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beautifully butchered lamb

beautifully butchered lamb

A month or so ago I was talking on the phone to Julian, a butcher, who was vaguely interested in buying my organic beef and lamb. Having got the business bit out of the way we went on to chew the fat, discussing what effect credit-crunchie-rescessional times were having on the food buying public and in particular on top quality organic produce.

“Do you ever sell privately?” Julian asked

“Yes, yes I do. But not like I used to.” I went on to explain that I’d sold my business a couple of years ago, though I still supplied some of my loyal and special customers. “And it seems to be building up again!”

“Do you ever need a cutter…a butcher?” he asked

“Not really as I still use my original butchers. They know my system as we worked together for years. But saying that, I also know they find it time consuming and a bit of a pain now. Why?”

“Well, I launched the Bike…” I interrupted him in mid-flow

“The Biker Butcher! The organic licensed motor biking butcher.  I know, I know! I saw a flyer. It came with some of the Soil Association bumph, I think. I remember thinking at the time what a great idea. Lots of possibilities and potential. It certainly grabbed my imagination. How’s it going?”

Apparently after an initial favourable reaction and lots of enthusiasm everything went rather quiet. Julian’s been doing the odd bit of butchery for a few farmers, but not what he’d hoped.

We nattered on contemplating all kinds of interesting scenarios. “I know” I said “why don’t you come up when I next have lambs going off. I need a couple for myself. You could cut those and we could chat.”

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

And that’s what happened today. This glorious afternoon Julian, and his partner Maria, whisked down the drive on their motorbike complete with all the tools of the trade. I’d put up a trestle table in the kitchen and in no time Julian was skilfully and carefully cutting and butchering my lambs. Shanks, tender rump joints, racks, Guard of Honour, neck fillets, shoulders, legs, chops – with a bit of French butchery thrown in as a practise run for my French lamb export exploits!

cutting and trimming completed

cutting and trimming completed

We talked about all manner of possibilities and opportunities from communal cutting rooms to training and educational courses. The problems  to be faced and the many benefits gained. It was interesting and I’m sure good things will come of it. BBC Countryfile are filming him this coming week too

In the meantime we have some mouth-watering lamb to enjoy – if supper was anything to go by!

result!

result!

The car glissades off the road bucking and lunging across a frozen buckled verge unexpectedly stalling on a ridge of iron-hard mud only a whisker away from the pole…I can scarcely believe it, I’ve stopped, I’m unharmed, the car’s okay, and, because of the freezing conditions, not even stuck – as far as I know. My gods were with me. I’m shaking so much I can’t get the car into reverse let alone co-ordinate clutch and accelerator. Eventually I manage, and after some manoeuvring, dislodge the car from the ridge and gradually inch backward onto the lethally icy corner. I limp home at a snail’s pace overwhelmed by emotions. I creep into the house trying to avoid being heard or seen, but Ben finds me and engulfs me in a hug – it’s too much, I burst into tears. I mumble about the animals and scrabble around for my overalls.

“No mum, no! You don’t have to go out there it’s dark, it’s cold. Rob will do them. Hey, look at me…it’s not been a normal day, look at you- you’ve had it. The animals will be okay. You’re ill. It’s freezing. Hey mum, don’t.”

I look at him and feel overcome – my son, so concerned, so gentle, so caring and he doesn’t even know about the might have been accident, his love is breaking me up. “Pip, I know it seems stupid, but I want to. I think, just for a moment I need the space, the peace. Please. I’m not being difficult. I promise I’ll stop when Rob gets back. Are you coping with the New Year’s Eve meal? The goose, all the bits? The pudding?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. Not probably as you’d do it, but it’s just fine. Don’t worry. But please, don’t do too much out there. Come in soon, won’t you?” Reluctantly he lets me go.

I stumble out to the animals and, as I know they would, they calm me, ground me. They sense my anguish and even though it’s way past their normal feeding time, they don’t bawl and jostle, they don’t even demand.  Instead they’re quiet, conciliatory; concerned liquid-treacle eyes follow my every movement, dew-dropped noses and rasping tongues tentatively nudging and exploring my hands, arms and hat. Gentle reassurance. I curl up on the straw where Robert finds me. In a couple of hours it’ll be time to welcome in the New Year!

