Sunday, 31 October 2010

Look away, foodies.

Spy Birch Boletes under tree (Birch tree, in fact) whilst cycling into town. Pick them, take 'em home, chop up, fry with butter and add a couple of beaten eggs (try not to think about cholesterol levels), cook till done.

Then what? Serve with exquisite salad of rocket, fine herbs & ciabatta croutons?

Or slap it onto a steaming lake of microwaved beans?

The latter. Yum bum.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Trump to bankrupt pensioner who argued with him

Molly Forbes challenged billionaire Donald Trump in the courts over the compulsory purchase of her home to make way for his giant Scottish golf course. She couldn't get legal aid and now nice Mr. Trump is trying to force her to pay court fees totaling nearly £50,000 (plus a hefty amount on top of this for 'inconveniencing' him). More here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Weight Gain and Shotguns in Rugeley.

I was doing the rounds of the charity shops in the nearby town of Rugeley yesterday, still looking for  interview-wear, when I stuck my head into the tiny, packed-to-the-roof-beams gun shop there and found that there were about a dozen big sheets of white cardboard propped up on the floor, each with hundreds of little holes in them.
'I've put on weight', said Ray the owner. 
'Ah,' I said and nodded as if I knew what he was talking about, 'OK.'

'Look' he said, 'all these are up and left.' He pointed at one of the perforated sheets of cardboard  and tapped in turn each of the quarters around the centre, '122, 76, 20, 53 - see? They're grouping up and to the left.'

'Ah,' I said - I still had no idea why he was talking about weight gain but the numbers on the cardboard at least were beginning to make some sort of sense to me, 'You're zeroing a shotgun?'

'Well...', my putting it this way didn't quite hit the mark, 'sort of...'.

Eventually, he managed to explain it to me. He'd noticed that his shooting had become less accurate in recent years and he'd struggled to understand why. Recently it had occurred to him that this might be related to him having put on some weight - that the stock of the shotgun might be sitting a little bit differently against his now slightly chubbier cheek. This, he reasoned, might have shifted the angle of the gun in his grip and therefore had an effect on the spread of pellets in and around the target zone.

So he now had to alter his gun so that he was hitting the bulls-eye again. You don't do this with shotguns the way you would do with an air rifle, , he told me - that's to say by fiddling with little dials on the scope  - you do it instead by altering the way that the gun itself sits against your shoulder and face. The cardboard sheets were the evidence of the shots he'd taken after making changes to the cheek-piece of his gun, tuning it, in effect, to try and bring the area of maximum pellet density back to the centre of his aim. He'd finally settled on one set of changes after he'd begun to consistently produce sheets with more balanced patterns.

I felt rather privileged to go into a gun shop and be involved in a conversation like this. Ray was happy to talk to me about it and pleased that he'd hit on a way to make his shooting more accurate. I've been doing more shooting practice myself recently, trying to improve my accuracy as well, and it was a real pleasure to come across someone with some of the same preoccupations, someone who's engaged with the same set of questions and challenges as I am myself.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Clothes make the man

In the shops today, trying to buy clothes. Can't do it. Can't spend £35 on a bloody jumper. Seems stupid. Jumpers come from charity shops and cost £3.50. Everything else is just wrong.

I have an interview this week and I need - or I think I need - to look like someone who does not spend a good deal of nearly every day sat underneath a hedge; need to show up wearing trousers that haven't had the arse ripped out on barbed wire.

Thing is, charity shop clothing assembles itself in its own good time - it doesn't show up according to a timetable. And a timetable is what I have: 'Look less like a tramp by Friday', is what it says.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Joy of Ceps

Another day spend 'shrooming. I found some scary-looking, sulphur-yellow Boletes first in a wet & ferny little conifer wood and then, after having pedaled by accident into an enclave of the super-wealthy (lots of signs all more or less saying Achtung Minen!), I paused by the gate on the way out and boggled at a whopping great Fly Agaric.

Before leaving I turned round to cast an eye over the ground beneath a few nearby Birches - and what did I see?

Could that be the holy grail of the 'shroom hunter, the Penny Bun itself? It certainly looked like it - but the size of the thing! I had no idea that they were such giants!

I raced home and (after double-checking it against the 'shroom books) scoffed it tout de suite.

Now, the probably-Birch Bolete I ate the other day was perfectly nice, ditto the Horse Mushrooms and the Parasols, they were surprisingly good - but this! Well, I can see what all the fuss is about, I really can. Fried in butter it was seriously, seriously delicious.

Monday, 18 October 2010

First time on new permission.

A leisurely stroll across the peaceful acres of my unexpected new permission? Spotting fruitful sites for rabbiting reference whilst taking in the cool, still Autumn evening air?

No. Evil cows from hell chase me, corner me & then force me to flee for my life through a hawthorn hedge - whereupon I drop five foot down the side of a steep bank and am dumped, wild-eyed, leaf-strewn and disheveled, straight into the path of a whippet-thin rural jogger.

