Sometimes a little snippet of a memory leads you down the path to remembering lots of other things and I had this last week when I wrote the blog about the single track road. I remember fondly driving around a field in the middle of the night in a Toyota Hilux with no lights on. My ex partner and his father shot regularly for local farmers when they had fox problems or rabbit problems. I had never been hunting and I had never seen a gun fire let alone be near one and I wanted to go along to be able to have an opinion based on experience rather than hysteria.
I met my ex at Music College in London. He was a trombonist and I was a ‘cellist. He rode a bike and I rode pillion down a lot of the famous roads in London with a trombone on my back. He graduated but I didn’t as it wasn’t really me and I didn’t really want to be a ‘cellist. We moved back to his hometown to live with his parents and they were a lovely couple with the most amazing menagerie of animals. They had 3 dogs which quickly rose to 6 when one of them had puppies. (They kept 2 of the pups and I had 1 too) they had guinea pigs in the garage and 2 horses in a field. He had a snake in his room, they had fish and the garden was cut in 2 with 2 ponds 1 for the duck and the other for the goose –they hated each other apparently. All this was finished off perfectly with a gorgeous springer spaniel called Paddy who was an ex bomb disposal dog. They were on the very edge of the village and this was an interesting family…
The first time I visited it was a Sunday and after a fashion –the kitchen was in the living room as they were having a new one fitted chaos was an understatement I remember this because despite all the chaos – we sat down to a Sunday roast. This was delicious and halfway through my ex said ‘There’s the rat!!’ and he and his dad, as quick as a flash, were upstairs with the bedroom window open and a gun pointing out trying to shoot it. I was left feeling a little uneasy eyes flicking from side to side whilst sitting at the table looking to his mother and sister for some sort of indication that this was okay. They hadn’t even looked up from their meal and had carried on eating. Once the rat had been dispatched they both came downstairs and finished their meals. This was a family that were at home with guns. I was a bit shocked.
His father was an ex bomb section policeman and also and ex traffic officer and he was then a firearms licensing officer so although the Sunday roast palaver was a bit of a surprise they were both legal, above board and sane. Guns were a normal part of life to the family and I began to be quite nonchalant about sights being zeroed on the kitchen table. They went shooting regularly both on organised shoots (his father did the organising) shooting on farmer’s lands to clear unwanted foxes and rabbits and also they shot to feed the dogs they had and we also ate a lot of shot food to help ease the food bill. I had never gone shooting so I thought I should. It’s an experience and I had never done this before. Their hunting wasn’t the type on the back of a horse but the hunting on the back of a Hilux Pickup. It was cold, it was dark but I loved seeing barn owls, learning how to squeak a fox to turn his head and just seeing the world at night. Yes animals were killed but quickly and efficiently and only those that were causing trouble for the Farmers.
Rabbits were brought back home, skinned gutted and cooked in the pressure cooker. The sight, and smell, of a bucket of entrails on the other side of the shed door drove the dogs mad but this was the heart of the country as far as I could see. I didn’t love this aspect but I respected the cycle of life. The rabbits weren’t wasted they were eaten by both man and dog and I was okay with this.
Quite often I walked into the garage and into hung peasants, geese and other birds. This was a bit off putting at first but after a while I got used to it and the dogs loved playing with the tail feathers of the peasants. I started to learn to horse ride on one of the horse –a welsh cob cross palomino who was gorgeous and actually tanned in the summer. An outdoors life was the one for me and I love it.
We moved onto the narrowboat and took our dogs with us. They ratted and rabbited and I occasionally cooked what they caught. I have talked before of the infamous rabbit pie with sage and cider and the gorgeous suet crust top. Unfortunately it’ll be remembered for the crunching of bones as I’d used an axe to separate the limbs from the body and this splintered the bones into the meat. A gorgeous smell led us to an inedible meal but it was one of many meals I cooked from meat that had been shot or caught. I curried pigeon and stir fried goose and our dogs ate the leftovers.
I am not against country ways. I have lived them and understand them a little more than before I met my ex. I was introduced to shooting as a form of hunting to exterminate pests of Farmer’s lands. I saw reasons for this and respected the necessity of it needing to be done. I was introduced to shooting for your food and whilst I never actually killed an animal I did eat the product of shooting. Were they upper-class? Absolutely not, they were as working class as you or I but they had a passion about country ways and a knowledge that was fascinating. They had tradition as they had shot like their parents before and they wanted to keep traditions alive. I feel shooting is fine if you eat what you shoot. What’s the difference in buying a piece of chicken or beef from the supermarket? Meat is meat and it has to die before you can eat it, this family just went out and killed their own. I think, if we’re true to ourselves that most of us couldn’t actually do this so there is, for me, a certain respect for those that can.
Our relationship broke and we parted. I left the boat (sniffs) but kept a dog, learned to ride a motorbike and moved on. I don’t eat anything that’s been shot now and have returned to the supermarket to cook normal stir-fry’s with normal meats (with no axe in sight) but I do remember with fondness living a full country life for around 5 years. I’ve had a spell in full on suburbia but I’m now a fully-fledged country girl again. This time I’m more into making jam and badger watching rather than going out at night on the back of a Toyota Hilux. We are learning about other country ways; identifying trees, badger dens and plants and we are loving being in the middle of the seasons and seeing first hand another cycle of life. I do though, however, have a slight pull towards a butcher’s shop I drive past each day as I see the large sign ‘Licensed to sell game’ and I’m thinking that I may just find myself parking up outside, wandering in and asking for a saddle of rabbit and I’ll have another go at that amazing rabbit pie. I’ll just put away the new kindling axe first though…