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Free range but a lousy shot… 

My friend has rented a cottage in the peak district and 4 of us travel up to spend a weekend in the idyllic country calm. We arrive armed with an air rifle borrowed off my uncle Roger and a homemade bazooka that shoots oranges and is powered by hairspray.

 

Our aim is to bring home a prize. A rabbit, pigeon, a squirrel, anything will do. None of us has much experience in hunting, in fact no experience at all. We are not a bloodthirsty lot; none of us would feel entirely comfortable in killing or harming any living creature. And this is just the point. Early in January I set a goal. To kill, cook and eat an animal. If I cannot bring myself to take care of the messy part of eating meat within a year I will become a vegetarian.

 

My love of meat is under constant pressure from a moral dilemma. As a nation, no, a civilization we have become inexcusably irresponsible in our production and consumption of food. From gm crops to factory hens our ethos is selfish and endangering.

 

So to meet self-righteous demands for my justification of eating meat here we are. Scrambling over valleys, crashing through the bracken and heather. Stealthily tripping over the landscape like flapping bin bags caught in the hedgerow. Using our entire city cunning against nature. Mike thinks he saw a squirrel. Tom missed a pheasant sat on a wall 2 feet away.

 

It was the coldest day recorded in March for 27 years and the rest of the animal kingdom were resolutely tucked away in warrens, nests, burrows, and silty riverbeds. Away from the cold winds, away from the snow blizzards; away from four city twats with a shotgun and an indescribable lack of hunting skill or understanding for the etiquette in the sport between man and the more logical creatures of the wild wood.

 

Deflated we retired to the valley behind our cottage to shoot discount oranges at each other. We miss and the rabbits, cowed, by our noise onto the steep embankment watch on with sympathy. Luckily Tom had invested in a top brand hairspray so we did manage to attain some pb’s in height and distance.

 

We will not go hungry though. The night before we found ourselves in a local pub and after three pints of thick, black stout we got talking to the locals about our venture. To avoid the blizzards the landlord offered us a lift home and stopped off at his coop to give us some eggs for morning an low and behold a rooster!

 

Burrowing through the dark, tunneling through the country lanes, sat clutching a three-year-old prize cock in the front seat of a Vauxhall Astra I began to wonder if my goal for this year was really worth it. Had I set myself up for a fall into vegetarianism? As I carried our dinner from the car to the cottage, tucked under my arm like the proverbial match ball, he was still none the wiser of his terrible fate.

 

We offer the landlord a whiskey for the road and once inside we all huddle in the kitchen. The landlord pulls out a metal kosh and gives me instructions to ‘come down hard ont’ back et ‘ed like’. I am drunk, delirious and limp wristed all at once. I tap Jeremy (I should never have named him) on the back of the shoulder like I was enquiring the time of the next bus. I apply just enough force to send him into a flapping frenzy. Feathers burst forth like shrapnel from a cannon and come wilting down all around us. The chances of us getting a deposit back for the cottage come wilting down all around us as the landlord grabs the bird from my shaking hands and wrings its neck like a wet flannel. Blood trickles deep red into the kitchen rug, our faces turn white and the 3 by 3 kitchen space becomes even more cramped with the incessant flapping of a dying bird and the shock and horror of four, drunken city twats. The next night we prepare the greatest coq au vin of our lives, using a full bottle of £15 rioja. We figure the old bird deserves a good drink.

 

This is ritualistic eating. We thank the landlord for his kind heart; we thank Jeremy for his life by using everything, wings, gizzards, offal, bones for stock. We revel in the treat of a hot meal and do not take for granted the life sacrificed for our comfort and nutrition.

 

Last year we as a country produced 1.6 million tonnes of poultry. With a little research staggering figures like this can be found for all meat production and they just go to show the unnecessary greed we have for meat. If we all were to cut out meat once a week it would dramatically change the state of the environment, the state of our health and the state of meat production.  

 

And who knows if we can bring ourselves to source our meat a little more responsibly, cut down on our intake and question the ethics behind mass production we may even begin to get some of the excitement and gratitude back for sitting down to a succulent roast. As for me and my twisted logic, if by next year the kosh ‘arn’t come down reet ard’ it’ll be cabbage au vin. 