'Ah!' I exclaim, 'Hello!'

He swerves a little but doesn't break his stride, 'Evening'...

New Permission!

New Permission! Let joy be unconfined!

A bloke in a tractor passed me today while I was off looking for the bike pannier I lost in my cycle-rambles yesterday (the pannier had a sheep's skull & jaw-bone in it, so who ever finds it is in for a mild shock). I'd just cycled past some farm outbuildings I'd often wondered about and when the tractor turned in there I pedaled back and said hello. Turns out that this isn't his farm but the land over the lane is and - yes! - he's more than happy for me to take rabbits off it!

Whah-hey! Lose a sheep's skull in a bike pannier one day, gain a new permission the next!

Here's a peek through a hedge at the land I'm going to have a walk over later today - the silver expanse that looks like a placid reservoir in the middle of the photo is actually the roof of a gigantic & throbbingly busy 'Argos' distribution hub. Still, the fields look wonderfull.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Day 'Shrooming on the Chase

I quit smoking yesterday for the hundredth (and I hope last) time. Months of nicotine-lethargy lifted off me at once and, full of energy, I pedaled this morning up onto Cannock Chase. There - shunning the local pastime of watching car-borne couples engage in coitus - I began instead to search for the king of the wild mushroom world, the Cep, Penny Bun or - if Latin's your bag - Boletus edulis.

And I didn't find any. I did however find quite a lot of other Boletes and, since I'd never so much as knowingly set eyes on one before, this made me happy.

Here we are: a schmorgesborg of gnarled Boletes & lurid poisonous Fly Agarics.

Well, I peered at the Boletes and looked at my Roger Phillips and - after much head-scratching - decided that, while these aren't in fact Ceps they're also not any of the few, grim red/orange-tubed poisonous boletes. I think they're probably Birch Boletes - so I picked 'em and put them in the basket.

I left the Agarics, of course. Six hours of hallucinations, delirium, vomiting and then possibly death? Not my cup of tea today, thanks (though they are pretty).

Finally, I found an absolute whopper of a Parasol to close the day with.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Targets not rabbits shock

Making sure my zero was still in, I sat down and popped six shots thirty-five yards across a field onto a home-made target. All six shots fell within a one-inch group.

So then I walked the fields for a couple of hours and - pleasant as it was - came home with nothing. Well, that's not true; nothing but a couple of giant, Shaggy Parasol mushrooms - which were, actually, very tasty.

I wasn't the only one scouring the fields. A couple of teens were out diligently looking for mushrooms of an entirely different order. Nothing on earth could make me scoff those damn things (again).

Two Puffball Frying Pan Exit Strategies

1: Peel puffball.
2: Chop it up.

3: Fry it - with olive oil or butter - better yet, with olive oil and butter.
4: Season with salt n' pepper.

5(a): Add beaten eggs to make omelette (Obviously, garnish with chives only if it's your intention to photograph it for a blog) or:

5(b): Slap onto ketchup-loaded wholemeal doorstep.

6: Stuff into face.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Last things & Puffballs

I was wandering about yesterday, squinting into the dazzling autumn sunshine that threw deep, slanting shadows across the verdant green fields around me, mooching for fungus and pondering. I'd spend the earlier part of the day thinking about the wild mushrooms I'd eaten the night before and asking myself, 'Well, how do I feel?'

Seriously to ask one's self the question 'Do you feel all right?' pretty much always leads to the answer, 'Well, now that you come to mention it, in some ways, no.' So I'd gone straight to the 'Poisonous' section of my mushroom book and stocked my head anew with the colourful and excruciating ends that may come to the forager who stumbles uninformed across the Death Cap, Panther Cap, Sickener or - God forbid! - the mighty and terrifying Destroying Angel. I worked myself into a fair old state, in other words.

So I was taking a walk in the afternoon sun (possibly my last, I mused) thinking about all this and peering down at the grass - when it occurred to me that the two activities of eating wild mushrooms and shooting rabbits for the pot had something in common besides both being sourced from the fields.

Which is to say: death. They have death in common.

If you shoot a rabbit and things go well (for you, of course, that is) it dies. You kill it, cook it and then you eat it. The demise of the rabbit is an integral part of getting it to the table so death is an element within the activity of hunting, shooting & thereafter eating rabbit.

And mushrooms? Well, you might say, this is where the analogy falls down - since if anything death is surely something to be most strenuously excluded from the experience of eating wild mushrooms. And yes, of course it is - but I'd argue that it's still there, nonetheless. It's there as a kind of central and necessary reference point around which the activity of gathering and eating wild mushrooms revolves: these ones are tasty, these ones are less so and these ones... These ones will kill you stone dead - so beware.

Just as it is with shooting and eating rabbits, so it is with gathering wild mushrooms: there's eating - and there's death. The elements aren't conjugated in the same way - but they're there just the same. There are, if you like, different plus and minus values ascribed to the elements - 'eat' and 'die' - in the different equations: the rabbit must die if you are to cook and eat it; you eat the mushrooms but must not yourself die.

