Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Chutney part two

As the shooting season progressed and, every time, the beaters wagon drove past Maurice's smallholding mention was made of his incredible chutney. Pete was well and truly hooked and continued to express his amazement that such a production could have taken place, right under his nose, involving a friend of his, and he remaining completely unaware of its existence. As we approached Christmas of that particular year and thoughts turned to the traditional beaters pre–Christmas food, my brother told Pete that he would bring along a jar of the famous chutney to share with us all. Famous, that is, because by now we had elevated the phantom chutney to new heights. Maurice had won the gold medal for chutney at the Bath and West Show, undoubtedly a great achievement. This we told Pete had resulted in a contract to supply chutney to Waitrose stores throughout the country. Again Pete expressed his amazement at these achievements and told us all that he had not seen Maurice for many months… just as well really, in the circumstances. However, Pete continued to accept, without question, that Maurice was a leading maker of fine chutney and doing very nicely at it. The beaters pre-Christmas feast is really just an extension of the normal mid-morning drinks break that takes place on every shoot day. The difference being, on the pre-Christmas day beaters tend to bring additional festive bites to be shared and some of the guns also donate various goodies for our delectation. The keeper's wife, who normally provides the refreshments for the beaters, also puts on a special spread for the occasion. It was, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary that Don had offered to bring a jar of chutney for the event. He did an incredible job, having produced an extremely realistic label for the chutney jar. Apart from mention of Dorset's finest chutney there was a list of ingredients and mention of the awards which had been bestowed upon the completely fake chutney within the jar. 

What was not mentioned on the label was the fact that Don had liberally laced the homemade chutney, he had produced, with a very strong chilli powder. It was hot, very hot! Knowing what was in it I abstained. Some of the more enthusiastic chutney eating beaters generously spread their cheese and biscuits with the lethal mix. Not, however, before Pete had been enticed to sample a small portion of the stuff. With his usual protestations of not being one for spicy or fancy food out of the way, and, having been persuaded that it was, after all, Christmas Pete got stuck in and his reaction was as swift as it was spectacular. The fiery mix hit his pallet nearly taking his head off, he choked, he coughed and his face changed from its normal colour to an alarming shade of red. He dived for the hedge to expel the chutney from his mouth. Whilst several others within the group had experienced the undoubted heat they had managed, in varying degrees, to put on a brave face and spoke warmly of the excellence, of this, one of Maurice's finest chutneys. It took Pete most of the day to regain normality, during which time, he made it very clear his first taste of chutney was quite definitely his last. He could not begin to understand why anyone would want to eat such stuff and how it had achieved such acclaim was quite beyond his comprehension. The pre–Christmas episode long forgotten, the season continued and the chutney joke carried on, Pete still blissfully unaware that the whole thing was a complete farce. 

The season ended and that was that. In the autumn of the same year the new season began, as they always do, and the chutney joke was soon up and running again. Pete was again told of further successes which Maurice and his chutney had achieved throughout the summer. As previously, he accepted all this nonsense without question. Each time we passed Maurice's place the chutney was always mentioned and so we continued for several weeks. Then, the inevitable happened, one morning Pete arrived for beating as usual and received the usual greetings and was asked how he was. "Well", he said, "I am ok but I had a very embarrassing experience in the week. "What happened", we asked. "I bumped into Maurice and congratulated him on his chutney success but he said he didn't know what I was talking about." replied Pete. "I said, you know all your awards and sales at Waitrose but he said are you mad, I don't know what you are on about". "So", went on Pete, "I said Derek told me all about you and your chutney and then Maurice got quite funny and said he didn't know anyone called Derek and nor did he bloody well know anything about chutney". Pete it would appear persisted saying that he had seen and tasted a jar of the chutney. Where upon Maurice told him he was talking complete rubbish, actually he used another word, but you get the point. "I was so embarrassed" said Pete.  "What's going on he asked?" Quick as a flash my brother said, "I think old Maurice is not paying his VAT or taxes and he doesn't want you to know about his chutney business".  Pete pondered this for a few moments and then said "Oh well that would explain why he was so queer with me". That was that, the explanation was accepted without further doubt and the whole matter not mentioned again. Clearly, Pete knew Maurice better than we did and was perfectly happy to assume, the somewhat sinister explanation, completely accounted for Maurice's strange behaviour. Due to age and ill health Pete no longer comes beating and, as far as I know, still believes the chutney tale. As for the other members of the beating team, well, they all have a bit of a giggle each time we pass Maurice's place. 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Maurice's chutney (part 1)

Actually Maurice's chutney does not and never has existed, it all came about as a result of what once would have been known as a practical joke or leg pull, these days more commonly known as a wind-up. The victim of this matter was one Peter. Peter, or Pete was a member of the beating team which my brother Don and I belong to on a shoot just outside of Sherborne in Dorset. Pete lives in Somerset and travelled quite a way to attend the shoot. He is a little man in stature, very well educated and very rich. His father left him a farm and several houses in the Somerset town of Yeovil. Pete's position is not very apparent and one would be forgiven for thinking him something of a hobo. I guess he is in, or around, his early seventies but he has let himself go. This is a rather sad state of affairs as Pete is one of life's gentlemen he is polite, kindly and generally a nice guy. If he has one tiny fault it is probably that he doesn't like to miss anything. He likes to be in the know when it comes to local gossip and will quiz anyone if he hears a small part of a conversation in order not to miss any little bit of info. This is probably his Achilles heel and was undoubtedly why he got sucked into the following matter. 

