what I really, really want….

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Minefields and Christmas gift buying may not be an ideal comparison but the latter is without doubt an area through which one must step with extreme care, if only hypothetically. Back in the mists of time I went through a period of buying jewellery for Jenny, as Christmas gifts, from Butler & Wilson, which at the time seemed like a fail safe option; yet over those years I became accustomed to her face…a face displaying incredulity at her husband’s inability to select a suitable bauble from an Aladdin’s cave of jeweled treasure. I have no doubt that, as I left the shop bearing my Christmas purchase, the vendeuse was already selecting something that Jenny would really like, as she knew that she’d be popping in for her usual post Yuletide visit to exchange the inanity that I had carefully selected.  When it comes to gifts let me be clear, I absolutely do not want a zigazig but, on reflection, I can see the thought process involved in choosing myrrh as a gift. Leaving the shopping to the last minute and thinking to oneself ” Myrrh?…no one’s going to think of myrrh..big lump of myrrh, that’s me”. It’s like buying a durian for someone who was expecting a football… disappointing and smelling like shit. Now is the moment for me to say something encouraging to myrrh:” I don’t know if you smell like a sewer but, if not, I have a feeling you’ll be an acquired taste”. I once read about a drug, palfium by name, which was described as very painful to inhale, bringing on extreme nausea and vomiting which was similarly described, by an acquaintance with an amateur interest in narcotics, as an acquired taste. This suggests to me that the acquisition of that taste would entail being mad or not having a nose. Happily myrrh and palfium are not contiguous in the Pharmacopeia so our wise man of yore was not tempted to traffic drugs into the quiet hamlet of Nazareth and instead settled for the least favourite Christmas present of all time. The comfort in this parable comes with the knowledge that Balthazar, the least capable Christmas shopper in history, has not gone down as a complete fuckwit but, wait for it, as a Wise Man. With this heritage and template for wisdom there is no surprise that Donald is President elect or that Britain has decided to be an American aircraft carrier. On waking, this December morning, the temperature in our house gave me a close approximation of how it would feel to be away in a manger and I can tell you now that I will be extremely fucked off if somebody knocks on the door offering me myrrh…unless they have stutter.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Christmas, Digital photography, Expectation, Gold, Humour, Myrrh, Photography, Presents, Shopping, Three Wise Men, Uncategorized, Writing, Xmas Presents | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

thank your lucky stars…and stripes..

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Cinderella’s garage…pumpkins make excellent coaches .

This is hardly the right time for right minded  Americans (I use the phrase advisedly) to be saying a hearty “thank you” but that’s exactly what a large swathe of them will be doing today although I’m not sure that a boatload of unauthorised immigrants, landing illegally at Cape Cod and immediately setting up a colony whilst swearing allegiance to the British Crown, would be the subject of many thanks from the new administration. On reflection, it’s clear that Thanksgiving refers to ordinary folk having had the courage and determination to survive through perilous times. For many, the next four years will undoubtedly serve as a test of that resolve.

This is the first year that I have been aware of the fact that Thanksgiving occurs on the 23 November and that is only because of a chance meeting with this trolley load of iconic pumpkins which happened to be parked in one of our next door neighbour’s dépendances as I wandered aimlessly, hunting pictures, on yesterday’s grey November afternoon. My pleasure in the pumpkin is purely visual and I have long wondered why people choose to waste good  sugar and pastry to make it palatable but, in the face of the 320 million Americans who delight in the kandy coloured tangerine flake pie each year, I’m not going to mention that out aloud. If it’s any consolation I feel the same about Christmas dinner. In part, it’s the predictability, which for many is the very attraction, but above all it is the rigid format of the menu that makes it so mind numbingly dull particularly as the task of cooking it falls to me each year. Over the years I have photographed hundreds of Christmas dinners for magazines and each time there was the suggestion that it would not be the same old Christmas fare but it would be exciting and new; Christmas with a twist. These experiences have led me to conclude that there is no twist to Christmas ( read Thanksgiving) dinner save for Oliver’s – “Can I have some more of the same, please”.  Research into the origin of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner makes it clear that the presence of turkey was unlikely, and that there was no sugar for cranberry sauce nor butter for pastry …let alone an oven in which to cook a pie. It seems likely that tough, dry barbecued venison and stewed pumpkin were on the slate for Thanksgiving dinner on day 1 which made it clear to all those around that harsh table that there was definitely room for a twist if not a shout and, in the same breath, it’s clear that Christmas dinner doesn’t have the Middle Eastern flavours that its heritage would suggest. Somewhere along the passage of centuries a change has been brought about and that change seems to have come from two nations which are not celebrated for their ingenuity in the kitchen: the Dutch and the Germans. The Dutch have produced wonderful painters and the Germans, wonderful cars. Neither have produced wonderful dinner. My case rests.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving and enjoy that pie. By the way, if you have any pumpkin left over here’s a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin and Potato Frittata from the pen of Rachel Roddy.

