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.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Anti-Sex League?

Oh, I don't know - call me crazy - but looking again at the "Your daddy kills animals" leaflet, I have to say that something of what might be called a 'sub-text' suggests itself to me.

Maybe all those smoke-wreathed nights pouring over volumes of Freud in the company of my fellow black-polo-neck-jumper-wearing, bohemian crack-pots has led me to conjure phantasms where none exist?

Maybe I'm just reading too damn much into this - but...

But do you think it's possible that there's just the teeny-tiniest, smallest, quietest, most evanescent, barely-audible fleeting-bat-squeak of a hint of a (whisper it Hubert, oh dear god, whisper it!) sexual undertone to this picture?


Friday, 3 July 2009

PETA: Your Daddy Kills Animals.

PETA: "As we all know, human beings often don't think before they act. We don't condemn President Obama for acting on instinct. When the media began contacting us in droves for a statement, we obliged, simply by saying that the president isn't the Buddha and shouldn't be expected to do everything right..."

Hey PETA; you and I know that it's certainly a multi-faith culture we live in these days: my Muslim friends go to the Mosque; my Buddhist friends do their meditation days; my Catholic friends go to Mass and tell their beads; my Quaker mates all sit quietly in their room together - and all of this is fine by me.

So I've got no problem with Buddhists; hell, I even used to think I was one. It was a while back, sure, but if anyone asked me what religion I was then, I used to say: Well, I suppose I'm a kind of Buddhist, really.

In those days, when I thought I was a Buddhist, I too, in imitation of the Buddha, followed a vegetarian diet - I was even a Vegan for about six months, living mainly on black coffee, beer, chips and peanut butter, as I recall. But, as I say, that was a while back, and my views have changed a little since then.

These days (and beside me saying it's the case, God knows there's little enough evidence of it - but that's another matter) what faith I do have tends to centre around the comparatively unattractive figure of that strange, occasionally rather grumpy-seeming, non-vegetarian man who ended up being nailed to a tree by his fellow religious professionals - way over in occupied Palestine - a couple of thousand years ago. These days - and with all the respect that's due to the devotees of other faiths - I'm not, actually, a Buddhist.

Now I know religious leaders don't tend to be in the habit of canvassing votes as regards their rule; they don't see that as being in their job description, I suppose - and maybe they're right about that. They do the religious leader thing - issue encyclicals, dictates, bulls, fatwas and the like - and their followers, well, they follow those rules. In a country that tolerates religious freedom people don't have to follow the rules of the religions they don't personally subscribe to.

Call me a bourgeois old liberal if you will, but personally I'm in favour of that set-up.

Now in theocracies, as far as I understand these things, the matter is rather different. In a theocracy, the leaders of the State and the religious leaders tend to wear the same hat - because, of course, they're wearing the same head (and that's admirably Green as regards sustainable hat production, of course). In a theocracy, there's just the law; it's a religious law, and you have to obey it, since it's the law of the land as well and there's no separate appeal court there that'd be willing to lend an ear about it not suiting you all that well.

Now, as far as I'm aware, I don't live in a theocracy. Gordon Brown has his own personal beliefs but if people think his policies favour the tenets of his own particular faith, to the radical detriment of others, then he'll get a kicking at the ballot box from those other faith practitioners - and he'll deserve it. England is not a theocracy.

If people of a country genuinely want a theocracy, then OK, they want a theocracy - good for them.

In countries where there isn't a theocratic government - in multi-faith countries, say, like the UK, Europe and the States - there, leaders and devotees of religious groups do need to be tolerant towards the different faith-based and secular cultures that surround them. There, within the boundaries of the secular law that they all agree to, they don't get to say what other people should or shouldn't do.

Aggressive, proselytizing missionary conversion tactics on the part of one faith-community as regards their fellow citizens who happen to belong to other faiths - or to those who profess no faith at all - that sort of thing really has no place in a modern, tolerant, multi-faith state.

A central part of Buddhist belief is concerned with showing 'compassion to all living things'; so that means most Buddhists have some form of vegetarianism as a part of the practise of their particular religious faith.

And that's fine; that's absolutely fine by me. Multi-faith tolerance? It's a good thing; you want to be a vegetarian because the Buddha was a vegetarian too? Well then, great, superb; good for you.

But, please, if you want to be good citizens of this admittedly rather complicated thing that's called a 'democracy' - then have the decency to let other people practise their faith, or their non-faith, unmolested. You want to be Buddhists? Fine, great - but I'm not a Buddhist. So this publication of yours, 'Your Daddy Kills Animals', this is actually a highly aggressive example of a very crude form of religious indoctrination. It's exactly a proselytizing, missionary tract that's aimed at bullying children into adopting the beliefs and practises of your particular faith.

This, I'd say, is precisely not the way that members of faith communities should behave towards others who do not subscribe to their particular beliefs.

We do not live in a theocracy. We get to choose what we believe in - and so should our children.

So cut it out.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Petition Against Airgun Legislation in Scotland

I've just signed this petition. Here's the text from the 10 Downing Street site where the petition has been lodged. I'd like to urge all UK resident Rabbit Stew readers to sign, too.

The Calman Report recommends that The Scottish Parliament should be handed control of airgun legislation in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament will undoubtedly use this power to place a ban on unlicensed airguns in Scotland. This measure harms the legitimate sporting shooter and fails to address the real problem; that caused by unlawful use of airguns. Criminal use of airguns by its nature cannot be legislated against by removing airguns from those who abide by the law.

We believe that this ban will have an adverse effect on legitimate sporting shooting, and will provide no deterrent to those who misuse airguns. The Labour Party's own 'Charter for Shooting' (2005) recognises there is no connection between legitimate sporting shooting and gun crime. Airgun crime in Scotland has fallen according to the Gun Control Network's statistics from 1005 offences 15 years ago to 567 last year.

This new legislation would erode the civil liberties of sporting shooters in Scotland and fail to remove airguns from the hands of criminals.

We therefore petition you to refuse devolved power for Airgun legislation in Scotland.

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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...