Much adoabout apot of basil

11th April 1997 at 01:00
Education can cause serious damage by filling pupils' heads with snippets of literature and obscure figures of speech that come back and haunt them throughout adult life. Blame the schools, that is what I say. And if you can't find it in you to blame the schools, then hold the parents responsible.

It is a silly story really, and I ought to cover myself right away and say I am not particularly into things psychic. Mystic Meg and horoscopes are not the highlights of my week, and while I have had my share of strange inexplicable events I have put them down to Martians, the gods or coincidence.

And then it began. I was in the Inverness Safeway, as one is, and gaily perusing the fruit and vegetables with my mother who was visiting the north from the warm climes of southern England. The conversation over the trolley turned to summer, and on to tomatoes and thence to herbs.

While it is a bit early to worry about these things in Cromarty, I listened to my mother's advice. She likes to have a garden full of herbs, but fails regularly to grow a good crop of basil outside. Her recommendation to me, and no doubt to others who love the summery smell as well as basil's taste, is to buy those little tubs that the supermarket sells. "They last for weeks on my window-sill," she assured me.

But I have this thing about basil in a tub, or rather, a pot of basil. It makes my skin crawl, and conjures up images of dead men's heads and soil-covered blood-stained locks of a lover's hair. Those of you who read Keats will know I am referring to his poem, Isabella, or the Pot of Basil. Others may be intrigued by the tale of a young woman who digs up the head of her murdered lover and gives it solace in the flowerpot containing her basil plant.

Now, I have never read the poem; but it has had quite an effect upon me, as you can tell. I only know about it because my English teacher did her darnedest to give us good examples of figures of speech. In my jotter, I can still find synecdoche, metonymy and prolepsis, but I have to check their spellings and meanings every time. The examples, conversely, are permanently imprinted on my very soul.

Synecdoche: all hands on deck; metonymy: red tape, and best of all prolepsis. The prolepsis example dutifully committed to memory was: "So, the two brothers and their murdered man rode past fair Florence." The class of 1962 was horrified to learn of the gory Isabella story behind this example of "an assumption that something is done or true, before it is so."

Meanwhile, back in the safety of Safeway, I am trying to explain to my mum why an educational experience deters me from putting an innocent black pot in my trolley. I have to bow to her reasoning that I am irrational about pots of basil, and so I am persuaded to save money, enjoy summer and eat tomato salad endlessly: the basil is bought.

Sure enough, mum is right. The plant grows and flourishes on the kitchen window-sill, our pasta dishes are improved, and that should have been that. The curse was to be lifted. As I washed up last night's wine glasses, my eyes were drawn to my little garden of herbs on the sill. Or rather, they were drawn to the pretty blue and white plate that I had chosen for it to sit upon. Or, even more exactly, they were drawn to what lay upon that plate. Drum roll, please, maestro. A lock of rich brown, curled hair lay on the plate, resting against the pot of basil.

It was pretty creepy, and all I could do was to quiz the family. Joel owned up immediately.

He has recently raised Comic Relief money at school by cutting off his tresses, and had salvaged one long lock from the barber. Being a normal 15-year old, he couldn't think of anywhere to store it, so shoved it on the window-sill.

Don't you understand, says I. It's the Pot of Basil, Isabella, and prolepsis. We have yet to agree whether his education has been lacking or I am two leaves short of a sage bush.

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