I've just found a strange little piece I wrote in 1990. I was living in a new town where the age of consent had just been lowered to 40. It hadn't really, I just invented that, it was still 45. I was bored and lonely, and the elderly man next door had given me a few of his allotment grown tomatoes. That entire summer before moving, I’d been entrenched in a restaurant kitchen prepping ingredients. The scent of a tomato had brought back a memory which triggered this piece.
Years later, there I was cutting up tomatoes taken from a bag on which was written ‘grown for flavour’.
Slippery acid red sweetness. Pile high on the chopping board. Intense smell, condensed smell from memories childhood picture.
Half a tomato on the yellow and black patterned table. A tomato cut into eight. The knife eases through red juice, creating swirls of pips on the Formica. Like a bird, I'm waiting to be fed, I want to be fed. Feed me daddy. I don’t remember him doing anything as carefully, fragrantly as parting the flesh from the skin, blushing glowing particles roll and fold under his nails.
Tiny coffee spoon comes towards my mouth. Did I like tomatoes. I liked the ceremony. The skilful separation of edible from indigestible. The attention.
Memories are so complex, and tomatoes are just tomatoes. The memory scent never hit me till now. This summer, cutting up tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes, my hand reaches into giant tins, crushing them into sauces and purées. Spanish, English cherries, gardeners delight. Green striped tomatoes with polenta. Dried Italian tomatoes, saturated in the murky yellow depths of olive oil, sweet and intense. Ovals of tomato, the curved shiny end, that’s where the smell, the memory holds. Acute, acid, saccharine as sick. I hold it up to the light in the steam of the kitchen and watch the veins in their woolly prison, delicate and attuned to their fate. Guilt traps me. A kitchen is no place for the admiration of nature and artistry is in creation.
Memories are so complex, and we can’t always do what we wish. The only place in my room for the desk is in the window alcove. As a result, the time for words and writing is linked to the obsessive gardening habits of the man next door. I watch him battling to keep the wild and unruly away. I would like to throw a packet of wild flower seeds out of my window. Watch them take root in this so tidy town. See them unfurl, fast and furiously into the minds of these people who meet to defeat nature.
Conformity annoys the hell out of me. Makes me bloody minded and…
And I wish there was a market place. A loud place, a messy place where people could raise their voices and opinions, where the stall holders are racist, but tomatoes are cheap.