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Saturday, 30 May 2009

Busy Bee

Hi folks, as they often say in blogging parlance, “I’m back!” and I’d like to add that I’ve got some great ideas for food and drink posts for June and beyond.

So where have I been and why so few posts of late? Well it wasn’t my intention to ignore my blog but sometimes life takes you off on different journeys which all add to the rich tapestry that is living and hopefully it will give me food for thought in my writing. Aside from looking for the Holy Grail of actual paid work (I believe it is called a job) I have been keeping myself busy with some unpaid projects and been having some fun on the way. Weirdly, my experiences all seem to have a link with food and drink, somehow.

I have been putting in lots of hours helping my friend Janette edit her first novel (and very good it is too) and she very kindly treated me to a lovely meal at The Curry House in Nottingham the other night. I can recommend the Rogan Josh – very tender lamb. We also went for a drink at the Broadway bar – previously blogged – and overall had a very fine evening. Thanks Janette.

Last week was ultra busy. Wednesday saw me meeting up with a great street photographer friend from flickr called Stephen. We spent the day in Nottingham capturing some interesting photographic images of people on the streets of our city and enjoyed each other’s company over a few bottles of Blossom Hill rosé wine. We had such a good time that the day went by in a blur and we both got some great pictures. The following day was spent in repose.

On Friday Stephen and I took ourselves off on the train to Derby for some more street photography. To save us some money I made some Yorkshire ham salad sandwiches to share and we spent a couple of hours in and around Derby’s fine old Market Hall, pausing by the veg and fruit stall to recount the names of said fruit and veg in French, as you do. By lunch it was time to visit a pub for a sit down and force ourselves to try the pint of the local ale. We went to one of my old haunts – The Ye Olde Dolphin Inn – where I tried to persuade my friend that it was a good idea to take a 30 minute stroll across Derby’s beautiful Darley Park to another ancient pub and a photographic opportunity not to be missed, a real water buffalo. On each reasoning the temporal length reduced by ten minute increments until a 30 minute walk was explained as the end destination being merely ‘just around the corner, honest mate.’

As we entered the park our nostrils were assailed by the natural fragrances of the countryside – mown grass, slightly damp foliage and from the riverbanks came the unmistakable smell of wild garlic. After a short rain shower the sun came out and warmed the air, magnifying all the fantastic smells. Taking a slight detour to avoid the various big dogs ‘off lead’ we finally reached the village of Darley Abbey and the Darley Abbey pub, originally an abbey built in the 1100’s. The beer was great and very cheap at £2.84 for two pints! The journey only took 45 minutes. Hehe.

The high point of the day was when we visited ‘Oink’ the water buffalo residing in a field of long grass on the outskirts of the village. We fed the beast from old bits of vegetables from his trough and had great fun taking his photo. The ribbed grey horns were huge and Oink could dribble for England. I was just thinking about mozzarella cheese when Stephen suddenly fell down a hole by the fence and got his foot caught in the wire fencing. I laughed my head off and wished now that I had taken a photo. The buffalo dribbled dangerously on Stephen’s leg and waved its massive horns from side to side and pawed the ground with its gigantic grass stained hoof! It had a wild look in its good eye and I think it wanted sex with Stephen – or more cabbage – hard to tell. I rescued the poor chap by undoing his trainer laces and releasing his foot for him to pull himself free. We both got stung to bits by nettles and relieved the stings with some dock leaves growing close by. Oink hadn’t had so much fun in weeks!

When we got back to Nottingham that night we ate some nice buffet style Chinese food at Big Wok and recalled our fun day out in Derby. We will be back – it’s only around the corner.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent at the Pulse 2009 free music event on the Old Market Square in Nottingham and at various venues around the city. Stephen and I went together and we bumped into some other photographer friends from the Nottingham flickr group throughout the weekend. A fun time was had by all but we felt knackered by the end of it. I took over 400 images and whittled them down to 95 good ones. You can see them on my flickr site.

Yesterday (Friday) Stephen came over to my gaff and we enjoyed the hot sunshine, another walk, some good food, each other’s company and a few Abbot Ale cold beers. I put together a chicken salad preceded by some beef tomatoes with slices of mozzarella and torn fresh basil leaves with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. This was followed by some garlic mushrooms, then the salad. I had made a rhubarb crumble too which we had with custard.

Well, there you go, a bit of a catch up. Hope that you enjoyed that and I promise to keep up with this blog more regularly in the months to come.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Just noticed that over 8000 people have looked at my blog since its beginnings in January this year. Thanks everyone and especial thanks to my little group of fans like French Fancy, Guy, Marian, Cheryl, Dedene, Gail'sMan, Emily, Janette, Tina, Terrie and all my other regular readers.

