SLICING and filleting a melon the other afternoon for the fruit monsters – granddaughters Ebba, five, and Isla, two, eat fruit in preference to almost anything except Liz’s home-made ice cream – I thought of the vet cum bestselling author James Herriot.
More specifically of his self-assessment that: “Say what you like about old Herriot, but by God he could wrap a cat.” That is, he might not lead his profession, but he could do one thing supremely well. Not widely acclaimed because not many got the chance to see him do it, not like scoring in a televised cup final or winning The Great British Bake Off. But those who saw appreciated how good he was. In all modesty – as ever, with much else to be modest about – those who’ve seen me slice a melon feel the same way.
Obviously, there are other things I would rather have been famous for within or without our limited circle. But there it is, as my late mother in law used to say, a stoic outlook that I appreciate more with age. In spite of all attempts to be number one in other ways, melon slicing is what I’m best at. Call that the vanity of human wishes, but give me a chopping board, my trusty blade and a melon, and wonder.
Occasionally I’ve thought of taking this skill to a wider stage. There’s probably a world championship for artistic slicing and dicing or a speed record for the number that can be reduced to identical pieces in a minute. But do I need that extra hassle in a crowded life when I know how good I am and shun the limelight? Sometimes people ask – you know you want to – how it all began. Is it a natural skill? Has being left-handed anything to do with virtuosity? Do I prefer a particular type of melon? Am I as good with other fruits and vegetables? Any flesh wounds?
Touch wood, no, to the last question and “I’m not sure” to the first. It probably began in a low-key way when melon quality was variable and we ate them only occasionally. The pace picked up when we began to have melon every morning in season as their quality improved, but the first dramatic change of gear came when we did B&B for several years. Preparing large bowls of fruit each morning worked wonders for speed and accuracy. Gear change to Warp Factor 4 came with frequent demand from a small, but vociferous clientele. “Say what you like about Fordyce, and we often do, but by God he could slice a melon” might not be the most flattering encomium. But it could be worse.