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A frightening cauliflower


I have received a complaint from a reader. Why, she wants to know, are papers at the weekend full of hints on vegetable buying? Why is there never anything exciting? So here is the answer to your prayers. – a complete holiday thriller for vegetable-lovers!

James Firkin had always wanted to go on a theme holiday and when he saw the ad in the paper he knew it was finally the one for him: ‘What to do with those Left-over Vegetables – A Weekend Course’.

Reader, do not mock the apparent banality of James Firkin’s interests. If your allotment left you with large quantities of huge orphan cauliflowers every autumn, you too would welcome suggestions. Let us applaud, therefore, his initiative.

James arrived at Brady Manor on the Friday evening and joined his fellow pupils for a drink before the opening talk. They all had double vodkas while he had a tomato juice. They all chatted about Pavarotti’s essentially non- lieder approach to singing while he told them how he had taken the B 45379 to get there instead of the busy A1(M).

Again, do not condemn his tedious talk too hastily. Those vodka-drinking poseurs would never get to meet Mr Pavarotti, while at least James had met and got to know the B45379. Let us applaud, rather his honesty.

‘Welcome to this weekend course,’ said the speaker. ‘My name is Ronald. Tonight I am going straight to the technical side of the problem, and I shall describe how a single blow to the wind- pipe can produce instant, undetectable death. I have here a model…’

After about five minutes, James plucked up enough courage to express his puzzlement.

‘What about the cauliflowers?’ he asked.

Ronald took off the thick glasses he affected, and stared at James.

‘What cauliflowers?’ he asked.

‘How do cauliflowers fit into all of this?’

Ronald thought.

‘Well, I suppose you could bash someone on the side of the
head with a cauliflower, but it’s really too soft…’

‘I came here to learn about left-over vegetables, not killing people,’ said James, gaining courage. Ronald put back his thick glasses and stared at the Brady Manor timetable.

‘The vegetable husbandry course is next weekend,’ he said. ‘You’ve come a week early. This is the Secret Service refresher course on how to kill people quietly and undetectably.’

There was a silence. James realised he had blundered into a course which wasn’t going to be a lot of help to him on his allotment.

Having applauded him twice, we are now, I think, honour-bound to give him a boo. Still, two cheers to one boo isn’t a bad average. There is also the thought that James had blundered into a course designed to eliminate undesirables. Like James. Perhaps two cheers, two boos would be nearer to it.

‘Could one of you please close the… ‘ Ronald was about to say, but James realised in a flash of adrenalin that he was sitting alone in the back row. In a flash he was out of the door and running.

There followed a hectic chase (this will come over better in the film version) which ended up with James motionless face-down in the spinach bed of Brady Manor’s vegetable garden and the rest of the class nowhere to be seen.

James was just about to get painfully to his feet and make his get-away in the gathering gloom, when a voice chilled his blood. It was Ronald’s, about two feet away.

‘All right, Mr Firkin. The game is up. I am about to employ silent, undetectable method No. 5 on you. Just stand still for five seconds. Say goodbye if you like.’

James’s first thought was to say goodbye. His second thought was: that’s funny – I’m not standing up, I’m lying flat out.

Cautiously he parted the spinach fronds and saw Ronald holding a gun and blinking through his deep glasses at a scarecrow. James knew he had about 10 seconds before Ronald discovered he was trying to kill a suit of clothes stuffed with straw.

He felt around cautiously with his right hand and to his utter relief found a large round object lying on the ground. He raised it above his head and…

Ronald would have been interested to know that a cauliflower is hard enough to cause instant and painless death.

Cauliflowers are plentiful in the shops this weekend. Also suitable for causing instant death are nice hard cabbages, though large parsnips are only suitable for a knock-out blow. Leeks are not nearly woody enough yet, and should be bought only for eating.

The Independent 1988