Friday, 23 December 2011

The 'Post' Post

Disparate worlds collide in my mailbox.

I say 'mailbox' (or post box as it's called in England) but it's really just a recycled metal bread bin sat outside our back door. (Its replacement - the bin without the rust holes - is full of bread flour in my kitchen.) The bin is big enough to hold lots of post and keep it dry, useful in an unpredictably wet climate. The postman drops everything in the old bread bin, except when Dakota is laid in the back porch with the door open blocking his path. Then he knows my sitting room window is usually open, and he puts it through the window, straight onto my my kitchen table conveniently located beneath.

Post box with hungry chickens

Kind of twee, isn't it? Often the post is too. There are letters from seed merchants bragging about great new developments in crops for pheasants, crops with names like 'Hold-em' and 'Easy Keep'. There are invites to clay pigeon competitions for charity, and small packages of vaccine and ear tags from the vets. All in a day's post for the country-dwelling small farmer.

That's why I look forward to my weekly delivery of The New Yorker. It looks mis-placed and aloof, sitting on top of Mike's subscription to Modern Gamekeeping (an oxymoron). What is that kind of magazine doing in the bread bin post box of a non-New Yorker? Mike calls the magazine my "secret shame" and no visitor to our house has ever leafed through it out of interest. The Shooting Times is well-thumbed by our guests though.

This week's New Yorker came with our local fox hunting supporters' club magazine. We're not technically supporters, but when we bought Teasel Farm it came with a legal stipulation that the local hunt be allowed to ride across the land during the hunt season. I think we got off lightly; friends of mine bought a house that came with an historic right allowing anyone in the village to pick asparagus from their garden, if they chose to grow it. By law. Again, kind of twee, in an inconvenient sort of way for the homeowners.

So, because we legally graciously host some of a day's fox hunting, we get the magazine. It's not a magazine like the New Yorker is a magazine. There's no on-line version. It's not available to download on your iPad. There are no staff writers, only local farmers and fox hunters who probably got tipsy at the local pub and when their defenses were down foolishly agreed to write a small piece. That's how most things get negotiated around here, at the pub after a few pints. The trick is picking your moment: drunk enough to be amenable, not so drunk they forget what they've agreed to. It's a fine line.

I read both magazines back to back. Now I'm up to date with what's on at Tanglewood and the dates of the next horse trials. I know what to have if I ever find myself at The Dutch restaurant in SoHo (order the smoked chicken, skip the eggplant dip) and how to make fruitcake that will stand up to the rigours of being in your pocket and bounced about by a horse all day. (It involves boiling dried fruit and spices with sugar, and binding the gruesome-sounding result with 5 eggs.) Even the "mayo-heavy" eggplant dip at the Dutch sounded pretty good in comparison.

There was an excellent article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, whose reputation I know well, contrasted with an equally excellent article in the hunt magazine by Dan, who used to be my next door neighbour. I know Dan and his lovely family well, though not as well as I know their old pony Gem. Gem was getting a bit strong and mischievous for their young daughter, and I offered my help. Not because I am a gifted rider, but in the hopes that my 140lbs would slow down his smallish 12hh frame, or at least tire him out. It worked for the most part, that exception being the time he bucked me off, face first, into a pile of logs. I only have to look at the prominent red scar on the left side of my face where he broke my cheekbone to remember that pony. I rode him anyway, even with blood trickling down onto my jodhpurs.

So far Adam Gopnik hasn't contacted me about re-training any of his animals.

As opposite as the world of a major metropolitan city seems from that of a local rural county, I'm surprised at the occasional crossover that happens between the two. A local filmmaker had her short film shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. A couple months ago I read a story on the 'Talk of the Town' section of the New Yorker about the opening of a sandwich shop, and the discussion was between Lord S - our boss - and his youngest son.

I don't know much anything about jazz music, but I have been to some performances. Most of it sounded discordant, arrhythmic. At first. After getting accustomed to the music, a song or three into the show I could hear the harmony, or at least discern patterns. It wasn't as random as it initially sounded. There are the odd joins, the connections between notes.