Potato and pumpkin frittata

Serves 4
1 white onion
1 large potato (about 400g)
500g pumpkin or butternut squash
Olive oil
1 tbsp sage, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
8 eggs
Butter

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1 Peel and slice the onion, potato and pumpkin. In a medium-size frying pan with a lid, fry the onion in 4 tbsp of the olive oil.

2 After 2 minutes add the potato and pumpkin. Stir until each slice is glistening, then cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it looks as if it’s sticking, add a little water. By the end of cooking time the vegetables should be really soft and collapsing.

3 Add the sage, salt and pepper and cook for a minute longer, uncovered.

4 Beat the eggs in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Either pour this over the vegetables or – if you are afraid of the egg sticking or you are using an iron pan – scrape the vegetables into the egg bowl, wipe the pan clean, smear with butter, then pour it all back in the pan, stirring until the eggs begin to cook.

5 Let the frittata cook over a low heat. As the edges start to set, use a spatula to ease them away from the pan sides. Once the frittata is golden underneath – mostly set but with a wobbly top, which takes about 10 minutes – you can either serve as is, or, if you want it crisper, either finish the frittata in the oven, or invert twice on to a plate and put it back briefly in the pan to cook the other side.

Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome, the author of Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Saltyard) and winner of the André Simon food book award

Posted in 2016, Baking, BBQ, Chicken, Christmas, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Photography, Poultry, Pumpkin Frittata, Rachel Roddy, Recipes, Thanksgiving, turkey, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

a question of taste….

 

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Bright cake

Ronald Searle’s “Molesworth” books, of which I was a devotee when at prep school, often featured, among their wildly stylised illustrations, an image of  what appeared to be a solid speckled cake like wedge, known as “seed cake”, and which was being normally being offered to Nigel (our hero) by a very fucked up looking Auntie…I think this image damaged me…if only there had been more pornography available to young minds in that era I would have avoided images of  Molesworth’s Auntie’s seed cake and gained a more balanced view of both cake and procreation. But this was not to be. It would have been a miracle for a young palate, assaulted daily by unpleasant and mostly brown dishes, not to conclude that flavour and taste were linked to colour. I quickly assumed that brown food, according to all the available evidence, would probably be unpleasant. Plain, brown, unadorned, cake can, and did appear to me, as very dull fare indeed.  I only ate it on the occasions when it was offered and only then if it would have been rude to refuse, although such an occasion evades me as I have tried not to shy away from rudeness when it has been called for and the offer of dull, dry brown cake would have definitely constituted such a moment. The plain quality of food at this time was inextricably linked to post war rationing so, with the slow relaxing of that sugarless grip, I entered into a period of infatuation with icing; the term icing did not, to my mind, include the thick and insidious layer of marzipan, a confection that I’m sure was created by a young de Sade, which was used in the way that carpet layers use an under felt. It lay unseen in ambush, threatening the sugar craving palate as does the deadly freezing water that lies beneath the ice threaten the carefree skater. Young white teeth cut into the pristine fondant crust, delighting in this new total sugarness, only to break through and, like a cart wheel on a muddy track, be embedded in brown almond ooze. The very worst case scenario was when marzipan appeared topless, as in Battenberg (which I respected as I believed it to be the name of the Royal family) which cake did not have the decency to cover up its marzipan even with the thinnest, flimsiest layer of sugar.

