Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Englishmen and the Matter of Peas.

During one of my many photographic forays I was staying at a youth hostel and taking dinner with a group of fellow wanderers. The conversation turned to vegetables, and the young man next to me declaimed:

‘Tell you what I don't like: those green things. What are they called?’

‘Peas?’ offered someone speculatively.

‘That’s it: peas!  Can’t stand them. Horrid little things.’

Now, this might seem a matter of minor consequence, and yet I somehow can’t imagine an American or German or Moroccan or Chinese treating the humble pea with such defamatory declamation. It seemed to me to be a very English thing.

And then there was a Sherlock Holmes film I watched once. Holmes is pacing the carpet, explaining the finer points of a complex problem to Watson who is just finishing his dinner. The good doctor has one pea left, and is trying, with little success or hope of success, to shift the remaining pea onto the curved back of his fork. Holmes becomes exasperated, snatches the fork, turns it round, crushes the pea onto it, and hands it back to his colleague.

‘You’ve squashed me pea, Holmes,’ laments Watson, clearly distressed. ‘I like it when they go pop, and now you’ve squashed it.’

Would the native of any other land, I might ask, take such offence at the squashing of a pea, or even the turning of a fork upside down counter to the propriety of established form?

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