"Did I ever tell you about the giant-sized potato that my late, maternal, Irish grandfather from Ireland once grew in his vegetable garden. No! Well, that's probably because it never happened! Incidentally, my grandfather did once tell me that 'any gardener who grew flowers was a man of vanity, and that real gardeners only grow things that can be eaten by human and whose waste can be fed to the pigs and donkeys'.
I recently overheard an allotment holder I know tell another how next year's crop would hopefully be bigger and better. Then I saw this picture recently on Facebook, and apart from it looking sweet, it reminded me of many gardeners I have known who prided themselves on growing prized overgrown specimens of one vegetable or another.
This thought took my mind back to a story that my mother once told me as a child about a cruel headmaster of her youth who delighted in beating his pupils with the swish of his cane at every opportunity during his forty-year career in one of the Waterford schools. It was said that his chastisement was crueller than even that of the nuns! He became so proud about the discipline of his class that he frequently boasted about it on a night time in the pub to many an adult whom he'd beaten as a child. In fact, it was said that he was never seen inside or outside the school without his cane in one hand, which he carried like a swagger stick, like commisioned officers in the infantry regiments are seen strutting around with.
He carried it like a badge of pride in his school and community and even had it to hand in his home, should ever his wife step out of line and cross him.
When age compelled the cruel headmaster to retire, he became a lost soul without any purpose in his life. One day, whilst drinking in the village pub, he was reading about the latest winner to lift 'The Waterford Cup' for having grown the 'Best in Show'. The retired headmaster had always believed he was the best man in Portlaw and he hated the idea that anyone in the county of Waterford could possibly be better than he was.
Greatly missing being 'number one' in his former school position where he would beat his pupils daily, he decided to start beating everyone else in the Portlaw, Waterford community who dared to try and win 'First in Show' in the annual 'Waterford Vegetable Cup.' So, he developed an interest in growing vegetables and would spend at least seven hours daily up at his allotment growing 'a winner'. Within the first year of him tending his allotment, he started winning at the vegetable shows all around the County of Waterford
For seven years he won the trophy for 'Best in the Show' and bragged constantly to all and sundry at every opportunity that he was the best man in Portlaw. Everyone detested his presence. They got fed up with his constant bragging about beating every man who dared compete with him, yet the fear he had instilled in them at school decades earlier was reinforced each time they saw him wave his cane in the air.
The day came when one of Portlaw's former residents returned from America, where he'd emigrated to as a young boy. Following the ex-headmaster's boasting in the pub that 'he could beat any man in Waterford at the annual show', the returned native to Portlaw accepted the bully's challenge, along with a hefty wager as to who would grow the largest vegetable and win next year's show. When this quiet man from Portlaw had been a boy, he'd attended the school of the cruel headmaster and had often been beaten mercilessly by him with the swish of his cane for having committed some minor transgression.
Determined to get his revenge, he discovers the bully's secret to growing giant-sized vegetables, and assisted by a secret ingredient of his own, he wins the wager and carries off the cup for 'Best in Show.'
I won't reveal the secret here of growing big spuds and spoil it for any future reader of the book. I elaborated the germ of my mother's tale, and with the use of a dash of poetic licence, I have written it up as one of my 'Tales from Portlaw' which can be freely read on my website or bought in book form. The story is entitled, 'Bigger and Better' and is freely accessed to be read in its entirety by following the link below. Anyone wishing to purchase the book in either e-book format or a hard copy can do so from www.lulu.com or amazon.com All profits from book sales will go to charity in perpetuity." William Forde: December 31st, 2017.