It's important to know your onions
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It's important to know your onions

There was a news photograph recently in which a Filipina bride in Iloilo on the island of Panay carried a bouquet of onions down the aisle rather than flowers. She explained that while flowers would soon be thrown away the onions would last and ensure the newlyweds have something to eat in the ensuing weeks. Now that is a practical housewife.

The bride's actions highlight the fact that the Philippines is currently suffering an acute shortage of onions and as that vegetable is the mainstay of Filipino cuisine it is not good news.

The onion is an extremely versatile vegetable and some might say doesn't receive the respect it deserves. In fact it is the star of the Allium kingdom which includes garlic, shallots and leeks. It can be fried, roasted, sautéed, baked, boiled, braised and even eaten raw. What's more, you can throw the rotten ones at people you don't like.

Without onions the world would be a poorer place. For a start there would be no onion rings. Even worse, no pickled onions.

Most importantly we wouldn't have that wonderful expression, "He knows his onions" which incidentally does not mean someone who eats onions all day.

Which reminds me of an old Tommy Cooper joke: "I said to the doctor, 'Can you get me something for my liver?' He gave me a pound of onions."

Okay, it sounded funnier the way Tommy said it.

Onion Johnnies

When I was growing up many British people still held that stereotypical image of a Frenchman as someone who roamed around southern England and Wales wearing a beret, with heavy loads of onions dangling from a bicycle. They were known as "Onion Johnnies" or sometimes "Johnny Onions".

In fact, before World War II it was a common sight especially in Wales as Frenchmen, mainly from Brittany, would come across the Channel to sell their pink onions.

The fact that the onion sellers were about the only French people the British ever met before the war partly explains why the stereotypical image of all Frenchmen being onion sellers lasted so long.

Onion aficionados will be pleased to learn that in the Brittany town of Roscoff there is even an Onion Johnny Museum, or to be more accurate "La Maison des Johnnies". Pardon my French.

Green and funky

It may surprise some that the humble onion has made a mark in the music industry over the years. I remember in 1962 buying Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs and driving my mother mad by playing it very loudly over and over again. It was the funkiest sound I had ever heard.

In 1969 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terell had a hit with The Onion Song with the opening line "the world is just a great big onion". Terrell sadly died at the young age of 24 just before the song was released.

Probably the very first musical reference to onions I heard was that old music hall song I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch which also became a popular expression at that time for someone who feels out of place. My mum used to sing it while weeding the garden, no doubt inspired by my day's own rather uninspiring onion patch which alas had no petunias.

Anyway, if we ran short of onions there was always a Frenchman nearby.

The big bulb

In Britain large buildings often acquire a nickname and in London the unusual bulbous shape of the former City Hall, home of the mayor, led to it being called "the Onion". Politicians had their own name for it with former mayor Ken Livingstone referring to it as the "Glass Testicle" while his successor Boris Johnson called it the "Glass Gonad". It also bears a curious resemblance to the helmet worn by Judge Dredd. You may have gathered that it is not the most attractive building.

Last year the mayor and his minions moved to a different location and there has been much speculation as to what the Onion should now be used for. There have been many inspiring suggestions including a "Café for cats'' but my favourite is "a prison for corrupt MPs".

Culinary dismissal

Think of recently retired England Test cricketer, Graham Onions. He was a useful bowler and his name was a dream for all newspaper sub-editors. After one fine display against the West Indies in 2009 among the headlines greeting him were "Sizzling Onions", "Onions fries them up", "Green Onions leaves West Indies in a Pickle" and "Wicket spree ensures West Indies know their Onions".

At county level one of Onions' Durham teammates was wicket-keeper Phil Mustard. In a match against Kent in 2007 we were treated to the splendid scorecard: "Cook caught Mustard bowled Onions."

Faulty move?

John Cleese, 83, is reportedly going to revive the hugely successful TV series Fawlty Towers after more than 40 years. This doesn't sound like a great idea.

The original series of 12 episodes was quite brilliant and a real treasure. It sparked spontaneous laughter in homes throughout -- a comic masterpiece. But times have changed and so has humour. Cleese and Co will have to tread so carefully not to offend anyone it can only end in disappointment.

One wonders what Sybil thinks about it? I can hear her now… "Basil!"

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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