What does it signify when your in-laws give you a mushroom-growing kit for your wedding anniversary? What are they trying to tell you? Because this is what mine gave us a few weeks ago. They were going to buy a climbing rose, which would have been great because the rose that covered the front of the house died the year before last. (It died of thirst, because it had infiltrated the kitchen drain and when we had the drain repaired it couldn't cope without it. I like the thought of those fragrant pink flowers nurtured on washing-up water and old rice and peas).
We need a new thing growing up the front. Without it the house looks like a diminutive barracks. But instead of an architectural fig leaf we've got an oversized polystyrene and cardboard compost container occupying the kitchen table. There is only room for two of us to eat alongside it, so we now have meals in shifts.
The instructions said it must be kept at a certain temperature, which is why it's in the kitchen. We don't have central heating, so everywhere else is too cold, unless one of us baths with it or takes it to bed. The instructions also said that it must be kept dark and moist. Erotic stuff, mushroom compost. A month of keeping the curtains drawn and the lights off in the kitchen has also led to some interesting culinary innovations. For example, did you know that instant coffee and gravy granules have identical containers and consistencies?
"But it'll be worth it in the end," the Social Secretary said. It's a moot point; mushrooms are only £1 a punnet at the market. Nevertheless, as the scheduled time approached I grew quite excited and got my little frying pan and spatula ready (or 'spitula' for the benefit of US readers who have not yet figured out a past tense for 'spit'). I'm as partial to an omelette as the next man. Lovely, fresh, home-grown mushrooms. Mmmm.
Not one mushroom has appeared. Not a nubbin. Ne'er a pinhead.
I don't understand it. We've kept them as dark and warm and moist as a ....dark and warm and moist thing. We've moderated our language near them in a thoroughly morel way, and played the sort of music mushrooms might like (Ravel's 'Boletus' and so on). The SS has been spraying the compost daily with the mist from a recycled Windolene bottle. (Did the bottles get switched? Have we have been spraying the windows with water and the mushrooms with Windolene?)
We raised our children in the same environment without any trouble. (Well, not in a box on the kitchen table, by and large, but you know...) Why should mushrooms be more difficult than children? What gives them the right? Ironically, I can't stop the fungal growths in the back porch, which often resembles a set from Dr. Who. (Note to self; check whether these are edible; we could make a fortune marketing bits of porch in a box).
The repeated spraying has started a damp patch on the wall behind the box, a dark stain is spreading on the table below it, and the SS is developing RSI from squeezing the trigger on the spray bottle. I don't think we can take much more. The instructions say we should expect three cycles of crops; that would mean we are stuck with the bloody thing right through the summer.
What should we do? Buy some mushrooms, plant them and invite the in-laws over to see what a success they've been? Dry the whole thing out, wrap it in festive paper, and give it back to them next Christmas saying we enjoyed it so much we bought them one? Move house?
Suggestions and horticultural advice most welcome.