Wednesday 20 February 2013

Mare today, Quorn tomorrow!

A few millennia ago Prophets wore tardy clothes and had long grey beards, while predicting the bleeding obvious. Back then, people listened to them too, possibly because they had no radio or glamorous politicians to otherwise distract them.

Few things have changed really. Now we have Mystic Meg predicting that we are all going to die in the next eighty years or some has-been druid masquerading as an astrologist predicting we will meet a tall dark stranger. Quite rightly, those of us with an IQ higher that our shoe-size will dismiss this as mumbo jumbo and get on with making our own mistakes in life.
But how many of us stop and think, hmmm, what will happen if, er, we ignore this problem….?
Oh dear, now I’m sounding like that preacher they have on radio four every morning who comes up with blandly profound statements about how we should all have a group hug every day…
Well, I am no Nostrodamus but, a week ago I did make a prediction that those caught in the headlights of paddock-gate scandal might just start and divert the heat into profit somewhere else. And low and behold, the supermarkets are managing to bring on the smoke-screens right in front of our very eyes so that the dreaded word ‘horsemeat’ escaped the limelight.
Firstly we get a news headline scaring us that the price of fuel will quadruple in ten years and that we should all start panic-buying petrol on the forecourts and stocking up on paraffin lamps just in case. Thankfully they are on offer this week in store near you.
Next we get we get adverts for tasty vegetarian meat-substitute burgers appearing on our TV. How perfectly timed is that?
‘Worried that the meat in your burger might be unidentifiable?’ says the narrator. ‘Well, why not try this regurgitated vegetable crap, grown and hand-picked by peasants in a third world country we don’t care about, mashed up in a concrete mixer, then seasoned with essence of cow - which is actually refined from a krypto-boroglutin and camel dung - and bound together with dandelion stalks! It’s good for you.’
On radio 2 I heard the normally funny Giles Coren being interviewed about his latest and excellently timed book entitled something like: ‘Let’s all eat Fish’. His opinions, which go much further reaching than anything I could print, stated that the reason we all want to eat meat is because we were brain-washed by the government in the days when this country produced so much meat that they had to get rid of it somehow!
‘What?!!’ I screamed desperately at the car radio. ‘Mankind has been carnivorous for a hundred million years, you prat!’
‘But now we don’t produce enough meat to go round, we have to top it up with other creatures instead…’
‘FF Sake!’ I bellow, ‘we can produce as much meat as you want, if tw*ts like you stopped preaching vegetarian!’
‘It won’t stop there,’ continues he, not stopping there. ‘There will be all sorts of other stuff in those meat pies. Cat, dogs, snakes, insects. Anything they can find to make up the volume….’
‘INSECTS?!!’ By now I am yelling so loud that my eyes are running and I inadvertently run an old lady in a Renault Clio off the road. Why is this man on primetime radio, instead of someone with an atom of agricultural knowledge and 2 spoon-fulls of common sense?!
Where, oh where, was the representative from the National Beef Association, that lobby which all cattle farmers subscribe to, preaching from the rooftops of every building in London with a massive told-you-so slogan?
Why isn’t their chairman on every TV program and late night show, promoting their produce, stamping their foot and quoting what it says on their website:
‘Our aims are to improve the quality and safety of beef … and the education of … the general public…’
Because, instead of holding live ‘EXPO’ shows every year to preach to already converted farmers and brown-nose the corporate fat cats further up the supply chain, this is where their duty lies. Spend some of your registration fees properly!
To quote Rugby coach, Jim Telfer: ‘..this is your Everest, boys..!’
But so far, while the vegans have loaded up their yaks and are leaving base-camp with their sunglasses on, you useless people haven’t even woken up to see the dawn of golden opportunity to get your voice heard by the nation for once.
Perhaps, Giles is right. Within a few years we may all be eating insect-burgers, after our own industry has failed to do anything other than fall on the sword placed directly at the bottom of their own stairs by the clever people.
Come on British Farmers. Tell the public how great your beef product is, not in your own boardrooms, but through loud-hailers and hard-hitting channels of TV and Radio! Haven’t you learned anything from the French?