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Brown ….but delicious….cake

O tempora, o mores…we now have tiled floors and sugar is treated with the same respect as gelignite. There is no under felt nor icing.,,,,but, as a direct consequence of childhood icing infatuation, quite a few less teeth. Cake making is now one of my pleasures and, in direct contrast to days gone by, brown cake, in all its varieties, is the cake of choice. Surrounded as we are by boulangeries and patisseries I cannot remember when I last bought a cake. The brown cake in the picture is from a Nigel Slater recipe for an Autumnal pear cake with a crumble topping. This apparently dull slice of browness is charged with flavour and texture ..the sponge cake surprises with the flavours of roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon, vanilla and muscovado sugar. Above is a layer of soft sweet spiced poached pears and, on the roof, a crisp buttery crumble. As a final touch, the poaching juice of the pears is reduced and dribbled over the cooked cake surface to set as chunks of amber in the rough sugary surface. I have made this cake a few times now, and each time it is slightly different…sometimes I forget an ingredient or cook it at a slightly different temperature or with apples as I have no pears or one of dozens of other possibilities . Each time it is slightly or greatly different and each time I love it. Which is why I don’t buy cakes as I know how they will taste and I had no part in their creation.

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Posted in 2016, apples, Baking, cake, Childhood, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Hazelnuts, Humour, Nigel Slater, Pear & Hazelnut Cake, Pears, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

something very good and exceedingly sticky….

Some days ago, whilst lighting the wood burner in the afternoon, I turned on the television to pass the time while waiting for the fire to catch. Seeing the face of Simon Hopkinson was a relief, as I’m as keen on daytime television as I am on anything called “tuna bake”. He was making sticky toffee pudding which in my pudding world lay in one of the outer rings of the inferno, quite close to “TB”. And it came to pass that the words of the blessed Simon brought about a Pauline conversion and in no time I was pitting dates and the fire had gone out. Fuck the fire, I thought, and I was right. This recipe does not produce the big dull layer of brown sponge with a bit of stickiness…this recipe produces a near erotic slice of oozing sexiness and I left out the second sauce that he recommends you pour over the first one. Too little is seen of this man and the same can be said for Alistair Little.

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There’s no question that Simon Hopkinson’s result looks darker than mine which is because I didn’t have molasses sugar and made it with a French sugar, sucre vergeoise, which is like a demerara…and also because he’s a wonderful chef who really knows what he’s doing which is different from a hungry photographer who likes cooking.

Posted in 2016, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Simon Hopkinson, sticky toffee pudding, sticky toffee pudding, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

suffering from a heavy list…

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pristine designer shopping list that I use as regularly as my snow shoes.

Advancing years and oncoming forgetfulness rush headlong toward each other. Like a mediaeval knight I depend on the lists* to keep them far enough apart in the hope of merely receiving a glancing blow rather than suffering a head on collision. Staying with the metaphor, the armour of willful forgetfulness served me well throughout much of  my working life: ” Oh, I can’t tell you how sorry I am, I just completely forgot to ..fill in the applicable” The supposition would be that this “applicable” had, of its own accord, willfully hidden itself in some dark recess of the labyrinthine maze of alcohol fogged grey matter, that was my contemporary mind, without my knowledge or consent thus rendering me blameless for any consequential impact my apparent forgetfulness might have caused. In that “best of times”, when forgetting, smoking and swearing were socially acceptable and PC meant Pretty Cool, my omission would undoubtedly have been temporarily annoying but that very annoyance, at whatever I had feigned to forget, would have quickly faded into the mists of lunch and was as soon forgotten by the annoyed as it had been by me. It is therefore surprising to me that in this leisured time of my life, when I have less need to remember things than at any previous time, the more conscious I am of forgetting them. Forgetting a meeting with the bank, forgetting an important client’s name or just forgetting that I should be in the studio rather than in the pub were serious “forgets” that I forgot and are but an unseasoned and minuscule hors d’oeuvre from the catalogue of my willful forgetfulness, none of which concerned me at the time and most certainly did not inspire me to write a list to prevent their recurrence. But now, when both profession and professionalism are in the past,  I do.

