primarily economic union gradually assumed an overarching political role. We wait with bated breath to see whether leaving the EU will allow Britain to truly ‘regain control’, as Boris Johnson hopes, or, as many people fear, to degenerate into an insignificant archipelago lying off the west coast of Europe.

Taking a plunge

blog Plunge

Whatever happens in the UK’s current tumultuous parliament, it is more likely than not that the UK will leave the European Union (‘EU’). Whether this happens on the 31st of October 2019 or later, the UK is certainly taking a plunge into a possibly frightening unknown. When a majority of the British people voted in favour of leaving the EU, nobody could foresee the problems that we are now facing and will face as time moves on. Sadly, many of those who voted (largely without understanding what is involved and often for xenophobic reasons) for ‘Brexit’ will suffer the consequences more than many who voted not to leave the EU. Our present Prime Minister is optimistic about the future of the UK outside the EU, but as Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill wrote:

There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The . . . people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”

(Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 3 [1951])

Olives in London

I love olives, especially the black Kalamata and Amphissa varieties. These are imported from countries which are members of the EU (European Union), which the UK is destined to leave at the end of October 2019.

It is becoming increasingly likely that the UK will leave the EU without a trade deal. If this happens, supplies of olives may become restricted for some time. Also, the falling value of the Pound Sterling will increase the cost of those olives that make their way into the UK retail market. Gloomy as this seems, there might be light at the end of the tunnel coming from a much feared source.

The UK, like the rest of the world, is affected by climate change, which includes global warming. As I write this, I am sitting in front of a fan, something we would not have considered purchasing, even in summer, 25 to 30 years ago.

A result of global warming struck me today whilst walking in Kensington Gardens. I passed a south facing tree with greyish leaves. It was an olive tree, usually planted in gardens in the UK to provide visual contrasts. However, this particular olive tree was rich in young olives ripening in the sun (see photo above).

Seeing this richly fruited olive tree gives me hope for the future. Maybe, I will be buying British olives as well as those from southern Europe (if import duties and exchange rates do not make them unaffordable).

Common sense

Common sense is one of the least common traits found amongst human beings. It is uncommon to chance upon someone with common sense. There are plenty of intelligent and very bright people around, but most of them lack common sense and often wisdom also.

When I was a pupil at Highgate School in north London between 1965 and ’70, all of the teachers except one had degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge. The exception, Mr B, had been at a training college just east of the City of London. Mr B taught an unacademic but practical subject: woodwork. I was not any good at his craft and luckily I missed most of the classes on account of my having broken my arm during the woodwork term. Amongst all of the teachers at Highgate, Mr B had the most common sense, in fact more common sense than all of the rest of the staff combined.

Another person, who was brim-full of common sense, was one of my aunts. For various reasons, probably not completely unrelated to losing her father at a young age, she did not shine at school. Yet, throughout her long life she approached everything with straighforward down-to-earth common sense.

I am not sure whether the following anecdote was a manifestation of my aunt’s common sense, but I will relate it anyway. Once when she was at a party, a stranger introduced himself to my aunt as follows:

I am a neo-Platonist. What do you do?

Cool as a cucumber my aunt answered:

I am a cabbage.”

Thus, she put pay to her pretentious new acquaintance, and ended what might have become a tedious conversation.

My photograph (above) shows a well-known London landmark. For those who are unfamiliar with London, the picture depicts the Houses of Parliament, which contains the House of Commons. During the current discussions regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU, many intelligent Members of the House of Commons are demonstrating a worrying shortage of common sense.