Monday 18 February 2013

Ice-cream Sunday

 Today is of a turning point for me in a few ways. For one thing it is a new chapter in technology as I step into the world of gadgets named after food products. Resisting the temptation to go with Apple, I am today typing up on my new Galaxy Ice-cream Sandwich tablet! Yes I know it’s a stupid name, but such is the tendency for computer companies to invent terminology, the race is on for who can conjure up the most ridiculous one and, so far, this takes the biscuit!
No matter, the idiotically named machine takes a wee bit of mastering but I am sure it will prove useful in the long run, if only to play solitaire on!
Moreover, I find myself out of retirement and back into my old career, albeit temporarily, of bovine shenanigans and politics, and what fun it is too. Well not exactly fun as I remember  it, particularly as many of my old muckers all seem to have aged considerably, but good to be back in the game for a couple of days.
To start with, the breed is Limousin – big, flame-haired with a temper to match - and the venue is Carlisle, that mecca for all pedigree breeders, which is buzzing as ever.
All of this I have experienced many times before. It seems a world away now,though, since I earned my living at this game amongst these vast creatures as a master-coiffure. In fact when I first got started in my cattle hairdressing career, this breed were fairly new off the blocks. Back then, a few dedicated cattlemen, who had a close eye on the future, spotted these beasts in the fields of mid France and started importing them into UK. Now, of course, the Limousin breed holds court in UK as its most prominent provider of beef, with pedigree registrations in excess of 20,000 per year.
So here I am once more, giving a friend a hand to dress a couple of bulls up for sale, and offering my age-old expertise in the hairstyling department. With combs and clippers, red hair flies this way and that until the beast is squared up like a well trimmed hedge and looking at its best, although it doesn’t seem to keen to comply with this irritation.
More irony arrives now, as we apply a liberal spray of coat-dressing designed specifically for this breed, to bring out the brightness of its red curly coat. As I wander around I note that the product we are using, called Limmo-shine, is still the favoured styling gel preferred by most. How ironic that it was dreamt up by one young man with a wide imagination and an eye on the future too – as that man was none other than yours truly.  I almost feel important as generations of younger cattlemen splash it onto their beasts as if the world depends on it, and wonder if things would have been the same if I hadn’t created this orange liquid in a mixing tub in my garden-shed all that time ago.
You see, in 1987, after an eye-opening visit to Canada, I invented my Ultragroom range of products, with a variety of shampoos and dressings tailored towards the pedigree beef cattle market. A short while after that, things went a little viral and next thing I know, I am shifting this stuff in 45 gallon barrel-loads and, for once, making some well deserved cash.
Then, when the time was right, I sold the whole shebang to a bigger and more businesslike company who made my range more available throughout UK, while I oversaw its evolution for a year or two. After that I brushed off my hands and walked away, with a casual ‘adios, nice knowing you’ attitude – and did something else.
Even then, although I knew I had hit on a winner, never in my wildest dreams did I foresee the longevity of this product range, that would still be at number one 25 years later, while I sat and wrote about it on my Ice-cream sandwich!
So it’s with hind-sighted nostalgia that I once again return, albeit briefly, to see the fruits of my younger work.
To be honest, not a lot has changed apart from the Ice-cream tablet and auctioneers looking younger. 
Do I miss it? Well I wouldn't want to earn a living from it anymore and I can do without the bruises thanks, but yes, I suppose part of me does. What I have realised this weekend is that the creativity that I must have expelled back then has inspired and evolved seamlessly into what I do for a living now. 
Bovine hairdressing to fiction writer - they certainly have one thing in common. Bull-shit!

Monday 11 February 2013

Dead men’s pews

Once again white smoke will shortly billow from the Vatican, but this time with a little controversy.
Because, for once, the Pope is not dead.
Long live the Pope.
Well, not that long obviously, because he’s not very well - but at least he gets a retirement. And so he should.
Imagine a job where the only way out was in a wooden box? Not a very good interview to sit through really. One minute, you are a Cardinal with a garden of roses to look forward to – the next, a job for life, sorting out laws on homosexuals, sticking up for child molesters, and living in the middle of a manic Italian city with only a pope-mobile to get you through the rush hour. Not your dream job, really?
Ashamedly, not being one with total clarity on the whole Jesus and Mary thing, I always thought that the head of the catholic church was appointed by the bloke upstairs himself. Perhaps I’m wrong, but doesn’t God sit in on the committee that decides who gets the job to look after HIS bullions on Earth while HE sits up there directing proceedings and ‘going without’? Lets face it, a few lumps of gold wouldn’t be much use sat on a cloud, would it? Instead his menial bigoted crucifix-managers can have all that cash, just in case they go short of fine wine, ornate velvet robes and choirboys to amuse their otherwise dreary existence.
So surely HE must be quite pissed off today that the one who was chosen to die in his own office has decided to resign from his post and claim a meagre weekly pension and a council house instead – and that is quite worrying?
Will HE now vent his anger on us mere mortals and send us plagues of, er, rain and bad weather?
Maybe HE will decide not to bankroll the upkeep of our local churches?
Perhaps HE will order that catholic services go on even longer, to bore even more of his congregation to death?
Well, as usual, I have a theory on all of this stuff and that is as follows.
‘Not much happening in the church these days? Need a few headlines to get bums back on the pews? Let's break a few rules and cause mass hysteria amongst the sheep classes? Years ago they would have just killed a few Anglicans with the old red-hot-poker-up-the-south-entrance thing and grabbed a few CNN top stories that way. But since killing innocents in the name of His-Almighty has become almost taboo – well, better try another tack. So now it has come to this…this….outrageous controversy.
Oh my god, the pope has retired, whatever next?!
Here is my answer: Who gives a shit?
Break up the palace and give some of that loot back to those who you stole it from in the name of God.  Then you might be seen to do good with the world.
Hypocrites, all.

