Thursday, 9 July 2009

Back in the fields again.

I've not been out to the fields since I hurt myself a week ago falling off my bike. I've spent the time since then slapping antiseptic and sticky dressings on my knee, palms and elbow and trying to get a little flexibility back into my wrist. My knee is still painful but this evening I was so beside myself with restless, furious cabin-fever that I snatched up my gun and army jacket and set out anyway.

I took a few pictures of the motorway, climbed a stile into the fields, dodged a herd of over-curious cows - and then spent a beautiful couple of hours reacquainting myself with this place that, to my surprise, I find I've so keenly missed.

Paths that I walked every day and swiped clear with my knife are now darned across with thick ropes of new bramble; the summer growth has been so strong that I twice came into clearings and was each time startled, for a moment, at not recognising places that I know like my own home; fields that were waist high are now mown into lawns; fields that were flat are now knee-high tangles of dandelion and lush, green grass. Can it only have been a week?

I flopped on the ground - not caring that I'd frightened every rabbit for a hundred yards - and just lay there with my chin propped on my rifle butt, drinking in the setting sun, the view of the fields and the peace.

I came home - darkness falling - empty handed, caring not a damn.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Pike Tales

A reader recently posted a comment on a post of mine about fishing which asked: How was the pike by the way?

Well, since you ask, the Pike was pretty good, thanks! As I recall, I filleted it, coated the produced steaks with a little seasoned flour, pan-fried them a nice golden brown and then ate them with a squeeze of lemon. It was very tasty. There's a nice bit in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Fish Bookwhere he says something like, 'you want to know what Pike tastes like? Well, it's not like chicken and beyond that, I'm not going to tell you - you'll just have to catch one and find out for yourself'.

I agree that landing one and cooking it is the best way to find out, but I think I can say a little more than Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall about this. It's an interesting fish to eat; the flesh is very firm and white - far more like Tuna than it is like Cod, say - and it has a pleasant flavour all its own; one that's neither very delicate nor overwhelming. It's certainly not a 'muddy' taste - though I've never eaten a lake-caught Pike and I couldn't vouch for them. I've caught all the Pike I've ever eaten from a clean, fast-flowing local river which rises from its source about ten miles away from where I live and passes through no cities or sites of industry on its way to the place where I fish. I'm sure you can catch Pike in English canals but I've never pulled a fish out of a canal and then scoffed it myself; what that would taste like I've no idea.

Filleting Pike is rather tricky. Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests that one way around this is just to cook it with the bones in - steaming or roasting - and then separate the bones out on the plate as you eat. I have tried this and it's perfectly OK; the bones are big and easy to spot - but it is still a tad fiddly.

There are many helpful videos on YouTube about filleting Pike (along with countless unhelpful ones, of course); one of the best I found that helped me navigate the removal of the fiendish Y-Bones is this one:

This gentleman is filleting a medium-sized Pike but they can, I'm here to testify, grow to truly terrifying dimensions. I was fishing in a deep-water section of another local river last year - just alongside a wide bridge - when my line was abruptly taken out from close to the bank to mid-stream in what seemed like a fraction of a second by an extraordinary force. I was very taken aback - and probably yelped a fair bit - but I did manage to hang on to the rod and the very strong plaited braid I was using didn't break either. The line soon came back to the river bank and then there glided in front of me, just beneath the water and clearly visible, a glaring, furious, monstrous animal I would swear was the size of a fairly generous, full-grown Labrador.

Happily, the fish then prompty spat out the lure and swam away to leave me shaking with shock and relief on the river bank. Pike become too tough to make good eating, so I gather, when they get over five pounds in weight and so I've no wish at all to ever catch one that's larger than that. That one - though fishermen's tales must be taken with a little salt I suppose, my own included - was certainly a shade over five pounds.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Karma of Hubert? On PETA, Suicide Food, the Cathars and Road Rash

In the turbulent wake of 'Flygate', Obama's doubtless illegal act of war against the species Musca domestica, I was following links from the always mind-boggling PETA site when I came across a blog called "Suicide Food" which I read for a while with some enjoyment.

The blog's premiss is a good one and it mines its niche with a single-minded diligence that lazy bloggers such as myself can only admire. It's an attack on one single strand of anthropomorphised advertising: the representation of animals as desiring their own consumption.

I find the blog thought-provoking, amusing and just-plain-wrong in about equal measure. The post about the high-kicking barbeque pig is a good example. It is a dumb and tasteless ad - fair enough - but the discussion at once introduces what seems to be the central motif of a school of ethical thought that's all over the animal rights scene like a rash: 'how can you not feel tainted just by witnessing this?' Ethics understood as the maintenance, at all costs, of the image of oneself as an ethically pure agent - untainted by the sinfulness at large in the soiled world beyond the realm of the pure.

I do find this point of view tremendously interesting and so I at once lurched off, after reading the blog, into writing a near dissertation-length post about 'Quasi-Buddhist Pelagian Dualism and the rise of the New Perfecti'

Realising, after about two thousand words, that I didn't have a clue what I was going on about, I hit, 'Save as Draft' instead of 'Post'. (A score of academics will, I'm sure, construct distinguished careers around the imagined contents of the 'Lost Post of Hubert on the Digital Cathars'. Oh well, what can you do? Those guys have got to make a living too, I suppose...).

Anthropomorphising animals is a thoroughly bad thing? Yeah, well, probably it is.

I was riding home last night after a warm summer rain and, coming to the the bottom of a fast downhill bend, I saw approaching, fallen from a much-perched upon tree above, a wide carpet of slimy bird poo across the smooth tarmac path. That looks a bit slippy, I though, as I sped towards it, a less-skilled cyclist might well take a tumble on such a treacherous surface - and then, of course, promptly went arse over tit and converted much of myself into pizza.

I suppose I could write a post now called, The Karma of Hubert: Small Animals Fight Back! - and that might be funny.

Would it be tasteless anthropomorphism, though? Well, yes, maybe it would be. Can I get worked up about it? No, I don't really think I can right now.

Right now, anyway, I have to go and change these damn band-aids...