The broccoli war! Tales From The Vale


There are news headlines pointing out absurdities in our world that frequently make me laugh.
A while ago I turned on the radio and heard that Saudi Arabia has announced a new ‘liberal’
law which would ’allow women to drive’. I genuinely thought I’d caught some satirical show and laughed dutifully (I hadn’t realized women were banned). The announcer went on to explain the conditions to this amazing act of liberalism and inclusivity by saying women drivers had to cover their heads, there must be a male adult in the car (well, of course!) and women weren’t allowed behind the wheel after 6pm.
By the time we got to the curfew bit it struck me that I was listening to Radio 4 news and that this was genuine. Still laughed at the sheer audacity of Saudi males banning women from driving. I know a little about Saudi males’ driving – it’s dangerous. There is little road discipline.
For example, if a driver has passed his turning on a six lane motorway, he’ll simply do a U-turn and drive back through the oncoming traffic in a blaze of blaring horns and curses.

Terrible death toll

According to the Global Status Report on Road Safety, Saudi Arabia (population 34.8 million) had the highest death rate associated with road injury of any high-income country in 2016, with a total count of fatalities at 9,031. The population is 34.8 million, so that’s 0.028% of the population.
Let’s put this into context.

In the UK there was an estimated 1,390 reported road deaths in the year ending June 2021, a decrease of 11% compared to the year ending June 2020. With a population of 65m, that’s 0.002% of the population.

My simple solution

Now my contention is that if Saudi simply banned all males from driving – and only allowed women behind a steering wheel – than the fatality rate would plummet immediately.

I would like readers to mail in their views on this to the editor –

City of Roses and Nightingales

My family also lived in Iran in the late 70s and that was an eye-opener. For example, road menders in and around Shiraz (known as the ‘City of Roses and Nightingales’ – the reality was somewhat different) would dig a big hole in a road to find a pipe. They’d knock off at dusk and just leave the hole – no signs or flashing lights. In our morning walks to Pahlavi university, we got used to walking past a twisted car in a hole in the road with a smashed windscreen adorned with ominous dark splashes – ‘only cissies wore seat belts’.

And on sexuality

Another bit of information from the news made me laugh (in a rather perplexed way) as I write this in mid-January: apparently, homosexuality was illegal in Britain’s armed forces as late as the year 2000. Got that? Illegal! How can it be illegal to be homosexual? What’s the rationale?

We’ll leave aside the fact that any woman or man joining the armed forces is prepared to put their lives on the line to serve their country.

The plain illogicality of ‘banning homosexuality’ is stupefying. We’ll also leave aside ‘how can you police it’. But above all why? Put very simply, and I apologise to readers who don’t fall into this over simplified categorisation, you are either heterosexual, or you are homosexual, you drift somewhere in between, or you just are asexual. That’s who you are! It’s how you are born, or how you develop as a person. It’s your natural disposition.

You may as well ban people having blonde hair, or liking blues guitar. Or make it illegal to dislike eating broccoli and sprouts (all of which I have and do).

“…my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States. And I’m not gonna eat any more broccoli!”

The broccoli war!

Well, that’s all a bit serious so here’s a funny: US president George Bush senior famously didn’t like broccoli. He made this world-shattering declaration abundantly clear.

But there are always some little souls who love to be ‘offended’ at the most innocuous statement, and in this case, the US Broccoli Growers’ Association took a dim view.

To which Bush, rather amusingly stated: ‘I am the US president,’ probably adding ‘…and leader
of the free world’ (you need to assert your authority when dealing with uppity broccoli traders), ‘and I if don’t want to eat broccoli, I won’t eat broccoli.’ Then he invaded the wrong country. Again.

(I generally get a ‘furious’ letter from a reader when I touch upon ‘politics’, so please, if you’ve got
a low irony threshold, do feel free to write in to the editor and demand that she fires me from this successful magazine (which she won’t, as I took her some cakes on her birthday – good investment, that).

Or feel free to write in if you agree with me – we’ll compare the mail bag and report back. Hit the link on the opposite page to send your views to Laura. Should I stay or should I go?

Henstridge’s cold war

Cookbooks: I love ‘em. So does Kae. We’ve got a lot – about 200 really good ones – most of which will soon be in Stur’s Emporium’s bookshelves at fantastically low prices (four books for a quid – beat that Sherborne charity shops).
One book that’ll stay on our shelves is ‘The Man’s Cookbook,’ which my dad wrote about 10 years ago. It was outstandingly successful in avoiding getting on to any bestseller list.

Dad was an oddity: his professional work included him designing defence systems for the UK, and the Shah of Iran in 1977-9.
In the UK, dad was part of the team that developed the sonabuoy at Plessey in Henstridge.
Readers would further be astounded to know that UK and US intelligence were aware that Soviet Intelligence knew of the Henstridge research plant, and attempts were made to penetrate it (a US Navy officer told my dad that somewhere in Moscow there’d be a file on him and his fellow boffins). They were warned to be aware of ‘strangers’ trying to befriend them and talk about their work.

At the peak of the Cold War, a Dorset pub was at the centre of a real Russian
spy scandal. In what became know as the Portland Spy Ring, Harry Houghton and his girlfriend Ethel Gee used the Elm Tree at Langton Herring to await phone calls from
his KGB masters
on certain nights, before disappearing to spy on the nuclear submarine fleet based at Portland.

Fancy all this Cold War knife and dagger stuff in our Blackmore Vale!
I can just imagine heavily bearded men in fur caps with strange accents turning up at the Virginia Ash pub in the 1970s, asking for goulash and cabbage soup, but settling for cheese toasties.

The sonabuoy was clever: the deal was this: it’s the height of the Cold War. A Russian submarine, ready to launch nuclear missiles at Mappowder and Verwood (therefore bringing us Western capitalist dogs to our knees) is known to be lurking in the North Sea. An RAF Nimrod flies over the sea, drops a sonabuoy.

When the sonabuoy hits the water an aerial emerges from the top, and a sonar transmitter from the underside starts bipping radio waves. These bounce off the Russian submarine and its coordinates are transmitted to the Nimrod which then drops guided torpedoes that give Ivan a grim time.
Bad for Ivan: good for the inhabitants of the Blackmore Vale. Our imperialistic lackey lives can go on as usual without gulags, secret police and evil dictators.
I write the above to show that dad wasn’t as barking as he may now sound. Although the ‘Bark- Ometer’ will now go into the red zone… Dad was entranced by the limitless possibilities of food dye. We kids were used to blue scrambled egg. We become accustomed to green rice pudding. Red omelettes didn’t faze us. Purple mashed potato was a given. But he crossed the line when he served lobster a la marmalade steamed in orange juice.
“Dad, can we have normal food?” Then mum, an infant teacher at Stalbridge, banned him from the kitchen. Life resumed as normal. Or as normal as it could be with such a father.

by Andy Palmer


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