Today it’s goodbye you Frenchie’s with your garlic and cheap wine – hello Jockland with your whisky and neeps.
You see we are once again exchanging the few months of short but often sunny days of winter in France for some even shorter and far colder wetter ones by the sea near Edinburgh. Locals up there think we are completely barmy for doing this but at least there are some locals, which is why we go there.
Unlike here in France where all the ex-pats swan off to warmer climes and the locals barricade themselves indoors in case we get a millimetre of snow and they all turn into ice statues. The bars all close because, well, because they’re miserable and cold and nobody goes in them anyway. Basically, France in winter is as much a social no-no as mentioning anything to do with that dead blonde bloke in a shell-suit. There’s nothing much except damp silence and the constant dripping of cold rain on your head – and that’s just inside the house!
We have had a hectic time, gearing up for a few months away, though. All those jobs I have managed to avoid since last winter, such as mending a leaking pipe, plugging up a hole in an upstairs ceiling to stop the cat getting in, and killing a few sheep for the freezer, now have to be done, all in one week.
I mentioned last month that I had also embarked on National Novel Writing Month, which I completed quite satisfactorily in 21 days and since then I have nearly completed another book that I had started previously. So, 90,000 words later, my eyes look like a bloodhound and I can’t sleep for hearing continual twittering in my head. And now I desperately need a week’s rest before editing month begins.
What I don’t need is being up a ladder in the rain trying to fix roof tiles and managing to break more than I mend as they have all gone brittle after last years extreme temperatures. Talk about walking on egg-shells. Finally I think I have managed to keep the cats out of all the bedrooms, as well as the rain, because last year when we got back, they had invited all their mates round for sleepovers and the place was as crowded as an Amsterdam whorehouse. Jeremy Clarkson once described cats as being like footballer’s wives. Pretty and well groomed, but fundamentally they’re just after your money! With that, he’s spot on.
In fact this year we have had to employ a chap to come round and feed them, as well as keep an eye on the sheep. This I find rather galling, especially as I have had to spend upwards of twenty quid buying mouse poison to keep the vermin down because our felines are so useless. Needless to mention, the cats are Wendy’s passion, not mine.
No, the sheep are mine. In fact my latest literary offering is called IN BED WITH SHEEP, which is a somewhat risqué title I know. In it I chart some of the antics that I have got up to showing and working with sheep over the years and most of the tales are rather funny.
We are also having lamb for dinner tonight which proves that I do enjoy them from all sides, so to speak.
In fact it’s not lamb we are having but mutton. A couple of male lambs that I kept from last year and are now – or were –up around 90kgs and generally being a nuisance. One even head-butted me in a last ditch attempt at freedom before making his final journey to the abattoir earlier this week. He didn’t do it on the return leg, that’s for sure. Not so easy when you no longer have a head, eh?
Cruel? No that’s not cruel. It’s justice! With rosemary and garlic!
And perhaps a few mushrooms.
But that in itself poses me a problem, because this time of year we have hundreds of mushrooms growing on the lawn, in the field, under the hedge, in the vegetable garden. There’s even a few growing out of the roof truss where the rain and cat has been leaking in. In a quest to become reasonably self sufficient, I would quite like to eat some of them.
Generally I am quite an adventurous chef, not frightened to have a go with some whimsical notion such as throwing lime cordial into my duck-gravy or brazing a pork loin in apricots, fresh ginger and figs. I would love to do the same with mushrooms but the problem with that is you could end up very dead. Because they all look the same - a sort of browny-greyey colour with pale fins - and no matter how many pictures I look up on the internet, I fail to tell the Cèpe from the Death Cap.
I just read a statistic that quotes ‘there are over 3000 varieties of mushrooms in France, but only a few of them are edible.’ Yes, but which ones?
Help me here.
The article does go on to assure me that only 35 people per year actually die from eating the wrong ones, so I suppose that’s quite comforting, but lots more have kidney infections and convulsions which may possibly kill you later, especially if you are behind the wheel when the latter happens.
It’s like playing Russian roulette with fungi. Only with far worse odds!
Can I call an expert to help me? Well, actually, yes I can. I can call the pharmacist. In fact, doing this before eating the things is a lot healthier than the other way round. Apparently, if I rock up at the local pharmacy with my wicker basket and dump them on the counter, the very nice lady will test a few, possibly by frying them up with some bacon and sausage, and let me know if my head will explode if I put them in a beef casserole. But she wont tell me the result for at least a week, presumably if she’s still alive, and by that time the sheep or ramblers will have trampled them all into pulp and I will have to select some new ones. At this rate I am more likely to die of old age than be poisoned.
As a last resort I have now bought some brown ones from the supermarket and am trying to compare them with those from our field in a sort of spot-the-difference competition. If you don’t see this column again you’ll know that I was unsuccessful!