The Curse of the Chayote.

Summer in the French countryside would be bedevilled by the problem of what to do with the courgettes. You would put in a couple of plants and the next thing you knew there would be a forest of little green devils just waiting for you to turn your back before ballooning into marrows. They must have been eavesdropping when God told Noah and his sons to bring forth abundantly in the earth and thought that the injunction applied to them as well.

From the bible of Elizabeth David I thought that you picked them when young and crisp…my French neighbours thought otherwise. When the lady who delivered the bread agreed to take some of my surplus she eyed the crop and said she would come back in a couple of days ‘when they were a proper size’. Indeed she did and was pleased with her haul, which she intended to bottle. I’d been in the sous sol of her house… the shelves were full of produce she had bottled and she had picked the courgettes when they were the height of her bottles. I would not have thought of that – or of bottling the beasts at all.

Costa Ricans hold a similar view on the size of what they call zucchini which explains the heaps of green and white striped containers of spongy flesh which you find on the stalls of the feria. But at least they don’t bottle the things…

Mark you, as far as I can see they don’t bottle anything. You can mark the increase in the number of foreign settlers in an area by the availability of Kilner jars in the shops.

The curse of the garden here is the chayote. The things pictured above.

Should you wish to plant them Danilo swears that you can tell male from female fruits by the number of shoots protruding from their fundaments. I have no idea if they are male, female or transgender but it seems to me that if you hurl one out into the shrubbery it takes root with alacrity, while its ability to camouflage itself when young means that you do not see it until it leaps into action and invades the washing line. Peg out your smalls in the morning and they will have been entwined in its loving embrace by late afternoon.

Currently they have invaded the walls of the swimming pool and are advancing along the balustrades of the balcony, cunningly taking advantage of the fact that I can reach only so far down from the balustrade and only so far up from the pool giving a margin of several feet for their activity. Danilo flatly refuses to uproot the parent plant on the grounds that he can use the fruits. My suggestion that he get in the pool to pick them was addressed with scorn.

A. He is shorter than me.

and

B. The water would come over his wellies.

I can conquer A by handing him the long handled fruit picker we use for the oranges but B is insuperable.

Why don’t I use the fruitpicker? You need space to manoevre the thing and I am clumsy.

Higher Authority has decided that he will have to take matters in hand. He will propel his wheelchair out onto the small balcony which hangs over the pool, and use the fruitpicker. The chayotes will fall into the water whence I shall retrieve them with a bucket.

But which wheelchair?

The ordinary one? No, the brakes aren’t too good and he might be catapulted over the rails into the pool while lunging with the fruitpicker.

The mobility scooter? No. That lives in the car ready for action on shopping trips.

So the heavy artillery it is…the big electric wheelchair in which he rumbles around house and garden like the Mekon in search of Dan Dare.

I can take or leave chayote….usually the latter…but when they appear in the kitchen – thank you Danilo for finding yet another plant – I feel obliged to use them. When young they have a crisp texture…rather like a half frozen apple but without the flavour….and that’s about it.

I stew them in a pan with chicken, onions, garlic, potatoes, chinese cabbage and coriander – but all they add to it is bulk.

Likewise a stew with chicken, carrots and achiote – which you probably know as annatto, used for colouring cheese, but it has a distinct flavour. Again, the chayote was bulk, but took on an ominous neon colouring.

I did once try stuffing them….but for all the good that did I would have been better off stuffing them where the sun doesn’t shine. At least you can stuff a marrow.

Locals use them as part of a picadillo..a mishmash of veg served with the midday casado – the regulation plate of rice, beans, salad, picadillo and tortilla served with options from steak, pork chop, fish or beef stew as basics or ox tongue, tripe or chicken stew if the cook has ambitions. The chayote is boiled, then skinned and diced and mixed with sweet pepper and sweetcorn. Being boiled it loses its crisp texture, but the mix is pleasant.

I have mentioned the mobility scooter….

It has enabled Higher Authority to enjoy shopping again without the limitations of being pushed by someone…it gives him independence. He can belt round the alleys of the Mercado Central and navigate the Mercado Borbon, whacking his shopping in the basket or, as in the case of the fortnightly visit for dog food, making his orders then zooming on while Danilo takes the sacks back to the car.

He can also navigate my least favourite shop….the Chinese Hell.

It is a large chaotic Chinese owned supermarket between the Central and the Borbon, where stuff is certainly piled high but is not always cheap. Previous to the purchase of the scooter Danilo would push him to the entrance and leave him to it while coming with me to pick up the dog food. As the floors are cracked and uneven he would become stuck at which point staff and customers would extricate him. Friendships were formed. When the dog food had been put in the car Danilo would go in search of him while I would wait in the packing area, looking for them on the security camera screen by the tills. It is the sort of place where you are supposed to leave your bags at the entrance, but as my bag contains my money I am reluctant to do that.

If Danilo returned in search of a trolley, then Higher Authority had found a bargain…whether it was top grade rice at rock bottom prices, top grade coffee likewise, or less welcome items like sliced bread – ‘it will be fine for toast’ – one kilo of sour cream in a plastic bag – ‘we use a lot’ – or six pineapples – ‘come in handy for stir fries’.

But all this has changed. Once mounted on his scooter he leaves us for dead. On his first appearance at the Hell, the security guard slapped him on the back, allowing him to go through with his bag in the front basket, and he went round in a welter of handshakes and smiles, even when demolishing a display of sweets. When his basket was overflowing a member of staff attached the contents with sticky tape…a regular triumphal progress.

Unfortunately the Hell has taken thought as to its image…..

On his last visit I was presented with a clutch of cards featuring recipe suggestions which looked as if they were stock from an upmarket shop from the quality. He had seen them by the till. Free. They would ‘give me ideas’.

The vegetarian hamburger suggestion was promptly turned down.

‘There must be better than that…give them to me..’

Harumphs from the front seat of the car indicated that other suggestions were not meeting with approval and then

‘Look! This looks O.K. and we’ve got everything on the list…’

A card was handed back to me.

Chayote soup.

On return, into the Mekonmobile and onto the little balcony armed with the fruitpicker. Despite lunges worthy of a duellist the thing did not reach.

What was to be done?

‘Fetch a ladder. You can put it in the pool and reach from there.’

‘It will float away.’

Call Danilo to stand on the foot of it’

‘He can’t. The water will be over his wellies’.

Ever alert, Danilo arrived bearing chayote from the other plant. I must follow him and find where it is in order to destroy it.

I consulted the recipe. Peel and boil the chayote. Drain and put chayote in a blender with a bug bunch of coriander. Blend. Pour into saucepan, add salt and pepper, greek yogurt and some of the cooking liquor to let it down. Heat and serve.

Higher Authority decided we would have it for breakfast the next day…so in the early hours of the morning I made it. It had a texture that reminded me of okra…viscous…while all I could taste was coriander. Perhaps 6.00 am was not the ideal time to sample soup…still, we ate it.

By 8.00 am we wereboth rushing for the loo…damned good thing we have two of them otherwise things might have become desperate.

Finally, I have found a use for the chayote…..

Ordure!Ordure!

This year, the Ashes are being played for in England. For lesser breeds without the law for whom that sentence means nothing, the cricket teams of England and Australia are playing a five match series – each match, in theory, lasting five days – to decide ownership of a tiny urn commemorating the defeat of England by Australia in 1882.

It is, generally speaking, a grudge match. Particularly so now since three Australian players are returning after a year’s suspension for ball tampering. See? Cricket is not so dull after all!

Ball tampering? Doing something unnatural to a cricket ball to assist the bowler in having an unfair advantage over the batsman. Polishing one side of the ball while leaving the other side rough produces a ball which is inclined to swing unexpectedly, thus wrongfooting the batsman. Polishing the ball on the trousers is an accepted method….other methods have been used which are more dubious…sucking sweets and slathering the resultant saliva on the ball – yuck …putting vaseline on your forehead and wiping it on the ball – slightly less yuck…having a pocket full of dirt and rubbing that into the rough side of the ball – not recommended by your tailor….

But these three went one further…the captain – and, no doubt the bowlers who escaped sanction as their country needed them – knew that ball tampering was going on. The opening batsman – and biggest mouth on the team – induced the latest team member, who wanted to keep his place, to have a sheet of sandpaper in his pocket, with which to rough up the already rough side of the ball. They were playing South Africa, whose team had already had their suspicions and who asked that the cameras were directed onto the sandpaper wielder…who was caught in the act

Thus the year’s suspension, which expired – what a surprise – to allow them to play in the Ashes.

Their reception has not been warm. Booed out to bat and booed back in again when bowled out…while when fielding the main culprit was serenaded by the crowd to the tune of ‘The whole world in His hands’ the words being ‘he has sandpaper in his hands’.

In normal circumstances a Test match has a certain effect in this household. Given that I will be glued to the radio for the duration and that we are seven hours behind the U.K. Higher Authority, dogs, poultry and sheep are resigned to being fed early – during the lunch interval in England – and thereafter being ignored until lunch here which is close of play in England. Meals from the freezer figure largely and barking is discouraged.

However, this year the fourth Test Match has a rival even more enthralling than sandpapergate. …

Brexit.

Where the main players could appropriately be greeted by the chant that greets the Aussies

Same old – fill in the name of your choice – always cheating’.

Such is the nature of the British constitution that it is possible to have a change of Prime Minister without a General Election. The ruling party sorts it out itself and lumbers the populace with the result, so as long as the new incumbent can maintain a majority in the House of Commons his, her or its bottom is safely on the seat of power until the rest of the five year term of Parliament expires.

So the current booby should be sitting pretty…no?

No.

He came in on a rush of blood to the head, announcing that he would settle Brexit once and for all. He wanted a deal with the European Union, but if not then the U.K. would go it alone.

Panic in the dovecotes! Someone sounding as if they meant what they said…unusual in subfusc Britain where so much is supposed to be conveyed in hints and nuances, lest the voters might discover what their leaders are up to.

Nuclear meltdown in the dovecotes! He wants to prorogue Parliament – suspend its sittings – to prevent M.P.s from fouling up his negotiations with the E.U. by offering the latter aid and comfort.

The four horsemen ride forth! He has withdrawn the whip from twenty one Tory M.P.s who have not supported the government in a vote in the House of Commons. Being Tory M.P.s one would imagine that lack of contact with the whip would particularly affect them – but these are heroes! They can forego the kiss of the whip!

These men and women have, over the years, brought forward, voted for and promulgated measures which have brought poverty and insecurity to the lives of many ordinary people…but today they are heroes! They are saving democracy!

But by withdrawing the whip the booby lost his majority in the Commons. His bottom is no longer secure on the seat of power. And all this since taking office on July 24th….he moves fast for one of his build.

And now comes the retribution from those saving British democracy….the Speaker of the House and opposition M.P.s – not forgetting the heroes, of course.

They are passing an Act which will mandate him to seek yet another extension of the process of leaving the E.U. – a process which already resembles trying to walk up the down escalator at Holborn tube station in the rush hour. And they have written the letter of application for him too…

The booby sought an escape in the frenzy of a General Election….but the guardians of democracy will not permit it until the deadline for leaving the E.U. – currently at October 31st – is passed, just in case he wins a majority and heaves the U.K. over the line.

The whole thing has been very bad tempered. The Speaker made a personal attack on a member of the government, the booby called the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition a big girl’s blouse, M.P.s in general have been shouting down those wishing to speak and if this is the mother of parliaments one could understand a wish among its children to declare themselves orphans.

What is the booby to do? Set down a vote of no confidence in his own government to trigger an election outwith the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliament Act of 2011 – an Act designed to keep uneasy bedfellows in a coalition government together?

Resign and let the various forces which have constrained him hitherto sort it out for themselves?

Goodness only knows….but in the meantime we should examine the case of the blockage in the No lobby.

When the House of Commons votes, its members pass through either the Aye or the No lobby to be counted…both by clerks of the House and by tellers appointed by the appropriate sides.

Now, when the House began to examine the bill to block the booby from going hell for leather for a no deal exit from the E.U. it turned itself into a Committee of the Whole House…the mace was taken from the clerks’ table and a deputy Speaker took the chair.

The various amendments were proposed and discussed…among them a proposal to re examine the withdrawal agreement made between the E.U. and the previous booby, which had been rejected by the House three times already as even those who wished to remain in the E.U. could not stomach its provisions.

A division was announced…the tellers from the two sides were recognised by the deputy Speaker and the M.P.s toddled off to vote. It was assumed that the amendment would be lost given its history.

There was an inordinate delay and finally the deputy Speaker asked someone to investigate the blockage in the No lobby. The white tie and black tailed official went away and returned to report that there were no tellers in the No lobby….the votes could not be counted.

Accordingly, the Withdrawal Agreement was passed as agreed….Lazarus risen from the dead.

The tellers were provided by the government of the booby…so why did they not act? Why allow Lazarus to arise from his winding sheet?

Significantly, no one in the other parties questioned the lapse….

The amendment was proposed by the Honorable Stephen Kinnock, well known opponent of the leader of his party, Jeremy Corbyn and firmly in favour of remaining in Europe.

The current booby was previously a supporter of the remain in Europe faction…he took leadership of the Leave campaign in the referendum of 2016 convinced that his group would lose…but that his support would gain him a following among the anti Europe constituency members…useful for a later power coup.

Given the current situation, Lazarus may appear to weary M.P.s – and to an exasperated electorate – to be a ready made solution.

So…ask yourselves…why did the booby allow his parliamentary managers to ‘lose’ two tellers on what seemed to be an insignificent vote?

Is he what he seems to be…someone determined to leave the E.U. on the best terms possible…or is he cheating, serving those who wish to remain?