I write a lot of them, too many;  some of them are absurdly detailed yet remain the subject of continual editorial crises when critical additions and deductions are quickly made, the reasons for which are as quickly forgotten. Very often I forget that I have made the list at all and find that I need another list to remind me to refer to the list that I’ve forgotten. The result is a litter of bookmarks, computer reminders and notes clipped into crocodile faced  fridge stickers: yet I am able to avoid, miss or blindly walk past any of these aide memoires. They have become like a walking stick to a man who does not have a limp yet, being accustomed to its presence in his hand, without it becomes unsteady. What I do remember clearly is a time when I wasn’t concerned with either forgetting or remembering. That time in my life when I knew exactly what I wanted at any given moment…I wanted to get laid, to have a drink, to be rich, to be somewhere else, to be someone else: I knew exactly what I wanted. There was spontaneity and carelessness. And now it’s lists; lists to remind me of what I want or at least what I wanted when I wrote the list but which want shifts as slowly and surely as the sands of the Kalahari or, less dramatically, as a smiling man with an unnecessary walking stick….

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The ‘lists’ were barriers which defined the battlefield in a tournament.

Posted in 2016, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

NEW Food Photography Course with Olia Hercules 2017

 In June 2017, together with Olia Hercules, I will be running a food photography course at the Villa Le Mazeau in West France. This wonderful location. which is one of Big in France’s holiday homes, is set in the heart of the South Vendéen countryside which is a perfect spot in which to relax and enjoy good food and wine….and take photographs of them.

Spring dates 2o17 : 16, 17 and 18 June

The theme of this course is cooking over wood fires. We’ll be cooking in the summer kitchen at the luxurious Villa Le Mazeau, which has a wood fired pizza oven as well as a wood fired plancha and grill. I should emphasise that photography and cooking share the star billing on this course, so if you want to leave your camera in your bag and just watch and learn from Olia, that’s fine…. oh, and then enjoy eating the wonderful gear that’s she’s created…followed by a swim or a country walk.

I’ll be offering tuition in practical food photography in the mornings and, for those who are still interested, a couple of hours in the afternoons when I can review pictures you’ve shot, give advice on other areas of digital photography that interest you as well as answering questions on the mysteries of Photoshop .

For the full picture and booking details have a look at the Cookery and Photography courses on:

BiginFrance.com

Posted in 2016, BBQ, clay oven, Cookery School in France, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Olia Hercules, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Photoshop, pizza oven, summer, swimming pool, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A memory of Chez Allard

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Poilane, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris

 

Memory is a wonderful thing and I am of the opinion that it is something to be enjoyed while I still have it. On one of my recent constitutionals down that virtual lane the name of Chez Allard came to mind. This is a restaurant that I love, not because I frequent it, but because it stands for an ideal that pleases me: bistrot cooking. Over the years this restaurant has changed dramatically which has left me with the memories of what once was and has left Chez Allard with Ducasse and  his well heeled acolytes. Because of this passage of time I must revert to the past tense.

There were few drawbacks to Chez Allard save that of drawing back one’s chair from the small table as they were so tightly packed together making it no place for a weak bladder: unless one was on the menu. The walls and the ceiling had a golden brown patina that could only be achieved by demanding that the clients smoked cigarettes of the highest tar content, which they did without complaint or pause, giving lie to the belief that smoking impairs the palate as the food  which the smoked clientele demanded was of the highest quality. It specialised in classic bistrot dishes such as volaille de Bresse,  which entailed a whole roasted fowl from Bresse served with a mountain of girolles or ceps to be enjoyed by two people. The menu also boasted the roast duck with green olives,  big metal dishes of butter bleeding escargots, braised pigeon and peas, rabbit stew, salads of beets and mâche – gear of the finest quality and wines to match. The magic once again lay in the fact that perfectly prepared food was not a surprise: it was expected.

