It has been sweltering this week, my feet have forgotten what socks are (and shoes for that matter) and I have been wearing the same shorts all week, I certainly didn’t expect to revert to my Cook Island Lifestyle in this country! Of course this weather has meant I have been able to get up close and personal with the river, both in terms of swimming, fishing and exploring.
The river has been furnishing my table well, As we have been approaching a full moon, I have been setting nightlines like a man possessed, as a result, plenty of eels now swim freely in my “freshwater fridge”: a large net in a secluded pool downstream. Having a good stock of fish readily available has meant less time on the hunt and more time enjoying life down here and coming up with crackpot schemes and bizarre plans for the months ahead, not to mention a little hammock time…
The other morning, I sauntered through the wood in barefoot elegance to go and check the lines. With a visit from my Editor the following day, I was eager to impress and was trying to work out what would be the best menu for lunch. After finding I had a few eels squirming at the ends of three lines, I went to lift the fourth and final- the water exploded and I found myself staring at a glorious 3lb Brown Trout thrashing about insanely. This was a fish I didn’t want to lose...nothing left but to go into the drink, hauling him out could result in breakage! Instead of using the towel to dry myself after, it too went in as a makeshift landing net and something to wrap the fish in whilst I stumbled downriver to the “fridge”. All went well other than gashing my shin on a submerged metal ‘thing’…much swearing, blood and plenty of sweat.
I was able to serve up Salad from the garden and stuck the trout in the hot smoker…damn fine nosh!
On the subject of food, I have been digging up my first early Potatoes…I have more than I know what to do with! That goes for Salad and spinach too, and the runner beans are about to kick in! Fortunately the overflow from the ‘patch’ is gently trickling into my Mothers kitchen…not all is wasted.
I know ‘tis not the season and no doubt some people may not be so pleased but man cannot live on bread alone. If a pheasant is foolish enough to come in range whilst I am out with the gun, I am not one to pass up the chance to enjoy a little ultimate free-range birdage (pigeon is always top of the list). Every now and then, I get an urge for a chicken burger, often after an evening of over indulgence at one of London’s many watering holes. Not that I was inebriated, I just fancied something a bit “filthy”, a gamey KFC if you like.
I used half of my Sourdough starter to make some pittas in my big heavy skillet, chopped and dressed some salad from the patch and used the dregs of some garlic mayonnaise left by one of my recent guests. The pheasant breasts were chopped, washed and rolled in seasoned flower and shallow fried until golden brown. Below is the layout I had for my fast-food supper, although ‘fast’ doesn’t come into it- you don’t have to pluck and gut your meal prior to tucking into an Unlucky Fried Kitten.
NB. Notice the added moth on the pitta…extra protein!
I am obliged to use every last bit of every thing that is the result of a successful hunt (I have not yet found a use for pigeon feet- but I am sure I will!), without the luxury of a fridge, I have resorted to sticking the carcass and leftovers (tatties, rice etc.) in a billy can with some water, half a stock cube, a few wild garlic bulbs and a some herbs from my hanging baskets. I give it an hour of simmering before bed and the same the following lunchtime adding a few dried jew’s ear mushrooms. The result is always pleasing and takes minimum effort- something of a rarity in this alternative lifestyle.
Now, I have been lucky in many of my endeavours down here, things have come good many a time, first time around, but it was inevitable that a colossal balls up was just around the corner. That balls up reared it’s ugly head one evening when making my sourdough bread. The fierce heat of the fire melted the aluminium pickling pan I had put in the fire as a makeshift oven…not only did it melt, the bread had become a lump of charcoal…shit happens. In future sourdough and loaves can be left to a proper kitchen…flatbreads are my new best friend.
On the subject of ovens, the clay oven is complete, Clare came down for the weekend to help me finish it and do a little decoration. I know have to wait for it to dry out and then apply a pure clay slip to all the appearing cracks, then the oven can be fired up for the first time.
In my last post, I did mention I would give you a peek at the shower…in fact other than the ‘throne’, which is filling up nicely, I have spoken little of sanitation down here. I do all my teeth brushing and shaving at the sink unit as well as my washing up…for 1. The river is a fantastic way to cool of and have a rinse, but I am not keen to wash in it with soap and pollute it in that sense, also I do not wish to smell of river.
The Shower is my favourite, and possibly most luxurious item I have. The shower consists of a galvanised bucket, a few small lengths of copper pipe, a gas on/off valve and a watering can rose. It delivers 2-3 minutes of heaven, depending on how much you open it. Water is heated to the desired temperature in my big pan over the fire, transferred into the bucket and hoisted into a tree. There are few things more enjoyable than stripping down to your birthday suit in the middle of a wood and having a good scrub down: I have never felt so clean and refreshed!
I have for some time, been keen to put together an alfresco table and bench. I thought about doing the table first but was more taken with trying to build a bench using old school tricks instead of nails or screws. I began whittling and drilling holes and hitting things with hammers instead- it actually works very well, but takes a little more time, something which I am not short of down here, so best make use of it!
I found a fallen tree with a mat of ivy detached from the tree, which was still going strong. The ivy seemed a perfect width for a bench top, so back to camp it came. As you can see, it turned out rather well…
A good place to sit and mend nightlines.
Other things to make note of: The wild raspberries by the river have come out! Although I am fighting a losing battle against the birds to get enough to even consider making 1 pot of jam…greedy bastards!
I have some new neighbours in the field next to the wood…they fill the days and nights with strained mooo’s and their eerily human coughing. The great thing about cows is: you are never short of a willing, interested audience.
In the spirit of this whole Crusoesque enterprise, I felt something was missing, why does no-one smoke a pipe anymore? My Father used to smoke a pipe regularly, especially when fishing and tutoring me in the ways of righteousness when in came to flicking a fly line…the memory still remains of that sweet smell of pipe smoke, so I felt it was time to go a little Samwise Gamgee and dig out a fine old churchwarden to enjoy the odd smoke when I stuck my small hobbit feet up at the end of the day…and actually it is quite pleasant!
As I have mentioned, this whole adventure is to be published next May, therefore a diary has to be written and this is usually how it is done:
The rest of my time down here is continuing at a slow but measured pace, as always, fuel and food are always needed so there is never a time that nothing needs doing. Everything takes longer down here than it would in a modern day dwelling, I find myself blissfully unaware of what is going on in the real world. Took me three days to find out the man that wrote ‘Billy jean’ had passed on…here’s a “shamone” for you MJ, you legend! I have come to realise, obviously, that what I am doing is nothing new: humans have been living like this for thousands of years….what I can’t seem to work out is why we, in the 21st century, seem to get such a thrill out of going back to this primitive, basic way of life…when I figure it out, I will let you know…