Sunday, April 19, 2020
The plagues, the rats, the religious persecution, the lack of affordable fashion and the complete absence of socially aware and challenging comedy and the ever present possibility of a death sentence for any crime involving sheep stealing or some sexual misdeed or another. Times were hard but then rhubarb, the "wonder veg" was introduced to the hungry, sugar poor Scots in the sixteenth century. A miracle fresh from the colonies to the common man's colon.
It was brought over, along with herbs, spices and various affordable drugs by a Dutch merchant who was freakishly tall compared to the diminutive locals. The Dutchman known as Dick Van der Valk promised that the regular consumption of rhubarb would boost stature, prevent tooth decay and the improve general mental health and disposition. Of course he was immediately believed in as if he was a god or a football manager and rhubarb bulbs were planted in the gardens, fields and public spaces all across the country. These were the years of "rhubarb fever" or "the red devil's insanity" as it was sometimes called by fanatics and various bald headed bishops of whatever faith.
The rhubarb market was also highly volatile, an early example of boom, bust, more boom, too much bust and then a long period of upset stomachs. Of course people never learn from history or tittle tattle how things work and so applied copious amounts of cow dung to their rhubarb patches on warm summer evenings. The results were both interesting and poisonous and the once profitable and reliable balloon suddenly burst. This caused great confusion as balloons hadn't even been invented yet.
Dark days indeed. However custard had been discovered by the French and chefs and bakers across the land realized that without rhubarb they'd be onto plums and so the pie and (glossy) if somewhat brittle revisionist tart industry was born. The exponents referred to themselves as artisans and soon sprouted beards, incomprehensible tattoos and aprons and so civilisation started a new period of decline.This was also helped by James Watt inventing the kettle and the loudspeaker on the very same day resulting in mass tea breaks and custom playlists for wandering minstrels. Once again the workers were back in control and it was destined not to end well. Rhubarb and the wearing of the sacred tartan were banned and so the clearances began. We dare not even speak of the Rhubarb Riots of 1745 and the unfortunate incident involving Bonnie Prince Athelstane, Flora MacBurger and the Spanish Inquisition, all too painful.
Tonight we'll settle down in our relatively dry and warm mud baked accommodation, munch an Aldi baked potato or two and enjoy a slender slice of rhubarb crumble as the dawn of lockdowns passes and the long evening of lockdowns grows longer. Somewhere out there across the fibre optic network Lady Gaga is playing a Zoom gig as Keith Richards sits bewildered by the guitar in his hands and the lens looking him over. In that moment we'll remember the many rhubarb martyrs down the ages and the flans, pies, crumbles and tarts that they fought and died for, or not as the case may be.
Stay at least two metres apart from any rhubarb next time you're out there.