I have only eaten there twice, with a huge gap between the visits. The first time was in the late 60′s when the activists of OAS were blowing up cafes and making life a little too edgy for a for a peace loving smudger on an early visit to what was gay Paris before the dictionary was hijacked. I can’t remember what I ate, but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable as a long haired hippie surrounded by severe crop haired colonels from the Legion Etrangeère  entertaining male or female lovers, and in some cases both, and whose humourless faces suggested that this was but a tiresome interlude before setting off to assassinate de Gaulle. They didn’t look like the sort of people who would take kindly to people who disapproved of them or, in fact, take kindly to anyone for whom they didn’t already have a use. I ate quickly, fucked off quietly and came back 35 years later when not wanting to kill the president of the Republic was more acceptable. On this subsequent visit I had the most wonderful pigeon and peas, followed by cheese and something else that was delicious. I was with Jenny, my wife, and Andy Harris. The latter is a man who knows a great deal about food so what followed was even more unexpected. Jenny was already in hell. There were far too many unrecognisable organs on white plates oozing blood, and snails and generally things that she doesn’t believe people actually enjoy, but only eat to be cool or, as she says, to show off. Andy had his eyes on rognons de veau, a plural, and those eyes widened and nearly leaped from their sockets when not they, but “it”, arrived at the table. In my memory the kidney was the size of a baby’s head, dark brown and with the protruding ends of some tubes quiveringly visible: a more than daunting sight for someone who had clearly been expecting a small dish of delicately sautéed kidneys. With downcast eyes he set to work on the monumental organ and, before the first mouthful was raised to his lips, he whispered menacingly, “Don’t say a fucking word, Roger” and so the meal continued until the Big Kidney was no more. You win some, and the big kidney bore evidence that you do indeed lose some. I didn’t need to remind him of this, but I did.

The basis of this piece originally appeared in “Simply Fed”.

Posted in 2016, Andy Harris, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, food, Food photographer, France, Memory, Paris, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

reflecting on a Sunday lunch in La Rochelle…..

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The skies are blue with soft white clouds and the sun is shining. It’s business as usual in La Rochelle. Ancient stone walls reflect the warm sun into the darkest corners of the streets. Pavements are cluttered with the tables and chairs of the busy cafes. Sunglasses and cigarettes. The witching hour of midday has passed unnoticed which is unusual as, on any other day of the week, this peace would be shattered as the office sluice gates open releasing a rushing stream of hungry, thirsty workers into the bars and restaurants around the central covered market. Today is Sunday and the waters are calm.Whatever is happening is happening in a very relaxed way. Car drivers are being civil to pedestrians…even to each other…. which is a rare and wonderful coincidence as our faithful, but superannuated, GPS directs us unerringly into cul-de-sacs and up one-way streets against the downward flow. In spite of its help we find “La Marie Galante”, our lunchtime rendezvous.

La Rochelle is about boats. There are so many sleek, floating tax evasions and unsecured loans in the marina that it’s hard to requite the national cries of universal poverty with this halyard clacking armada. The “Marie Galante” is one of the genre of restaurants that I have grown to love since our arrival in France some 15 years ago. No interior designer has been involved in the appearance of this restaurant which is as good as Michelin star in my book. It is white with some blue, like La Rochelle. The napery is paper and the glasses are glass and they sparkle. No padded menu, just small blackboards announcing today’s menu. Sunlight pours in through the huge windows that give onto the marina. Beyond the marina is the Atlantic and America. Mother and daughter run the front of house. Everything happens kindly. There is a proper kitchen producing this food. Not a spectacular kitchen but one that provides well made dishes from fresh produce on white china which is free from the signature of a paprika sprinkling, parsley scattering sous chef which, when present, is as clear a promise of bad news as is a fresh tiger’s turd to a tracker . The fish, coquillages and crustaceans come direct from the fishing port 5kms away. No central market, just direct from the boat owners. We have oysters and a feuilleté de fruits de mer to start, followed by chunks of fresh, flaky morue in a jus de viande. Nothing clever, just correct. The crème brûlée is as good as I have ever tasted and if it wasn’t I would still be in the mood to feel that it was. The restaurant is pleasantly full of people and the buzz of their conversation. There is no “oohing” as dishes arrive. They are as expected. No one is here to worship, to be seen or to impress. They are here to be with family and friends and to eat the good food to which they are accustomed.

An excerpt from my book “Simply Fed”.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Bistro, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, lifestyle, Photography, Photography holiday, seafood, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Gigolo d’Agneau…..