When I was 21 I went to my first ever strip club.  It was for a friend’s 18th birthday and everyone in the party was excited, but I was trying to play it cool.

To get in you had to go down some stairs at street level. Once underground the place was understandably dark. Understandably dark because it was below street level and also because it was a shit box.

Angel’s Paradise LTD was in a dimly lit, lengthy cellar. The plush red velvet seating around the sides of the room had grown dull and threadbare from a prolonged exposure to stale beer, damp walls and grinding knees and thighs. The gold leaf had been rubbed from the fittings long ago with the groping of sweaty palms and the gushing of unfiltered, dirty tears.

It was mid-winter and everyone in the room had goose bumps for one reason or another. I was the oldest in the group and so naturally wanted to appear un-phased by the bare, mottled flesh all around us.

The girls were no older than us. The room leaked panic. All except from the Mother Hen, she stood in the middle of the flock. A broody 40 something, legs apart, hands on hips exuding an erotic yet motherly dominance.

I swaggered to the bar, a bolshie chest, cash in a loose yet careful grip so as for it to appear a wad. A cool, crooning smile as I acknowledged the nude bar maid. Eyebrows raised and on the charm offensive. I must have looked awesome.

As I perused the bottled beers and alcopops in the display chillers I noticed a stack of McDonalds dipping sauces tucked away in the bottom corner of the furthest most fridge. My heart plummeted and then rose again just as quickly.

‘Had these girls eaten their chicken Mcnuggets and fillet o fish sandwiches before or after taking their clothes off?’

Images of the girls pushing soggy burgers into their mouths, rushed into my mind. Coupled with visions of pale, flaccid French fries dangling loosely above puckered lips.  The dancers clad only in thongs and push up bras, dropping crumbs or the odd dollop of mustard onto their bare laps quickly gave me a new burst of confidence. My nerves left me. No longer did I have to cloak my awkwardness with a trepid suave.

I was instantly turned off by the idea of lap dances for life. The thought of those cartons of sauce lying idly in wait until the next pre dance fast food feast gave me an illegitimate dose of morale conscience and an new easy feeling.

Now when my nerves go in a room full of naked people I just picture them all eating a Big Mac.

 

When we arrived back at Gus’s house from the Bristol show it was gone four in the morning.  “Take Maud’s bed.”  He said opening the door to his own rooms.  He turned back with a dejected look in his eye.

“There’s a hog in my bed” he said, “sleeping.”  He returned to the Landing with a genial smile and said that is was no mind and that he could take the settee for the night.   It can often be the case that at Iron Mountain the sleeping facilities are liberally dished out in an instance for the common good.  I could hear the hog grunting and tussling with sleep behind the door.  He sounded like a large fellow.  I thanked Gus for the hospitality and went to bed.

I woke late the next morning and pulling myself out of bed, dressed and went into the Kitchen.  There, I was confronted with a large pig, stood on his hind legs tending to a smoking pan on the oven top that hissed at intervals with alarming volatility.  He was dressed in a three-piece Harris Tweed suit although the jacket was hanging on the back of a chair.  His shirtsleeves were rolled up and over his waistcoat he wore a plastic, chince-patterned apron. I guessed the suit was tailor-made because there was a deliberate hole at the back where from his tail protruded with just cause.                  The kitchen was in chaos; dishes were piled up over and around the sink.  A blackened pan was melted into to the linoleum floor, bottles and jars filled the sideboard in a sticky, blind panic.  By the kettle eggshells created a nest for a soggy heap of watery tea bags.

“Good morning.”

“How do you do?” He said.

“Well” I said, “my name’s Sam” I said extending my hand.

“Oh do forgive me!” he said dropping the spoon and wiping his trotter on his apron.  “I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.  Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Arnold and whom do I have the honour of addressing?”

“I’m Sam.” I said again, raising my eyebrows and dipping my head back into the conversation with a prompting gesture.

“But of course! I’m terribly sorry, you’ve already told me that, I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.”

“No problem” I say.  “A pleasure to meet you.  Would you like some coffee?”

