Tom Jenks


Stanley is up early cutting the rhubarb. He uses the heavy knife with the weathered handle. He curses when a stalk is stubborn, or the knife cuts his thumb instead of the rhubarb. He invokes our saviour and all the saints. He puts the rhubarb in the big pan with the lost lid.

Some is for pies and crumbles. Some is for rhubarb jelly, with ginger for flavour and lemon juice for the necessary pectin. The rest is for rhubarb gin. Stanley curses the rhubarb but loves rhubarb gin. I would say this was ironic, but irony is a difficult concept.

What is edible is established by trial and error. Stanley himself established the rhubarb as edible. The orange flowers beneath the elms were established as inedible by one of the cats. Stanley ground up some petals and mixed them with mackerel. The cat went under the table and stayed there for a long time. It was thinking about its past. Stanley says that cats have a capacity for introspection that dogs lack. It’s why Stanley prefers cats to dogs.

Stanley visits friends over the fields. Windows glow through dark trees. He takes rhubarb gin and orange flowers. He picks a careful path, skirting insuperable obstacles. He passes a convivial evening. The orange flowers go in a white jug. There is cake and brittle. Conversation concerns local issues, such as the restoration fund, the problem of fouling and how to prevent crown rot, which afflicts rhubarb when soil becomes waterlogged. Stanley says that local issues are the only important issues.

Stanley’s trip home takes longer. He proceeds with less caution. He blunders into thickets. I go out with the heavy knife to free him. He will curse and petition the fiends and fallen angels of Hell. If the windows are open, you will hear laughter and music. If the windows are closed, there will just be my breathing, Stanley’s breathing and the swish of the heavy knife.

Stanley may need re-assurance. We will lay out the documents and consult them systematically. One of the cats will come close, sniff Stanley’s breath and detect the unmistakable rhubarb. If Stanley needs a remedy, there is neutralising cordial, made with rhubarb tincture, cinnamon tincture, hydrastis tincture and spirit of peppermint, or colon tonic, made with Oregon grape, cayenne, lobelia and rhubarb root.

Rhubarb is used medicinally in countless cultures. The Chinese call rhubarb ‘the great yellow’. Rhubarb is pink, mixed with green. No matter how much Stanley cuts it, the rhubarb grows back. It is perennial with abiding roots. It is entrenched under the hard standing. It is a rugged species. Stanley says that the rhubarb will outlast us, like the stars. People have puzzled over them for centuries. No-one’s come up with anything concrete.


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