As is usual on a shoot day, the beaters had stopped for their mid-morning refreshments, a combination of snacks and port. We were in a country lane, which was narrow, and whilst we were there a Landrover came along and slowed down in order to pass. Upon drawing alongside our group Pete recognised the driver to be one Maurice and engaged him in a conversation. When Maurice departed Pete informed us that he had known Maurice for many years.

Maurice lived nearby and owned a smallholding on which he grew a large amount of vegetables. He also had a number of biggish barns one of which had a chimney protruding from the roof and would often be seen to be producing smoke when we passed by the establishment, which we did on a frequent basis. Maurice was known to sell his vegetables from a stall in a local car park on Saturday mornings together with his brother. This meant that most of the beating party had knowledge of Maurice on a passing basis if not on a personal level. However, after the above conversation Pete asked the party if they knew Maurice to which a number of us replied that we did, myself included. It later became obvious that Pete, from this conversation, concluded that Maurice and I were well known to each other which was not the case. 

The wind-up to which this article refers, following on from the above, just sort of happened, and as these things tend to do grew and grew. The details are as follows. As previously mentioned the beating parties trailer passed Maurice's place on a regular basis and more often than not at the end of the day on our way home. On many occasions this was in the dark as the last part of the days shooting was right at the far end of the shoot, miles from our base. On many of those occasions smoke would be seen rising from Maurice's barn chimney. On one such occasion it was commented that Maurice was working late and Pete made the remark that he no idea what Maurice would be doing at this time of day and so it all began. I casually remarked that he was probably making a batch of chutney. No particular reason, that was what was said. Pete immediately latched on to this remark and said he had no idea that Maurice made chutney. I and my brother then expressed our amazement that somebody had not heard of the award winning chutney which Maurice produced. No he said he had no idea of such a thing. We then piled on the nonsense saying that the chutney was widely available in local shops and was quite superb. Pete then excused himself for not knowing these matters by telling the group that he was not a fancy eater and, he did not eat spicy food. It is said from small acorns great oaks are grown and so the seeds had been sown and the wind-up was up and running. Part two in the next edition which will be January so to all those who read my jottings a very happy New Year. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Coats

In my recent article regarding beating and Autumn etc. I expressed the wish that our first day’s beating would be a fine one. Well, the Gods were not with us and it poured down. Matters were made even worse by the fact that the rain came at the start of the day which meant the first drive was very wet and we all got a serious soaking. To me this is the most undesirable of circumstances as the rest of the day then has to be endured wearing wet clothing, the ground is wet and everything around is also wet. Moving through woods and along hangers is much more of a challenge and all of the surrounding trees and bushes liberally deposit the water from their leaves upon the beaters below. What I think is called a double whammy. 

Unlike the beating days of many years ago,when I was a child in Kingsley, most beaters these days have decent clothing and one could be forgiven for assuming they would, therefore, remain dry. The beaters of yesteryear very often relied upon all sorts of strange cladding to attempt to stay dry. I suppose, by far the favourite, was the hessian sack. These sacks were used for many purposes and were quite thick. They held crops such as potatoes and grain and were widely used for animal feeds. The animal feed one's were generally not favoured as the dust from the feeds, which had been contained within the sacks, got down the neck and into the hair of the wearer, not nice. But needs must and the sacks were draped around shoulders over whatever garment the wearer had on. The sacks were also folded widthways with one corner being pushed up into the other, on the closed end of the sack, to form a hood and a sort of cape. The head of the wearer went into the corner and the rest of the sack hung down the back. A bit like a Red Riding Hood cape. However, the overwhelming problem with this getup was the fact that, a) the sacks were not water proof, and b) they became very heavy as the sacking absorbed the water. Once the sack was saturated the water came through and the wearer got wet and ultimately, cold. 

Although far superior to sacks modern wet weather gear is not all it is cracked up to be. Undoubtedly there are garments available which are waterproof, there are garments which are windproof and there are garments which prevent internal condensation but, as yet, I have been unable to find one which effectively does all three. The completely waterproof type of coat or cape is usually made of a plastic material through which water cannot penetrate nor, for that matter, can the wind. The big trouble is the huge amount of condensation which is created within the garment. Apart from soaking the clothing the condensation will lead to chilling and cold which in extreme cases can be quite dangerous for the person clad in such a garment. Not the sort of clothing for serious walkers and really wild places. On the plus side, these garments are not pricey. There are many dozens of intermediate garments which claim to tackle the problems outlined above but all that I have tried fall down in one area or another. Windproof does definitely not mean water proof. The many claims of being "breathable", and therefore preventing condensation, I have also found to be well, suspect shall we say! These garments can range in price from under a hundred pounds to well over that figure. 

There are many garments advertised in the sporting press which claim to have almost super qualities in terms of style, design, and serviceability and to be the last word in comfort. Unfortunately, the price tag which comes with such garments, hundreds of pounds, is not within my budget. I am, therefore, unable to comment upon the claims made of such products. No doubt the producers of such excellence will be delighted to learn, in the unlikely event that any of them should read this article, I am happy to test their products for them during the rest of the beating season. 

Well, there it is, we beaters continue to endure winter after winter and put up with varying degrees of wet, cold and wind. There are those, one not a million miles from where I write, who think we are quite bonkers.