“Ah but relax my dear fellow you have had a long and tiring excursion as I am to take it. No, you just sit there and relax, allow me.  Coffee is on its way along with breakfast – Kippers and eggs. Sunny side up!”  The hog chuckled to himself contently.  He soon handed me a large plate of grilled kippers with two fried eggs and a slice of hot buttered soda bread.

“Bon appetite” he said with a wide brimmed smile.  His smile blanched as a look of grave apology formed when he saw me eye the disarray “Oh but I’m afraid I’m a terribly messy house guest” his countenance lightened again “but I make an excellent pot of coffee” he poured me a steaming cup fresh from the peculator.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I don’t think the guys will mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 5 past 10 in Exeter we have finished playing a modest show to a modest audience.  The van is loaded and we are ready to depart, but the parting is far from us yet.

After our show there is a live hip-hop performance and it is slowly forming around us.   The whole night has unraveled with an odd pace and has left us slightly deflated.  To remedy our sunken spirits Phil ‘Owley suggests a last drink and we readily agree.  The audience filters out and filters in and we find ourselves amongst a new generation.  Saggy denim, languid smiles and nubile breasts fleet past and exhaust my lust and confusion all in one unexpected blow.

The MCs are on stage now and they spit ferociously and cause these young, magnificent creatures to grind their firm bodies through the silty air as if Dionysus himself was present.  We take it in turns to go and stand in the pit and experience the vim – one of us must stay above ground at all times to slacken or tighten the rope when necessary.  Back at the table whilst complaining that we can’t hear the words Nathan’s face becomes sullen as he looks at his beer and lets out an exasperated snigger.  “Are you ok Nathan?” Gus asks.                                                                                                                        “I’ll let you be the judge of that fool.”  He says with venom we’ve never seen in him before.  With that he jumps up pushing the chair to the floor throwing a dagger look to the stage.  As he walks toward the stage he lets slip his belt a notch so his trousers fall a little and hang steadily in accordance with the parlance of the room.  He twists his cap 20 degrees to the right and adopts a kinked left knee in his gait.

Arriving at the stage and making eye contact with one of the MC’s he taps three fingers to his chest twice and asserts them loftily into the air.  The mc reaches down and hoists Nathan up onto the stage.  He grabs a spare mic.  “Yo yo – let’s raise this motherfucka!”   With this gallant cry Nathan grabs his trousers by the balls and begins an onslaught of the lurid vernacular.  A stream of verbs, nouns and adjectives fly forth from his lips as he sways in time to the rhythm of his inflections.  Two girls leap onto the stage and flank him, grinding furiously up and down his torso, one straddling him by the thigh and the other using the force of her buttocks to express her satisfaction with his rhymes.

The rest of the crowd is in uproar, wild undulating cries and ecstasy.  The beats get louder and faster, intense and flawless as Nathan gets fiercer, predatory in his instinct for the English language.  As he leaves the stage he is grabbed and swayed by outstretched hands adorning, desperate to touch the vessel that contains the mighty flow.

We finish our drinks and set out for the hotel.  Renewed by the vigor.  Satisfied with content.  Cooled by the sagacious night stream…

We are in Birmingham.  We are playing at the Glee club.  I’m not sure which of us is laughing and which of us the joke is on.

This is England…

Gus is stood at the entrance to the venue with a bought out coffee when a man approaches him looking for spare change.  It is hard to decipher whether the man is in need of money for food and shelter or in need of fare for travel, either way it is apparent that his need is greater than that of my friend.  He, after all, instigated the approach. It seems Gus has no spare change.  As way of compensation the man offers to take the coffee.  Gus complies and in spirit also offers a humble blessing.

Later.  As way of a rider the venue provides us with 4 bottles of water, 2 bottles of coca-cola and 6 modestly sized bottles of beer.  Oh and of course a triple offer pack of custard creams – this rider is after all for Liz Green.

Of course when our refreshments are depleted we are welcomed to quench ourselves at the bar.  The drinks are not cheap, not even to performers and Gus soon finds himself, in the spirit of humble blessings, at the mercy of a £20 bar bill.

 

 

Later on after the show Gus and I are locked out of the building taking a post show cigarette.  There is no one at hand to let us back in.  In fact, during the whole course of the evening we see no sign of the meet the promoter – perhaps too busy promoting.