The following few days passed in a haze of phone calls, journeys and doctor-nurse-hospital arrangements on behalf of my mother. Clamouring, pleading, demanding; questioning, challenging, probing. Eventually I was persuaded to take her to the main hospital in Plymouth in case the local cottage hospital could not provide all the treatment needed. Also, I was assured that return transport would be far quicker from there.

Her triage treatment in A&E was excellent and in a couple of hours we found she’d fractured her knee cap. From then on it was a nightmare. Treatment was to be ‘conservative’ – in other words nothing would be done, not even pain relief. Mobilise, I was told, get her moving (with a fractured knee cap? with nothing to help?).  It was obvious they couldn’t wait to pass the problem back to her home, her GP and community services. If you’re old and demented you don’t stand a chance, even if yours is a ‘mechanical’ injury, time and money will not be wasted on you. After a seven hour wait for return transport we arrived back at her home at 9pm – my mother was past all reason – frightened, confused and irrationally furious at everything, including me.

So here we are, frustrated and banging our heads against several brick walls.  Trying hard to find her some form of pain relief that won’t exacerbate her mental condition. Trying to get a response and hurry along the re-enablement team so we know how best to mobilise her without causing her more injury (but referrals, don’t you know, have to be processed through proper channels before a visit is allowed). Trying to encourage her to eat and drink (at the moment she won’t). Trying to explain to her what’s happened (she has no idea of why she hurts). I don’t know how she’s going to cope; her body’s fast becoming a random muddle of irrelevant, awkward bones.  But I know I still see that spark of  fighting spirit flashing in her eyes, and until that dies I will do everything I can.

hartland - new year's day 2009

hartland - new year's day 2009

It’s 30 December and Berengère’s family are arriving to stay with us over the next five days. This is their first visit and I know they are really looking forward to seeing the farm, the animals, the surrounding countryside; absorbing the quintessential unspoilt ‘Englishness’ of the area. Roland, Berengère’s father, feels that that much of England, especially London, is loosing its distinctiveness and was hoping that he would re-find the special character of the country on this rural visit.

They are most interested in the farm and its produce and are intrigued by my passion for animals, farming and the countryside. Ben and Berengère have always championed our out-of-the-garden and from-the-fields ingredients together with my home cooking, so her parents were, I know, looking forward to some tasty meals to restore their faith in British cuisine, food and farming.  The pressure was on! Normally cooking for ten doesn’t faze me, but I was ill and craving a hole in which to curl up and die.  The thought of being a genial host and chef on top of routine twice-a-day stock care and farm work was beginning to make me feel wobbly.

inspecting the cattle

inspecting the cattle

“It doesn’t matter” said Berengère “Really, not at all. Look, my mother was in bed for the whole week when you came to visit! They’ll understand.” (Martine had injured her back when visited in May and was condemned to her bed by the doctor.)

“I know, I know. But I want it to be special for them. I’ve planned the meals. I’ve kept back the joints. I want them to have the whole experience!” And as always when you’re not 100% everything is blown-up by lip-quivery see-saw emotions.

In my head I’d planned the meals for the days ahead – ribs of our Red Ruby beef, sweet melting legs of Whiteface Dartmoor lamb, slow-roasted aromatic hand of pork and warm hearty white bean and kale casserole.  I would prepare gratins of creamy potatoes and leeks, red cabbage and apple, tiny sprouts stirred into sticky chestnuts and port, steam fresh romanesque shoots and caldo nero kale (jealously saved in the veg garden). I wanted to make puddings of backberries and apples encased in the shortest of crumbly pastry, tiny mincepies with clotted cream, blueberries and currants in a cloud of fluffy meringue, a Christmas pudding (of course) and Christmas cake. I knew what I wanted to do…

It was fine! After a convivial first night where we celebrated the coming together of our families we planned the days ahead. Tomorrow we would take a tour of the animals and the farm, followed by lunch and whilst I stayed at home to prepare the New Year’s Eve meal Robert would take everyone on a hauntingly beautiful walk around Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor.

lambs in five acres - new year's eve 2008

lambs in five acres - new year's eve 2008

Sitting down to lunch after the walk around the farm on gloriously hard ground (even our mud is beginning to freeze – total bliss!), the phone went…

“Paula, it’s Elaine from Spring House. Your mum’s had a fall. Well, a couple actually, we think…  it’s a bit muddled. But the doctor’s been out. He thinks her hip could be broken. He’s arranged for her to be taken to Derriford to be x-rayed. She very confused and in a lot of pain….”

“What? Oh no! I’ll be there. Don’t let her be taken to Derriford, it’s New Year’s Eve, it’s Plymouth, it’ll be complete mayhem, she’ll be shoved in a corner. Don’t let anyone take her. I’ll phone the doctor. I’m on my way…Oh God, please let her be alright…”

With my heart pounding, I garbled hasty instruction at Ben for the evening meal and with an apologetic good-bye, grabbed my coat and fled.

scorhill stone circle in the setting sun - new year's eve 2008

scorhill stone circle in the setting sun - new year's eve 2008

part three to follow…

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

So where have I been? What blanket of fug was thrown over my head rendering me silent? The first was the same as for many of you, I shouldn’t be surprised…The Cold (of the virus type)! The second is slightly more distressing…

My slip-sliding into pre-Christmas panic disappeared and unabashed childish excitement and joy took over; our family arriving, friends popping round, unexpected invitations and out-of-the-blue visitors.

The tree twinkled in the warm firelit glow of the sitting room; banisters, mantels and pictures were decorated with binds of evergreen; mistletoe decked doorway and beam whilst freshly woven wreaths festooned the doors.

All was ready – larder shelves burdened festive goodies – ham, turkey and goose; Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cake; nougats, navettes, glace fruits and marrons from France; cranberries, clementines, nuts and chocolate. I was all set to feed the army descending on us for the next ten days. But I hadn’t bargained on The Cold.

Olly, first to succumb to The Cold just before Christmas, was surprised to find he became worse rather than better. Will arrived home with the London strain. Camille brought the French version with her over the channel, her temperature soaring on Christmas Eve. The next in the firing line was me – whilst cooking Christmas dinner (naturally). Then it was Berengere. With rapid and single-minded intent it worked its way through us all. We had the added frisson of the more exotic, as our friends from across the Atlantic added their contribution to the melting pot. This was fast becoming virus heaven!

‘Hey bro –how ya doin’? Gi me five!’

‘Aw’rite mate. Didn’t ‘spec you ‘ere. Aint ‘alf bad – oi mean look at these fekking geezers…!’

‘Pardon…I ‘ave not zee Englieesh…mais oui, ici, c’est trez bon. ‘Ow you say? Bloodee marvellous!’

‘Good to see you all in this neck of the woods. The frog’s right when ‘e says it’s bloody marvellous. Never seen such a cosmopolitan gathering. Here’s one for united nations and entente cordial!

The viruses rub their hands in glee at the prospect of increasing their kith and kin by 500,000 billion in the next few days. They high five and in unison stream forward to launch their attack; bookies shout the odds on favourites, and humans didn’t stand a chance!

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

Yesterday, sadly, the house emptied. Today, as I gather up pine needles, escaped shreds of wrapping paper, broken toys, cracker jokes, squashed mince pies and baskets full of holiday detritus, I stop as I seem to the whole time at the moment to gaze out at the frost-sparkling countryside. Do you know we haven’t had a drop of rain for over ten days? I can scarcely believe it.

The more distressing part two tomorrow…

The slippery slide to Christmas panic well and truly kicked in today…
I was okay. I thought I’d got a handle on it.  Work has been rather demanding, but it’s under control – just. We’d decided that we weren’t going overboard on presents this year; stockings would be a joint venture – couples sharing – apart from children who we could all spoil; we’d decided the main thing was to enjoy ourselves and the family being together (actually we do say this every year!).

But today the rug was whisked from under my feet. There were icy cold fingers running down my back and persistent butterflies churning in my stomach. It’s strange as I’m not an early organised buying-presents-far-in-advance sort of person; I enjoy the excitement and anticipation of the build-up. We don’t put the tree up until a few days before Christmas and our decorations come from the wood; armfuls of holly, ivy, pine and fir to decorate mantelpieces, bookcases, fireplaces and beams, with Will weaving glossy darkly-green wreaths for the doors.

Last weekend the Christmas goose, purchased from a friend, was despatched and a finger-numbing, but happy-chatty companionable afternoon was spent plucking in a sneezing, tickling snow of white down.  The puddings? They were made, stirred and wished into by the family back along on stir-up Sunday; the cake’s maturing in its tin and I’ve jars of mincemeat on the larder shelves. So what gives? Why do I feel so unready, flakey and shakey?

I think it begun with the moths – a couple of weeks ago I went to put on a warm jumper and its sleeves were peppered, well no actually, they were shredded by clothes moth larvae. Since then all, each and every precious thing appears to have succumbed to moth damage.  Cupboards, drawers and shelves are having to be cleared and the contents stored in the deepfreeze – not a pre-Christmas job by choice.

Then the washing machine decided to have a wobble – and on a farm in winter, with our mud, the washing machine is elevated to god-like status, I assure you. I prayed. I also kicked and banged. In the end I offered well-managed and sorted sacrifices (clothes and pockets devoid of hidden nails, straw, binder twine, lumps of soggy tissue and mouldy barley); this appears to have appeased the mechanical washing god for the moment.

But it was this morning that hammered the panic home. The scraper (the implement I use daily to scrape out the cow palace) gave a tortured teeth-on-edge tearing screech and hung limply from the arms of the bobcat – broken and twisted. Kaput.

Following hot on the heels of scraper, Robert’s car’s crankshaft pulley was making ominous noises – “you get out of there – that’s not safe” scolded Chris at the garage “how you got home last night’s a bloody miracle!” Car out of action for the foreseeable future.

So what with the moth infestation and freezer full of clothes, not food for feeding the thousands; Amazon deliveries consisting of moth repellents, cedar balls and pheromones, not gorgeous trinkets and presents to die for; my broken can’t-live-without mechanical aids and a defunct car – I feel a little overwhelmed.

beautiful brilliant red holly berries

beautiful brilliant red holly berries

I cut a meadow for hay on Saturday. I don’t do a lot, around 250-300 small bales for the sheep. Sheep are not keen on wrapped haylage, even if it’s dry and sweet, they will eat it if pushed though much prefer good old fashioned hay. At last, after weeks of ‘yes we can’, oh, ‘no we can’t’, those fonts of all knowledge, the weather stations, predict four to five days of dryish weather (of course leaving a 10-20% error margin for rain just in case those super-advanced technical pieces of seaweed are having an off day).

Coming back from turning the hay a second time late yesterday afternoon I was confronted by two very dejected bored dogs waiting for my return in the yard. Feeling guilty I rushed them off for a quick walk. Going past the woods I notice the ground was covered with large patches of golden leaves. Funny. I thought and went for a closer look. Not leaves but carpets of chanterelles! Quickly taking off my cardi I began to pick – but there were too many. I dashed back home to get my basket and a knife. I picked and I picked.

Last night we had omelettes with chanterelles, tonight it was chanterelle risotto, tomorrow it’ll be a chanterelle strogonoff. And, to boot, I have trays of them drying out in the sun and on top of the Aga. A totally unexpected delicious bonus.

Damn, blast and bugger…I’ve succumbed. Yup, I’ve caught, completely and with no mistake, the ‘thing’ deftly between my two ears and a little between my ribs too. The ubiquitous, the compulsory, the obligatory, the very one…yes – the seasonal lergy.

Well, what could I expect?  I have been shut in a house for the past two weeks with most of the family coughing, sneezing and snorting so I guess the good old immune system was a bit fed-up with being Mr Strong-and-Aloof, therefore deciding to step down off his pedestal and join in the general furore.  The problem is that they’ve all gone and I’m left coughing and spluttering on my own (apart from husband and Olly). Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

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