Thursday 7 February 2013

History is a thing of the past

Wow, it’s stopped raining. Well, for an hour or two anyway. In fact the sun is out today, glistening over the firth of Forth as though it never went away. Maybe it will consider relinquishing its hibernation this year and affording this pleasant land with a summer that it hasn’t seen for a few years now.
Somehow I almost feel a spasm of guilt that we are now making plans to return to our own home in Aquitaine, where the days are long and warm, and springtime has already enticed the daffodils from the earth. I have to say I have enjoyed our time here in Scotland, even more than the last extended visit we made. For all the cold and overcoatness that this northern land is stigmatised with, there is something warm here that lies beneath it all - not just in the calling of the distant hills but in the people who live and love it here.
And what a contrast these people are to the ones back home in France, whose patriotism cements them together in defiance of all things out-with their national flag. Yes, the Scots carry the banner of Nationalism too, but not as much as the rest of Britain would have you believe. A few gentle jibes at me wearing my England rugby jersey in a local pub crowded around the TV, watching their own team once again fall to the auld foe, are both expected and acceptable. But that is where it stops. No slashed tires or burning holiday homes as with some of other anti-English nations within the British union. Scottish Independence? Well I have certainly seen no evidence of its support around this neck of the woods. If I can be bold enough to make a prediction, all talk of Salmon in Scotland will revert back to the smoked-kind before the end of next year.
Not that I am done with this country yet, as I will have to hasten back quite a few times this year in my role as researcher and writer about that great beast – the Aberdeen Angus. Now a couple of months into the project of documenting the breed’s history, I have been fortunate enough to sit and talk to a few great cattlemen who have been collectively responsible for developing the breed into the dominant brand that it now enjoys. Inside, I feel proud to be the one to preserve such a valiant history of its roller-coaster ride to fame, which can be left as a lesson, as well as a legacy, for generations to come. From the breed’s halcyon days of the sixties when overseas demand for smaller animals reduced the size of Angus bulls to that not much larger than your family pet dog, through the wilderness years of near extinction from the agricultural day-to-day in the eighties, back to the immense creature that produces the world’s finest beef once more. During that time, many a great business man had bailed-out, seeking new continental breeds for extra profit, while all but a few stalwarts stuck by their guns for what they believed in. Were this a more mainstream political subject, these brave men would now be waving the vees of smugness to those who failed to stay with the ship and repair it in its times of need. But these are farmers, rich in the art of silence on such matters, as their cash-tills ring out success once more and the ship gets back on its course. Not just on course to the UK consumer either, as demand for the Blacks now spreads out across Europe in a widening ripple. This week at the Stirling bull-sales, I met a crowd of Germans, Swiss and Portuguese who were all in town to purchase a piece of prime bovine real-estate. Who knows, it may even reach South West France, and replace that god-awful leathery creature that provides us with beef that would give a crocodile jaw-ache to chew. We can but hope.
In between this research, I find myself documenting yet another small piece of history, this time of the aviation kind. On a trip to the Scottish Museum of Flight in East Lothian, I discovered a small exhibit of a fibreglass single-seater plane built by a man called John Sharp, in his upstairs bedroom. In fact, he built the fuselage in one room and the wings in the other, in a tiny 3 bedroom house in Airdrie near Glasgow, over a period of two years. Now most of us would like to think we live with reasonably understanding partners, but how dedicated did his wife have to be to permit that little exercise? Although a man of resource, which is characterised by the fact that the front wheels of the plane are taken from a wheelbarrow and the rear once from a Tesco shopping trolley, it appears that our John was not exactly a man of foresight.  For it was only once the plane had been built, which measured some eight metres in length and span, did he consider the problem of getting it down the stairs. Not to be thwarted in his quest for free flight, John summoned up a few of his mates to help him with this exercise, by removing the side wall of the house to extract the plane! Even more unbelievable was the fact that this job had to be done at night because the house was, in fact, owned by the council! Now that, dear reader, shows tenacity that even a tireless author like me would be proud of. Unfortunately, John Sharp is no longer with us to tell his tale in person for me to write down and, as yet, the museum refuse to give me a contact for his family so I can extract further detail. However, so convinced am I that this true story should be revealed to the world in all its glory, I will not let this minor setback halt my progress. In the absence of any other evidence, in my next book, the dashing John will fly off to foreign climes and possibly save the world with his paisley-patterned scarf trailing behind him. Maybe he could even have a dog-fight with another John (from Rock) in some other home-made contraption over the skies of Halfpenny-Green? As Mr Murdoch always says, ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story!’