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The two sheep that live in the field outside our kitchen door have taken on the role of Big Issue sellers in my psyche. I feel guilty if I pass by without giving them something, and enjoy a glow of self-satisfaction as they gratefully accept the stale slices of bread that I magnanimously offer to them in a vain attempt to appease their reproachful stare. Aside from the fact that brioche is their favourite, and that the look in their eyes leaves me in no doubt that they are aware that they are only receiving unwanted scraps, I still get to feel that I have performed my charitable act for the day, although this morning’s conditions gave me an immediate insight into the possible origin of the phrase “as cold as charity”. One would imagine that sheep would prefer something green, but this pair are big on carbs. One of them is a ewe, lone survivor of the savage cull that followed the demise of the flock’s aged guardian, and the other is a lamb, issue of a passing relationship with a gigolo ram. “Gigolo d’Agneau” or more accurately “Agneau du Gigolo” has a certain ring to it; neither engagement nor wedding, but nevertheless a ring. It was easy, at first, to distinguish the “baa” of the sheep from the bleating of the lamb. Stéphane Reynaud suggests that a Gallic sheep would be more likely to “bêêh” rather than to “baa”.  The “baa” or “bêêh” of the ewe has remained constant but the lamb’s voice has changed considerably, moving from bleat to “blêêh”. It makes me realise how inattentive I was to our childrens’ vocal development as they moved from crying, to speaking, to raging. It has been suggested by my wife that it was not so much my inattentiveness that prevented me from noticing these subtle changes, more my absence from the house during their waking hours.

(an excerpt from “Simply Fed”….available from Blurb)

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Digital photography, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Remembering Proust…..

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Remembering Proust……..

We group of nervously smiling children were made to stand in a row facing two or three older and less smiling children, but children just the same. Each of the unsmiling children held a crude home made bow in one hand and a pair of primitive arrows in the other. We, standing in a row, were asked by the other children whether we would prefer the nail or the used shot gun cartridge. This question referred to the different tips on the arrows. The used shot gun cartridge had a flat, brass plate on the end, which would hurt a bit, whilst the rusty nail had a point which would cause an injury. We all chose the cartridge every time. I don’t remember anyone choosing the nail. We were then told to turn around so that our backs faced the less smiling children, who called themselves Cobras, as in the snake. It was a summer’s day in the Worcestershire countryside and we were standing in a country lane, with steep banks rising up on each side; my memory has an image of a deep, steep sided lane whose banks were covered in vegetation interrupted by small serpentine paths leading up to the ridges. We weren’t smiling now. We were fidgeting. We didn’t look over our shoulders or at each other. If I had looked to my right I would have seen the large, rusty iron farm gate that led to fields where cattle grazed and where we would be taken on “walks” in the afternoons after classes. Looking to my left, if I had done so, would have given me a view of the copse at the far end of the cutting where we “hens” built our “dens” from old farm sacks and sheets of corrugated iron. We waited patiently to be shot but the bell rang and we all ran back to school. I don’t think we, or I, were ever shot but we waited quite often.

Proust was a Cobra, pronounced rather harshly as Prowst rather than Proost, and was the most threatening of that elite band of 11 year olds who made us 8 year old “hens” march as soldiers, in ordered groups, around idyllic country lanes so that we could be ambushed and lined up to be shot at their pleasure. There are apocryphal stirrings in the back of my mind that draw a picture of Proust with a raised hammer smashing the lid of my, or perhaps it was some other child’s, “tuck box” or maybe not a picture but a memory of hearing the story. It was only at the end of my final term at the school when I and my friends finally plucked up enough courage to enter the long deserted Cobras’ den. There was little to see save for a scattered array of rusty empty tins of Fussel’s Condensed Milk and faded sweet wrappers, evidence of the taxes that had been appropriated from us “hens”, together with the small cracked plastic body of a “Crystal” transistor radio which together were as clear a sign of their sway as would have been the bleached human bones in a cannibal’s cave. Proust, by then, had long gone on to matriculate as a bully at one of the great Catholic public schools. This was in 1952 and we children were still innocent and the irony passed us by.

Posted in 2016, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments