Today was Potato Day in Castle Cary and once again Mrs B and I pottered along to Caryford Hall to grab our annual selection of little chitters. It used to be in the Consti Club where we would enjoy the raffish charm of the old place but Caryford Hall seems too clean and well-ordered to be hosting a bunch of mostly middle-aged and elderly gardeners rummaging through multi-coloured tubs of spuds.
Mrs B mentioned our plans to The Old Man this morning which set him off on an initial criticism of the event as somewhere that people went to buy some fancy-dan hoity-toity potatoes that would ultimately fail, and inferred that we would be doing the same. Mrs B (who handles situations with TOM with the cool detachment of a seasoned daughter-in-law) put him right on that score, informing him that we knew exactly what we were going to purchase, based on previous experience and detailed plans for the season ahead. He seemed impressed with the answer and in an effort to offer advice, resorted to the tried and tested “Pink Fir Apples are delicious and I always found you can’t go far wrong with Wilja for an all round potato”.
It is for that very reason we have never planted Wilja since we took over the garden.
This year we planned a repeat performance of the plantings of recent years, with Cherie (1st Early), Belle De Fontenay (2nd Early), King Edwards (a high risk / high reward kind of spud), Sarpo Axona (Blight-resistant main crop) and Arran Victory (1st early: our one vanity potato – historically and geographically significant to us). The plan back-fired slightly with no Cherie on offer, so we threw in another wild card chitter by taking some Swift instead. So maybe The OM was correct after all as we were suckered into buying random spuds on impulse.
Pennard Plants run a smooth Potato Event, but swift is not the word to describe the method of selecting your chitters. They were alphabetically arranged in plastic trugs with colour-coded labels for earlies or mains. Everyone dutifully shuffled clockwise round the tables picking their spuds as they passed them. Skipping ahead to go from C for Cherie to K for King Edwards was not recommended and it is amazing how tightly packed a line of septuagenarian gardeners can be. If Stoke City had had a few of these yesterday to form a defensive wall, Wayne Rooney would still be waiting to break Bobby Charlton’s record.
Waiting to pick out a few scoops of shallots and onions, the gardeners in front of me took an age to make their own choices. They approached the trugs in the same manner a major predator stalks it prey: eyes fixed on the sets (in case they attempted a sudden escape?), moving with feline precision, but at a snail’s pace. I was willing them to make their choice between Longor or Vigamor, to pounce, take a scoop and move on but I lost my nerve and upset the hunt by elbowing my way in to grab my prey and take my shallots triumphantly back to Mrs B. Oh, the joy of sets.
Returning home with our booty, I was interrogated once more by TOM who asked what I had bought. I started to list them but he interrupted to suggest that he assumed we had bought some Pink Fir Apple too? “No” I said. I felt mean to be denying garden space to one of The Old Man’s favourite spuds – but frankly they are a pain to clean and peel.
Or did I still feel some sort of residual duty to do as my father advises?
“No” is the resounding answer to that one.