Deer, Oh Deer

Well, what with the Brexit thing being quite such a train crash in slow motion, the Lovely Wife and I took to the woods this weekend and butchered a deer.

 

We all need to get into practice, after all.

 

Of course, the current farce that is British ‘politics’ at the moment is completely coincidental to taking a (very) sharp knife to an ex Fallow Deer.

 

This was a day course on deer butchery with a group of pleasant lunatics that run a business in a tree house in a wood in Sussex getting involved with the joys of foraging and sustainable eating. Fifteen of us had paid to spend the day with a couple of fresh carcases, learning how to skin, dismember, joint and prepare venison – and then eating a fair amount of it afterwards. Not, as they were keen to point out, a course for vegetarians, although they were at pains to point of out the providence of the deer that are legally and carefully culled – a point a lot of people seem to miss as they moan about ow cruel it is to knock off a few Bambi. We killed off all their natural predators so not to carefully cull is not an option. And it is meat that is lean, healthy and actually very cheap, if you know where to get it from. I was quite shocked to be told that, Waitrose aside, most venison sold in UK supermarkets has until recently come from New Zealand, which is almost shameful.

As an aside, on the subject of Bambi (and Thumper as well, I love a good piece of local bunny) it reminds me of an anecdote that a few of us shared some years ago when on a long weekend in Gravelines in Northern France. Eating in a group at the hotel, we were managing perfectly well to negotiate the (not entirely unfairly) entire in French menu but became stuck on one particular dish. The helpful waitress thought for a moment and then, with a look of triumph, cheerfully explained that the meat dish concerned was ‘Bambi!’. Needless to say, for this alone, several of us felt committed to order our dishes of ‘Bambi!’ that evening. And very nice it was too, as I recall.

As was our more recent Sussex venison, although I am not sure I will ever forget just how wonderful was the wild garlic pesto that compromised one of the trimmings.

So, what did I learn? Mainly, a reminder that patience and taking care to know what the crucial parts of the operation are is the key to success. If I was honest, the skinning, dismembering and jointing is a relatively straightforward process, but like so many things there are certain areas where the amount of care taken becomes crucial in the gap between success and a botched job. Needless to say, myself and my fellow rabid carnivores paid strict attention to where and where not to put the knife it order not to embarrass ourselves – and as a result I think we all did a pretty good job, and left clutching various parts of the animal to supplement freezers, including a large amount of venison mince, as aside from the various cuts we had extracted, pretty much everything else goes into the mincer. This, you see, is something that is very much driven by the ‘you make use of it all’ philosophy, and in these days where we still waste so much (and I am as guilty as any of falling short of my own ideals in this area) it was fun to take part in an activity that extolled that and left you with a number of delicious dinners to look forward to.

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Quiet Corners

Sometimes you come across little gems that you never knew existed. London is particularly good for this where most corners can lead to something interesting. The Lovely Wife and I stumbled across one such recently when on a day out in London. The ‘main event’ of the day was a tour of the closed underground station at Aldwych, which closed in the 1990s and, as expected, proved a fascinating thing to be shown around and learn about its eventful history as both transport hub, war shelter and museum storage facility and now film location. But that only took a couple of hours, and these days the cost of trains into London somewhat suggest that finding multiple things to do is better value for money.

So, after a little looking about I came up with another tour, this time something quite different. We set off across London via Holborn Circus to find the little gem that is Charterhouse.

Although I had spent quite a lot of time in the area – including the hidden away joy that is the Old Mitre off Ely Place – I somehow had managed to miss the large set of medieval buildings just around the corner.

The place started as a memorial chapel over a thirteenth century plague pit, which is admittedly not the most auspicious of starts. Later it became a Carthusian monastery (an interesting order where the monks spent most of their time living as virtual hermits in separate cells around a large cloister), and then like many foundations at the dissolution became a Tudor manor house. Where Charterhouse diverges from many other sites is after this and due to one man, Thomas Sutton in the early seventeenth century. He was a very shrewd and very rich man and set about turning the existing buildings into an institution that would look after people at both ends of life – one half a school, and the other accommodation for the elderly and needy. When set up, the charity was one of the richest in the country and both parts were to prove a big success. The school became internationally famous and now has moved out to Surrey, but the other part of the charity remains and is still going strong. They have about 40 incumbents, known as ‘Brothers’ as a nod to the original use of the buildings. Historically, these were male only, but they have several lady ‘Brothers’ now, although the poor ladies are still heavily outnumbered.

You can have a guided tour of most of the extensive complex – other parts, where the Brothers live – are naturally private. We were lucky as in all there were only 5 of us on our tour, which always leaves more time for questions and a more intimate experience of a very nearly private tour for us. Maybe that was partly what made it so enjoyable, but some of the stories connected with the site and institution were fascinating and it is just a joy being able to walk around a mix of building styles with so much history, still performing much of their initial function and missed by most who pass by every day. It is not expensive, so if you are in the right part of London with a few hours to spare, you can do worse to find some peace and hidden history.

Spring & Shows

Well, we seem to be heading into an (albeit today, a damp and windy) Spring. The signs are all around, with the Lesser celandine beginning to flower on the disused railway near to home. I have seen a number of birds flying around with suspicious cargo (otherwise known as nesting material). Our garden is a daily battleground for the Blackbirds (although the Robin we have seems to have taken the normal territorial posturing to ridiculous lengths with a pathological hatred – and violent repulsing – of pretty much anything that moves). The Gadwalls (a duck which until recently I was unaware was nicknamed ‘Coot muggers’ as, well, they mug Coots to steal food of them) and the Pochards are gathering to migrate, the Shovellers having already left. Finally, the garden pond has been a hotbed of amphibian sex over the last few days, the resulting gelatinous mass of spawn being the result for now.

It is quite a contrast from last year’s icy start to March, although you will not find me complaining as the were some hairy moments last year in all the traveling we had to do to spend as much time with my Dad as possible in his final days. We were very blessed to spend so much time traveling long distances in poor weather with relatively few major problems. Although I will miss a lot of things from last year, that at least will not be one of them.

Instead, this year has been relatively quiet, so we are now back into focusing on what we need to do to get life back on track, both in terms of personal health and in terms of getting our house back into some kind of shape after a year of neglect and incursions of stuff from the North. We’re getting there, slowly.

At the same time there is always the usual work commitments and opportunities for fun. We have managed some interesting gigs and shows recently. The production of Shakespeare’s Richard II at the wonderful San Wanamaker Playhouse (a small, intimate inside space at the Globe theatre) was spellbinding, with added interest being a cast entirely made up of women of colour. But while that might seem like a gimmick, it was also wonderfully acted and informed by the heritage of some of the players in a way that can make a somewhat dry play come alive. At the opposite end of the scale in terms of venue was the Agatha Christie play ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ which was gloriously staged in a ‘courtroom setting’, actually a good use of the old council chamber for the Greater London Council in County Hall on the South bank in London. The play itself is nonsense, but it’s a lot of fun and the location really gives it some marvellous staging opportunities that it delivers on with aplomb.

The one thing we have seen recently that I am still not sure about was ‘The Band’, a musical based around the songs of Take That, about a group of girls who we first see in their teens and then are reunited 25 years later. The Lovely Wife and I saw it at the theatre at Milton Keynes, and it felt a little like a production that is still evolving; that said, it has a quite deliberate ‘British comedy’ feel along the lines of The Full Monty, Calendar Girls or Brassed Off, where there are plenty of laughs but a core sadness/sad event that cannot be ignored – but just has to be faced and managed. For me, it just about got away with it, but considering some slightly surreal elements of the staging I do feel it would make a better film. But catch it – unless you are an absolute hater of the Take That boys in which case give a wide, wide berth…

A Goodbye to Childhood

It has been a bit quiet here, as a large part of the last two weeks has been based around the practical and paperwork aspects of selling my childhood home.

It has been an odd exercise, both a move towards some kind of closure on this chapter, which is rather cathartic, but at the same time deeply upsetting. For me, the bungalow in Pelton, County Durham, was the home for my entire childhood and for my parents the home for most of their lives, and pretty much all their married life. That is a lot of family history wrapped up in some bricks and mortar (and a very 1970s orange carpet). It has been a long drawn out process as we tried (and continue to try, so be warned) to rehome anything of use whether through charity channels or passing onto friends, while gradually removing the rubbish that had accumulated over the years. I found that in terms of possessions in the house they could broadly be split into three groups. First there was the ‘must keeps’ the things which either had value and were well liked or just had a close connection to my parents for me. At the other end of the spectrum was the broken pieces of tatt and stained blankets that should have been disposed of long ago – again, where possible, to those who could use them. These were easy enough. Then there is the weird third category, the ‘not yet’ class. These included the last things to be packed up and tessellated into the (luckily spacious) back of our unremarkable, but in the end very useful, German work horse of a car. Quite a few ornaments just made it in before the door was locked for the last time and the keys posted back through the door. I’m looking at you, sleeping mole garden ornament – yes, and you pair of vases with large pine  cones in the top, a Heath Robinson ornamentation that was adorning the bungalow windowsill and now have made it two hundred and fifty miles to our own windowsill. This is a definite case of sentiment over sense and our home in St Albans is in quite as state as a result. I know also that of everything that has/is going into storage that when eventually it gets unpacked, in some future house, there will be plenty that will be treated with disbelief and the ‘why did I keep that?’ kind of reaction as they are fast tracked to the nearest charity shop.

But a lot of this is about emotion, and we should not hide it. I could not help be sad as we walked in and around the house, and up the path at the side to the pub we have come to be very fond of; or walking past the church I went to as a child, the current congregation of which have been very welcoming though everything, and thinking ‘am I ever coming back here again?’

In the case of the house, well, no. I have shed those tears and blessed it and handed it over to the new owners. Its part in my life has ended. The other thing, perhaps not. We are going back in June to see the book of remembrance at the crematorium and we’ll probably take the chance to drop in on a few old haunts for old times sake, and we may well go up once or twice a year as I still love the North East (and continuing developments at the wonderful Beamish North of England Open Air Museum – I urge people to go if you are ever nearby) will keep us interested, as will the remaining lovely family members that are still based there. But as far as 18 Heathmeads, Pelton is concerned it is a final goodbye, and a heartfelt thank you.