The Broccoli Debate

Entry by: Phidgers

16th October 2015
The chaos in the village of Ficti-on-Sea started at the autumn fair, in the Best Vegetable competition. And it began with broccoli. The judges gathered round the entries, looking important and making notes on checklists. This was their favourite time of year. People came from miles around to attend the fair. The competition was the jewel in the crown of the event, and winning it was prestigious indeed.

Adrian Henley, head of the judging panel and self proclaimed horticultural expert, cast an appraising eye over the offerings. His grey walrus moustache bristled with enthusiasm. A crowd always gathered to see what he made of things. The judging process was completely democratic. He and the six other members of the panel had an even say in the matter. The fact that his favourite entry had won every time in the contest’s twelve year history was mere coincidence. It had nothing to do with him being the head of the local police force. Rumours of Adrian holding delicate information over the heads of the other judges were just poor attempts by sour grapes to mar his reputation. Just because he did have access to such information proved nothing. He always picked the best entry anyway, so the argument was purely hypothetical.

Adrian smiled inwardly, whilst maintaining an air of outward professionalism. The crowd certainly was lively today. The contest marquee was full of people making their own inspections of the expertly grown vegetables. One entry in particular seemed to be drawing attention. He caught phrases such as ‘Never seen anything like it!’ and ‘I didn’t know you could do that with broccoli’. Adrian finished mentally destroying lot number five, a rather dismal pumpkin entered by Mrs Ashley. He headed to discover the source of the intrigue for himself. His career in the police force had made him hard to surprise. However, that assumption was about to be sorely tested.

Arriving at the entry in question, Adrian stopped short. His enthusiasm turned to confusion, and then to anger. This was clearly some sort of joke. It had to be. In front of him was a marrow. It was larger than average, but pretty unremarkable. At least it would have been, if not for the large heads of broccoli which sprouted from its top. Broccoli, which just happened to be a vibrant shade of purple. The ridiculous plants stuck up in a neat line, all along the marrow. If Adrian had been in a joking mood, he may have referred to it as the vegetable equivalent of a punk. He was not, however, in such a mood. The Best Vegetable competition was a prestigious and serious event. Stupid pranks had no place in it. He would get to the bottom of this, and the culprit would find themselves severely reprimanded.

‘Who is responsible for this… thing?’ he demanded. His heart sank, as someone stepped from the crowd and raised his hand. Professor Neil Morgan was a biologist, new to the area. He had moved to Ficti-on-Sea six months ago, and was already causing major problems for the village. Hardly a day went by without Adrian’s deputies receiving a complaint about the man. He grew strange plants in his garden, and conducted all sorts of experiments. Most of these were loud, garish, or just downright dangerous. Often, they ticked all of those boxes.

‘Is there a problem, officer?’ Neil asked, not for the first time in his life. Everything about him set Adrian’s teeth on edge. His innocent smile, his shabby jeans and sweater, and especially his hair. It was long, blonde and unkempt. The man had to be in his early forties, and he was flouncing about with a hairstyle that belonged on a teenager, if it belonged anywhere at all.

‘You can call me head judge Henley today, Morgan, and I think you know perfectly well that there’s a problem. What do you mean by bringing this disgrace here? Do you think it’s funny to make light of a contest which others have spent months preparing for?’
Professor Morgan looked taken aback. ‘I assure you officer… head judge Henley, sorry. I assure you that I’ve spent just as long preparing for the event as everyone else. Maybe my offering’s a bit unusual, but I thought I’d get points for being unique.’

‘It’s not unique, it’s a clear breach of rules!’ Adrian retorted. By now, the other judges had made their way to the broccoli marrow, or whatever the hell it was. He turned to them for support. ‘Should we even be wasting our time over here?’ There was a general shaking of heads and casting down of eyes, but professor Morgan was not to be deterred. ‘I read the rules before entering, there’s nothing here that breaches them.’

‘What do you call those bloody things on top of the damn thing then?’ Adrian pressed. ‘Article number six of the contest charter states, indeed clearly states, that entries must not be embellished with unnatural decorations. So I think that you’ll find that drilling holes in a vegetable, and then spray painting and inserting other vegetables is not only perverse and disgraceful, but it’s very obviously cheating.’

The professor held up his hands in protest. ‘No, no I did nothing of the sort! If you inspect closer, you’ll see that my vegetable actually grew that way. I’ve been having great success with my experiments cross breeding things. This is a totally new species, the only one in the world.’ Neil paused for effect, and then said ‘I call it… a broccarrow! It really has surpassed my wildest expectations. The marrow is actually the root of the plant, that part grows entirely underground. I’ll admit that I didn’t realise the broccoli bit would end up purple, but it’s got a certain amount of charm, wouldn’t you say?’

Adrian noticed with dismay that plenty of people seemed impressed by this madman. Even some of his fellow judges were nodding with approval, gazing with interest at the wretched thing. ‘Well, it’s unusual, but all the parts seem to have been cultivated well. And such a thing certainly hasn’t been managed before’ said Pauline Evans, another member of the panel. People in the crowd were chatting excitedly, and things were threatening to get out of hand. Adrian had to nip this whole business in the bud.

‘Tell me professor, did you have a permit to go playing god? There are laws to prevent this kind of thing. I’m not sure what laws, but that’s beside the point. How safe is it? How do you know it’s not poisonous? If we condone this thing in our contest, everyone’s going to want one. And I will not have it on my conscience when some child chokes to death on some purple bloody broccoli. I’m making an executive decision. You will remove your entry, and you will remove it now. It’s disqualified, and that’s the end of the matter.’

Neil looked to the other judges, but they were not daring to offer an opinion. His shoulders slumped. Reluctantly, he took his broccarrow and placed it into a large crate. Adrian got one last look at the awful purple broccoli stalks. Then, the professor put the lid onto the box and the nightmare was out of the judging panels’ lives. As Neil walked away, Pauline touched his arm. ‘Maybe next year, eh?’ she said with a smile. Adrian made a mental note to have her flower shop’s suspicious business records investigated.
‘Now that the damn broccoli debate is over, perhaps we can get back to what we’re actually here for’, he said. ‘Ah, lot number six, George Smith. Now here’s a man who knows how to grow produce properly!’

Neil made his way back to his small house. The day had not gone as planned. This was meant to have been the start of something big. His colleagues in London had not understood his genius. He thought perhaps a smaller community would be more welcoming, but it seemed that he was wrong. He sighed as he opened his green front door. He heard yapping as soon as he was across the threshold. A moment later, Mary, his adorable pug, came sauntering round the corner. This lifted his spirits immediately.
‘At least you love me for who I am’, he said, scratching the top of her head. ‘You know what Mary, I think I’ll enter you for Crufts next year. That should get me the recognition I deserve. We’ll forget all about brushing with broccoli, won’t we?’ He nodded his head. ‘Now, how about we tidy you up a bit? Those branches are getting a bit unruly. They’re threatening to get in the way of your wings!’