Outside a man wearing remarkable Nike air trainers approaches for us some spare change.  He was angry that we didn’t have any and confused at our excuses.

“If you’ve just come of stage you would’ve been paid by now eh?”

In need of compensation for our lack of contribution he wondered if perhaps he should take Gus’s tobacco.

“All of it?” Gus asked.

The man nodded.

“And with it please take my humble blessings.”  Gus added as the well-clothed man walked into the night with a full packet of tobacco and grumbling at our unjust denial of his personal allowance.

I followed his tracks innocently and hovered over an outside mezzanine looking onto a precinct of nightclubs. Young girls crossed the courtyard to and fro wearing nothing but shoes.  I figured their compensating must have been, like Gus’s in the spirit of a humble blessing.

 

“Ah Paris!”

Crow commands a deep breath as if consuming in it, the city’s pregnant history and implanted future all at once.

“This is the place for me.  My kind of city, my kind of people. ‘Fuller of wonders and wickedness than all the cities of the earth!’ Dickens.”

“Ah” I say

“Of course narratively speaking the comment was for London but in his heart I think he referred to that great city of love.”

“Oh” I say

 “I lived here once you know?”

“Really Crow”

“But of course.  I thought you might have noticed that in my stance.” A slight pause carries undecided quiet.  ” Agh! You couldn’t sense something like that.  You lack a universal comprehension yet.”

“What took you to Paris” I ask trying to keep the conversation focused on his story.  It is always a more genial experience for everybody that way.

“I spent some time at the Sorbonne.”

“Wow, what did you study?”

“I’m a crow, I didn’t study anything.  Good grief!  No no, I spent time with the faculty there.  Instilling the prerequisite of excellence and scholarly perfection through image.”

“A bit like what you do for us?”

“I suppose so,” says Crow with patience.

Crow sees himself as our Ambassador.  ‘The integral representative of our easy disposition and good nature as we travel from city to city.’  That’s how he puts it.  He always reminds us about the weight of responsibility he carries and pleads with us not to ruin his good work with rudeness or bad manners.

“It would be nice if you acknowledged the job I do of keeping up morale also.” Says crow, looking over my shoulder as I write this.  He flies out of the room leaving behind a stony silence…

“I think pleasantries childish and improper” says Crow as he vacillates portentously on his perch.           He addresses Nathan but I know the comment is for me.  The night before I had asked him why he never conversed with the staff at venues or ever thanked them for their hospitality.

“Firstly” says Crow, with a piercing eye pitched right at mine, which I am released from only when he closes his eyes, slowly turns his head toward the mirror and flashes a murderous glare at my reflection instead.   “I reserve conversation for dignities sake.  For the people who share my brow of existence.”

It’s actually the integral belief Crow has in his own opinions that makes me feel that he cannot really be a bad soul.

“Secondly one should be able to do ones job without praise.”  He averts his eyes back to mine still with the same, piercing glare. “It is a matter of duty, of métier.  The wage taken home by a worker should be thanks enough.”

“But what about good nature?” I ask him naively.

“No.” Demands Crow.  He pauses for reflection.  “But perhaps if one were to provide addendum. Tickets to the theatre or the facilities of a spa for example, then it may be proper to acknowledge such a gesture.  With tact of course.”  Crow has a weakness for spas.  He says that if cleanliness is next to godliness then the spa is a Pantheon of the immortal spirit.

“A workers role is to make us feel settled and welcome in these strange, foreign places and an attitude of crude recognition on our part could only cause future complacency in their subservience.”

Crows eyes soften and his tone changes to one of blasé erudition. “Take the colonial period.” He offers  “The last truly great advancement in civilization, and all accomplished by our own, now tragically recumbent monarchy.  Now, how far do you think the Empire would have progressed if we had gone around obliging the savages with compliments on their strong limbs and keen work effort?”

Crow sees nothing wrong with his use of the word savage here.

“I mean, you do not see me asking for thanks or praise for keeping you fellows in a light and spunky mood throughout your little tour do you?  My Jocular spirit and humility are all part of my duty as much as is my personable attitude with the crew and other ones further down the line.”

“Your doing a very humble job Crow and we really appreciate it.” I say

“Thank you” he says.  His eyes close again.  This time with contented pride.