It's hard to say exactly why this cheered me up but it really did. I think perhaps that before thinking all this the idea of death in relation to eating wild mushrooms had - how shall I put this? - overflowed its boundaries, so to speak. The one idea of death had spread too far within the set of ideas around eating mushrooms and thinking it through in the the way that I had done had ended up re-emphasising the fact that, yes, death was indeed an essential reference point in relation to the set of ideas around eating mushrooms but it wasn't, as it were, the essence of the set of ideas as a whole. So it ended up being a rather cheerful walk. I arrived back home feeling much better and put the whole idea of sudden death behind me.

Today, sitting down outside my flat to smoke, I thought about the fields at the bottom of my road. I very rarely go there since I don't have permission to shoot on the land - but there's a public footpath and people and dogs walk across it all the time. What the hell, I thought, I'll take my pipe and smoke in the field instead.

So, travel coffee mug and well-stuffed pipe in hand, I stepped over the style into the field and, within fifty yards, had stumbled across a very fine Giant Puffball nestled amidst the grass and the fallen oak leaves. I promptly uprooted it and took home for tea. This one, I knew, wouldn't kill me.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Late afternoon stroll

Sturdy fence between me & this guy, thankfully.

Someone else's little pony.

Rural lanes (six of them).

These pods burst eventually & hundreds of little men in S&M gear pop out & start looking for nightclubs.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Sit waiting on edge of damson grove for something to stir beyond thin camouflage of nameless weedy stalks.

Nothing stirs. Grow bored.

Take snuff.

More boredom. Listen over and over to words of Blondie's 'Atomic' repeating themselves internally (was playing in grisly supermarket earlier when buying reduced bags (seven pence!) of carrots and parsnips.

More boredom.


Observe rabbits 90 yards away. Take blurry picture of same.

Decide to move to where rabbits are at least visible - knowing that this will scare them away but hopeful that after brief respite in burrow they'd re-emerge.

Move. Check for cow-shit. Lie down on grass. Look along now-deserted fence-line.

Wait. Grow bored again.


Teeter on edge of giving up and going home.

See movement.

Shoot rabbit.

Take - for reasons far from clear - picture of dead rabbit and gun.

Walk towards home across fields.

Find patch of mushrooms on way. Observe faint yellow bruising on cap when touched, smell faint aroma of aniseed, note 'cog-wheel' on membrane under cap. Remember as descriptions of 'Macro Mushrooms' (Agaricus urinascens). Pick same.

Walk home with mushrooms and rabbit (admiring, the while, imagined image of self doing same: bespectacled Ray Mears, horny-handed son of rural life etc., etc....).

Struggle through barbed-wire fence with now-bagged gun, rabbit and mushrooms.


Arrive home. Smoke. Drink coffee. Take artfully arranged picture of dead rabbit and mushrooms (again, for reasons far from clear).

Look long and hard at River Cottage Mushroom book. Note that pale yellow staining is absent from base of stem and persists elsewhere rather than going brown - ruling out therefore possibility of their being poisonous 'Yellow Stainer Mushroom' (Agaricus xanthoderma).

Cook rabbit, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, etc.

Look long and hard at River Cottage Mushroom book again while cooking.

Smoke. Drink tea.


Lick plate clean.

Worry slightly about mushroom poisoning. Check book again.



Mushroom: NOT from Tesco's!

I have now picked, strenuously identified (thanks to John Wright's River Cottage Handbook) and consumed one Agaricus campestris - a common field mushroom. Initial reports suggest that I am not dead.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Dirty job.

I was standing in front of the 'reduced items' fridge in the supermarket of the grim estate down the road earlier today, holding a knock-down plastic pack of pink and perfectly oblong 'sliced pork product' & thinking the sort of thoughts I always think when I'm on the verge of buying this sort of thing, i.e., gloom, gloom, gloom and more damn gloom.

In the end, I didn't. I bought fruit - like you do - and cycled home instead, still feeling low.

I'm off to London for the day tomorrow and buying anything to eat on the go there requires a small mortgage - so taking sandwiches is pretty much a necessity. But what could I put in my butties? Nada. Zip. There was nothing in the fridge (since I don't actually have a fridge) and the cupboard was bare.

So, go out and try to get a rabbit? Oh God, I'm not sure I can be arsed.

So I blobbed & played 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' while the sun started to go down outside.

No. Bugger this - go out. Try and get some grub for tomorrow.

I needed to change my jeans though, they were clean on this morning. Could I be bothered? No, no I couldn't - I'll just make sure I don't get them dirty...

So, obviously, when I drop to take a shot, I drop straight into a nice fresh pile of cow shit and then, before I've figured out what I'm lying in - before the smell and the damp start to make themselves felt - I roll around on the ground to get into a better shooting position.

Still, got something for my sandwiches.

Time for a shower.