Catchphrases · Home life · Notes from West London

Green Bananas

Last autumn, in among the millions of words written and broadcast after the US Presidential Election, there was a quote about green bananas. I searched for it a week or two later but couldn’t find it. Now, several months after the event, I have tried again and found it on this Newsweek page from 7 November 2021. It was Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman who, as the article says, “suggested that the counting of votes in his state will soon be finished and President Donald Trump’s legal team there might be wasting their time”. The specific quote from Fetterman was this:

“My advice to the president’s legal team on the ground here in Pennsylvania is not to buy any green bananas because I don’t think this gonna be much longer,” he quipped.

From the late 1990s onwards, my father and I were very taken by the idea of not buying green bananas. It came from a morbid joke: a man goes to the doctor and asks how long he has to live. The doctor can’t say exactly, but advises him not to buy any green bananas, or to start reading any long books. It became a standard response, or almost a call-and-response, in certain circumstances. On several occasions we were sat having a drink and he would nod towards some elderly punter in the bar and say, “That feller shouldn’t go buying any green bananas …” And I would reply: “Or start reading any long books”. It became our usual way of referring to people who didn’t look well.

My father died in April 2020, but the occasional references to green bananas continue. If my wife buys a bunch that have not yet turned yellow I will always say something along the lines of, “Feeling confident about the future, then?” As things stand, I am the only member of the family who eats bananas. It’s the first thing I eat every morning. My father never bought them, green or yellow, and my children don’t like them. Last Friday I bought a bunch (St Lucia, fair trade) which were still green but by this morning they had ripened perfectly. I haven’t started reading any long books for a while though.

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