My pregnant mother had decided to have me at home - a home birth. Her GP, a fierce ex-miner called Dr Heathcote, had advised total bed-rest for the last month of her pregnancy. And as a woman who was full of energy this was always going to be difficult. A solution was reached. My father arranged to have a television installed in their bedroom in order that my tennis-obsessed mother could watch Wimbledon during the last weeks before spawning.
You have no idea how decadent this would have been in 1960-something (cough, cough) . . . a television in the bedroom? How louche! Bohemian! A little bit decadent! But my father, who has demonstrated his eccentricities and lack of regard for convention over the years, had organised a local TV hire shop to deliver and install a television on what would have been the first day of Wimbledon that year.
My mother was in bed. Naturally, she had been told. She was podding peas. Apparently she had been podding peas for several weeks as she hadn’t got much else to do, she was keeping busy and the peas were in season. (It was probably fortunate that she quite liked them too).
Now you know what its like, when podding peas or picking fruit. It is impossible not to grab a handful to eat as you go. Really impossible. I would defy anyone not to. Freshly podded peas at their plump sweetest are a simple pleasure in life and should be fully embraced at all costs.
So you get the picture. My poor mother had been podding and eating peas for weeks. Today, the tedium was about to be relieved by the first day of Wimbledon on TV, beamed straight to her bedroom.
I don’t actually know whether I arrived early (subsequent behaviour would suggest that this was extremely unlikely). Could I have been exactly on time? (Always possible). Was I slightly late? (Far more plausible).
The TV repairman had just started to install the television. Apparently he was quite friendly. Chatty even. If he had wondered why an apparently healthy young woman was sitting up in bed podding peas, he never mentioned it. It was quite clear that he had had no idea that she was pregnant. None at all.
When my mother started to go into labour, the poor man panicked. He fled down the stairs gibbering “come quickly, there is something wrong!”and fled to the comfort of the breakfast room where my father was sitting with the midwife, smoking cigarettes and drinking red wine. (What can I say, it was the 1960s).
Order was quickly restored and I made a rapid entry into the world on the first day of Wimbledon that year. And from the moment I emerged I was infatuated by peas. I love them in all their infinite varieties, from fresh, frozen to dried. I have never met a pea I didn’t like. Peas pureed, in curries, with eggs or pasta. Even in ice-cream. I just love peas.
I may not be on a par with the ladies of the 17th century French court who apparently secretly gorged themselves on dishes of hot, buttered peas after a night of elegant carousing. Although I would heartily recommend reading Fidelis Morgan’s deliciously funny adventures of Lady Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, Baroness Penge, Countess of Clapham for more on this. The Ambitious Stepmother was an absolute pleasure to read, with or without the peas.
Sadly the only addendum to this story is this. That it really disproves my theory that I was a changeling. (Something of a small regret to me!) I was the only member of my family with straight hair (well for the first 30 years of my life); the only member who at Sunday lunch did not lunge across the table for hunks of pork crackling; who really doesn't like coffee and who can give sweet things a miss. Completely.
It disproves my theory because there were witnesses. Admittedly two of them were drunk . Just kidding . . . at least I hope so!
Did you know?
- Peas are one of the most versatile vegetable in the world from pasta, soup and salads to curries, stews, rice and omelettes.
- In 1969 the Birds Eye frozen pea advert was the first TV commercial to be shown in colour.
- The quick freezing process preserves the sweet and succulent taste that can otherwise be rapidly lost.
- Thick London fogs of the 19th and 20th centuries were dubbed 'pea-soupers' because of their density and green tinge.
- The British have a “pea etiquette”. While some people try to spear or shovel them into their mouths. The “correct” or polite way to eat them is to squash them on the back of the fork.
- "The Perfumed Garden", a 16th Century treatise on the art of love, says that peas boiled with onion and spiced with cinnamon is good aphrodisiac.
- Just one serving of freshly frozen garden peas and petits pois contains as much vitamin C as two large apples, more fibre than a slice of wholemeal bread and more thiamine than a pint of whole milk.