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Let Me Eat Turnips
Amidst the most recent food shortage, it was with delight that I greeted the news that a Politician had instructed us to eat turnips.
“Yes, turnips,” I nodded attentively, and set to work.
My port of call would be the local allotment - a place from which I had surreptitiously plucked many a carrot and raspberry in my time. These were delicate thefts - a single morsel guided from the leaf that held it and placed gently into pocket or mouth. My turnip heist would require an altogether higher level of sophistication.
The night before, I assembled all the tools I might need, and others that I might not. My wheelbarrow lay proud and ready leaning against the wall in the hall - braced for the heft and the earth of the turnips. My trowel too had been dusted down and shorn of its muddy crust - it was ready to break new ground in pursuit of turnips sweet divine. I added also my ball of string, my pair of scissors and my earthenware jug - who knows when any or all of them might find a use.
I woke early on the day itself to commence what I had cryptically taken to calling Operation Turnip. The others in the flat did not take note of my departure, as I quietly reversed the wheelbarrow out of the front door, with all other supplies stowed safely in the pack on my back.
“Turnips, yes,” I mumbled to myself as I made my way along the Old Road, twitching with excitement and anticipation at the bulky vegetables to come. “Hm, turnips!”
A by-passer gave me an odd look and I nodded back at him curtly. I had no time for pleasantries on a morning such as this.
Quite quickly, the two miles along the Old Road had been eaten up by myself and the barrow and there I stood, dawn on its cusp and I before the shimmering gates of the allotment. This was where I encountered the issue. The gates were locked.
“No matter,” I said to myself, voice trembling, “turnips, turnips,” I whispered to myself, an incantation, a spell, a hymn of encouragement. I rummaged in my mind through the contents of my backpack. The ball of string? No, ineffective at a time such as this, perhaps only to be used for a twiddle or a twirl. The earthenware jug? It would certainly come in handy when I felt myself parched upon completion of Operation Turnip, but would not aid me in my attempts to bypass the gate and fence.
Perhaps the scissors then might be of use - for they were a solid and sturdy kitchen pair, not those pathetic and slender ones that lie hopefully inside arts and crafts boxes. They had been known to slice through pizzas and carve a way through expired bank cards with not so much as a pause.
Yes, these scissors would be my salvation.
I produced them from my pack with a flourish and made my way along the fence, eyeing up a suitable spot. One bashfully glanced up and then instantly sought to evade my gaze, looking down and up, anywhere but towards me. Too late, I had spied it. And now, I bore down, scissors snipping, terrible and glorious. The thin criss-crossed wire of the fence was no match for the weapon in my hand, and quite quickly there emerged a wheelbarrow-shaped hole. I stood back and studied my work with a quiet splendour - I knew that it was good.
My attention then was drawn to a small and beaky little man behind me, who it appeared had been watching the whole exchange.
“Here,” he said, “you can’t cut through an allotment fence with nothing but a pair of scissors. It’s an obvious act of vandalism, not to mention absurd. Scissors such as those could only cut through pizzas or old bank cards at best.”
The temerity of this individual. I started to shake with irrepressible rage. Who was this man to talk to me? How dare he question my actions?
“Away with you, cretin!” I screeched, “I have been instructed to serve myself turnips, and turnips I must have. This dissembling of the fence is all a part of the process - it is in pursuit of a greater goal!”
The man would not have it.
“That fence was constructed long ago by the brethren of this suburb. And now here you are, snipping away at it, without a care in the world. You, sir, are the cretin!”
“No, you’re the cretin!” I retorted, “I said it first. And anyway, it is not right to say I don’t have a care, not right at all. This burden lies heavy upon me, but I know that I must do it. In pursuit,” I paused for effect, “of turnips.”
The troubled little man shook his head and turned away.
“You’re mental, mate.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, and kissed him on his hairless forehead.
The distraction put aside and draining on the sideboard, I grasped the wheelbarrow on either side, crouched, and navigated it carefully through the gaping gap in the fence. It greedily consumed the combination of barrow and me and soon we were in the promised land - the land of dreams and hopes and unattended fruits and vegetables. Yes, it’s true - we were in the allotment.
I stood all proud and straight and cast my glance here and there. I had not a fully-formed plan for this point, just to find as many turnips as I could, gather them into my arms and wheelbarrow, and trundle homewards. But I realised now that turnips would be hard to find - would they be a common grow in allotments such as these.
Unsure, unsure, where to begin.
The allotment stretched a mile in each direction ahead of me, its hypotenuse roughly parallel to the great Old Road behind me.
What to do. I set the wheelbarrow down now, and produced the earthenware jug from my pack. With humble swiftness, I approached the tap at the side of the allotment fence, dripping gently as if its prostate had been removed, and filled the jug, glugging the water back noisily. Now, sustained by hydration, my thoughts clearer, a plan forms.
“Turnips!” I scream, “turnips!”
My voice, harsh and unappealing, cavorts around the space, colliding with the vines on either side, and exploding into the dirt.
The turnips do not respond. They are silent, if indeed, they are there at all. I pause and ponder, reflect in the sky. The sun not yet up, tantalises, the horizon a dark crimson, as he readies himself to totter drunkenly in from wherever he has been all night, heart fill with rambunction. I may well lose my window, that opportunity I had sought to pick turnips from the dirt to fill my heart and belly. Time against me now, as night slips from the allotment like wet sand through my fingers. If only I had an app or some automated system whereby I could locate turnips easily and effectively. Why has no one invented such a thing! I curse my bad luck and make a note to contact some developers for it could be a money-spinner.
But I am not yet hopeless. While there are still scissors in my pack and haemoglobin molecules pulsing oxygen about my form, I retain some optimism. I stand firmer now, knowing that my time is limited. I set forth down the first avenue of the allotment, looking precisely and accurately from side to side. I assess what each tapered and manicured patch has to offer. Pumpkins - no, carrots, no. I would have been tempted in times of yore, but that is not what the Politician instructed. She told us to eat turnips, so turnips I shall eat.
I continue. Potatoes - no. Carrots - no. Runner beans - green and delicious, but no. Onions - interesting, layered things, but no. A demented courgette as big as a man’s head - impressive and hilarious - but no.
Turnips, turnips, where are you. This allotment holds such a bounty of delightful vegetables, everywhere you turn something sprouts from the dirt, offering itself precious and delicious to the world. But turnips are not among them. They were a distant but beloved cousin, invited to the wedding and expected to attend, but absent, absent, hopelessly so.
I continue. Tomatoes - good Lord! But no.
And then, I see them. Glorious and fat, patient, as if they have been waiting for me and expecting my arrival. They are an old friend to be met at a pub, sitting at the best table in the corner, beside the fire, a book in his hand, wooden floor creaking under his weight as he stands to give you the warmest embrace.
Turnips, yes, I’ve found you at last.
They say it is always in the last place you look, a self-conscious and self-congratulatory joke that I despise. But in this case - it is truth - for I am at the distant corner of the allotment, and my hands are red and chapped from the grasp of the wheelbarrow. And now the sun is closer still, I do not have much time to lose. I get down on my knees, and gently murmur to the turnips, reassuring and guiding them. I use my trowel, clean and splendid, with great precision, extracting each clump of turnips, shaking off their dirt and mess and placing them into the barrow. Here, there is an abundance of turnips, a wasp’s nest of them crawling over and into each other, turnips for months and years not days. I am trembling now, overcome with it all, the Politician’s words ringing in my ears as I see her before me as the saint that she is. Perhaps I would have found my way here without her, but I deem it unlikely.
“Thank you, thank you,” I whisper, and allow myself to weep.
I stand now, the turnip patch decimated, my wheelbarrow full of the mighty vegetables and earthen clods. The horizon starts to bleed, day on the way, and I must make good my return down the Old Road.
“Turnips!” I bellow, “turnips!”
The sky shakes and scatters, the birds chirp me on. The worms look up from the dirt and wriggle encouragingly, smiling their weird little wormy grins.
I proceed back down the avenue, covered in dirt, hands bloody and dishevelled.
I will eat well tonight - for I feast upon turnips.