THE Man-in-Charge and his daughter have one of those Inspector Clouseau and Cato relationships.
They like to spring surprises on each other. It’s how The Man once ended up with two dislocated fingers after being karate kicked and why his Facebook account was secretly altered to give him a female persona.
The Girl has the advantage because she can do all sorts of whizzy things with digital technology that our generation doesn’t really care about. She also knows karate.
Over Christmas there was lots of teasing and tussling. Even when it was time to return Secondborn to her student accommodation The Man couldn’t resist one last little joke.
I saw it first and had to smile. There, nestling in the bottom of a carrier bag full of provisions for the weeks ahead, was a lonesome Brussels sprout – a remnant of Christmas.
It’s worth noting that the Girl does eat vegetables but considers sprouts to be one of the more toxic varieties, closely followed by broccoli (unless tenderstem) and swedes. Being good parents, however, we have coerced her into eating all three since she was tiny.
Now that she’s in charge of her own dietary intake, however, these vegetables can breath a sigh of relief – they are quite safe from predation.
In fact they’re probably safe from predation by the entire student body.
“It’s like the Princess and the Pea,” said The Man, who clearly doesn’t have a good grasp of fairytales, as we journeyed towards York on Sunday. “Except it’s the Student and the Sprout.
“You could write a story about it.” This latter remark was addressed to me.
And so, here it is. The Student and the Sprout, a modern fairytale.
Once upon a time there was a student – we will call her Juliana – who, like most of her friends, lived in a tower of pebble-dashed concrete next to a goose-infested lake.
The students, who were badly in need of some Hogwarts’ House Elves to clean their kitchens, were careful to have a balanced diet, subsisting on all the major food groups: alcohol, takeaways and Pringles. They were particularly heartened by the news that the American Food and Drug Administration had designated pizzas as vegetables because of their tomato content.
As everyone knows, all green vegetables are a parental punishment and so the students banned them from their halls of residence and developed the ability to ignore them, even when attractively displayed in the supermarket. They were able to save valuable shopping time (for studying, of course) by-passing the entire fruit and vegetable section and heading straight for the own-brand vodka.
But what the students didn’t realise was that the most evil brassica of them all, the Brussels sprout, is actually a magical, immortal vegetable. You can tell this because once it is invited into a house it will remain there forever, taunting the occupants with its sulphurous smell of decay.
Sprouts get their name from the fact that they can ‘sprout up’ wherever they choose. Juliana discovered this to her cost when she arrived back at her student accommodation after the Christmas holidays to find a single and unwelcome sprout languishing in the bottom of a bag of groceries.
“What are you doing there?” she said, a note of horror creeping into her voice, and flung the unsuspecting vegetable into her wastepaper basket.
That night, Juliana found she couldn’t sleep. And it wasn’t just the geese trumpeting and squawking outside her room. No, somehow her mattress felt lumpy and uncomfortable.
In the morning she checked underneath it and there, to her surprise, she found the sprout.
The same thing happened the next night – and the next – even though by this time Juliana was disposing of the despised floret by throwing it in the goose-infested lake.
Somehow the sprout kept coming back.
She consulted her friends on the matter. “Let’s squash it, ’’said one. “Let’s liquidise it, ’’ said another. “You’re mad,’’ said a third, who didn’t believe in the powers of magical sprouts.
And then she rang her mum.
“Why not cook it and eat it,” was the advice from home, because what else would she say.
“But it’s not Christmas,” wailed Juliana, “and I’ve been good’’.
“It’s the only way,” said Mum; “then make the left-overs into bubble-and-squeak. Sprouts are very traditional vegetables.”
But Juliana couldn’t bring herself to consume the sprout and so, to this very day, she sleeps badly on a lumpy mattress. However, she has found a use for the errant vegetable.
When she wants to stop fellow students from using her butter or nicking her yoghurts she simply puts the sprout next to the valued foodstuffs: as a student repellent.