I often suffer from 'A Foot In Each Camp' syndrome. I'm not English, though I've lived here 16 years. I'm American, though I've missed out on our shared culture for the past decade-and-a-half. (This was very evident to me with the recent 9/11 anniversary. I was living in France at the time of the attack and my connection to the attack was filtered through the French media, and week-old papers from the UK. I never shared the visceral experience of being terrorised.)

I suffer from the syndrome on those days when I can't hear the harmony, or ally things that seem so opposite. When I can't have a conversation with someone about Simon Johnson's proposal to regulate banks, or the new David Sedaris book, or make joking references to well-known SNL skits because it's not part of the cultural dialogue in my neighbourhood.

Other days I can find the connection and recognise a pattern, almost always through humour. Contradictory moments and activities put in relationship to each other make me smile: sitting on the tailgate of the truck reading a book on my Kindle while swatting away a chicken which keeps trying to drink the tea out of my cup. Turning up to our favourite French restaurant in a fancy frock and a filthy Land Rover. Writing this blog post while keeping one eye out the window at the pheasants stealing wheat from our chicken feeders.

I either embrace the contradictions and find the common thread that weaves it all together, or I struggle with internal contradictions and fight the differences, and hear only dissonance.

Or maybe I just need to stop over-thinking it all and let Mike get the mail from now on.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Pheasant shooting continues apace. Our regular schedule is Friday - Saturday - Monday, with the odd Tuesday thrown in to keep us off the streets. With Christmas approaching like an oncoming train, I could use some time on the streets to do a bit of shopping. Instead, I headed into the woods to collect greenery for decorating. I hoped that arranging a few swags and putting up a tree would inspire me, girding my loins with holiday spirit enough to brave the shops.

Quincy accompanied me to collect ivy and holly with bright red berries, and pine cones which she indeed helped to collect, retrieving a few to add to the bucket.

The long vines of ivy leaves now adorn the banister and the deer antlers in our hall.

I had lots of ivy leftover, so I took it to the sheep this morning as a treat. I also wanted to show them the hat I'd finished knitting for myself, from their own wool, with my own hands. Sheep don't show the requisite amount of enthusiasm for my skills, but they appreciated the ivy breakfast.

I stopped at the chiller on my way from the sheep field. The game dealer hasn't been yet and there were lots of pheasants with long tail feathers.

I plucked a few handfuls and used them to decorate a wreath, and in a display over the wood stove.

The pheasant haul is a result of two big days' shooting this past weekend. On the Friday shoot, I got to meet the singer Bryan Ferry. I happened to be stood in a river when Mike introduced us. Mike said I blushed like a school girl. On Saturday, I got a burly kiss from the Crown Prince of Somewhereorother for finding his favourite alpine hat which he'd left behind on a log.

I cut our Christmas tree yesterday, from the plantation of trees Mike uses as pheasant cover. Pip came along for the ride. She's recovering from Tuesday's shoot day where she worked hard in the beating line, finding pheasants and shooing them over the waiting gun line. Pip filled in for Spud, who is out of action for another ten days after tearing open her chest on barbed wire. Spud has a three inch line of Frankenstein-like stitches to show off to her mates.

I've got the tree up and decorated -

Tree cutting and trimming is less festive when you fit it in between trips to the abattoir to collect cow stomachs. The dogs don't care about the tree but they're Joy to the World about tripe for dinner -

That's me, modelling my new hat while cutting up tripe. I'm wearing long animal examination gloves, to keep the smell off my hands and sleeves. Folks, I don't think it gets any more festive than this.

So I foraged, and decorated, and finished knitting my hat, and dyed the hat I knit for Mike's present, and cut up tripe, and fed our neighbour's chickens, and treated some of our own chickens for scaly leg, and got fires lit in both wood stoves. Our own dinner of lamb stew is simmering in a crock pot, and later I'll make a venison stew for tomorrow's shoot day lunch. Seems I haven't found time to get to the shops after all.