Phil xxx

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Drama in the kitchen.

Saturday morning: 9.02am.

This was a perfectly normal Saturday morning. I had had a couple of cups of tea and some toast made from a loaf of bread that I made yesterday. Hmmm, fresh made bread – yummy! I’d enjoyed making the bread in my kitchen on Friday afternoon and in the evening the house smelt wonderfully yeasty and cosy. Job well done. On Friday night I washed up the bowl and the wooden bread board and put the wooden bread board on a small radiator in the kitchen to dry. See picture for re-enactment. The board was at a slight angle against the wall – a position it has been in many times before. Under it was a tea towel.

Back to Saturday morning. The post had come very early, bringing with it some free vouchers for coffees as promised by Caffè Nero. I was a very happy bunny. Today was going to be a good day. I made myself another cup of tea and toddled around the house in my dressing gown.

“So, what’s the drama?” I hear you cry. Did some pasta boil over on the stove? Did sausages explode in the frying pan? Did Gordon Ramsey suddenly appear at my kitchen door swearing like a trooper? No. I picked up a tea towel. That’s it. I picked up a tea towel. The one hanging on the radiator. This simple act then had me, prone on the kitchen floor for the next two hours, sweating and cursing.

On the removal of the tea towel the bread board lifted slightly away from it’s angle of safety and suddenly slipped down the back of the radiator, landing with a heavy thud on the skirting board. Small amounts of white paint sprinkled on to the kitchen floor. It was semi stuck.

I tried to ease it out of the side of the radiator only to be thwarted by wall brackets. I tried pushing it up from below with my hand. It moved a few inches but it needed to go twice its length to poke out of the top of the radiator. Then it fell over on its side. I muttered a small curse and considered my next move.

A consideration: ”Why not leave it alone and the next time a plumber comes ask him to take off the radiator and release the bread board?” Hang on, that could be more than a year’s time and to call a plumber out would cost a fortune. Saying that, there was no way I was touching the plumbing or unscrewing valves and brackets. DIY is not my forte. Visions of a flooded kitchen came into my over heating mind. I muttered another small curse and planned again.

Right, what could I use to push the board upwards to a position that would allow it to stay in place while I got my creaky bones up off the floor and then pull the board to safety? First of all; there was a small issue to consider. Behind the radiator was loose wallpaper that would tear if the bread board was caught up in its dried paper folds. I was getting annoyed now. And sweating. Luckily the radiator itself was cold.

Another half hour was spent manoeuvring some thinner cutting boards under the thicker edge of the bread board to raise the board up higher. I pushed and pushed and heard the sound of dry wallpaper tearing. I let go for a second and the whole balancing act came crashing down – on my thumb. BASTARD! It hurt like hell and I rose quickly to my feet and immersed it under ice-cold water now flowing from the kitchen tap. My thumb throbbed with dull pain.

I was beginning to get hot and teary and a tad pissed off at the ridiculous situation but it was not going to beat me! Inspiration then struck and I thought that a wooden spatula would be tall enough and slim enough to push the board skywards. I gave that a go and it slipped half way. The board fell down again and I whacked my thumb for a second time on the metal underside of the radiator. I got up abruptly, violently grabbed a thin cutting board from the kitchen top and slammed it down on the kitchen floor with an almighty thwack. Simultaneously, a keening wounded animal growl escaped from my mouth. I cursed the second I’d picked up that tea towel and to think, the day had started so well!

After a few tetchy minutes of stomping around my front room in a hissy fit I calmed down and thought of another cunning plan. Try this, I thought: blunt ended butchers hook tied to some thin garden rope and hooked under the board. Hoist up the board from above. That made sense. That would work. Surely? Did it buggery! The whole sorry escapade did nothing more than annoy me even further as well as tear a big chunk of kitchen wallpaper to shreds. Have you ever wanted to kick a radiator from the wall? I was very tempted and consider, dear reader, that all this strop and bad temper, caused by frustration, I add, was most unlike the gentle soul that I really am.
I was tenser than a cheese wire and before I exploded I sought refuge in a nice warm soak in the bath followed by a lie down on my bed.

Now, in a mentally calmer place to judge things, I had a revelation that could well be the solution. Here was my vision. All I had to do was power up the battery powered drill that I hadn’t used in five years; drill a hole in the wooden board; thread some tough string through the hole and pull the board out of its entrapment. I got dressed and set the drill to charge. Two hours later I slipped in a drill bit and gave the drill trigger a manly squeeze. It worked! I was smiling and optimistic.

With an air of determination I got to drilling a hole in a corner of the wooden board. I was so confident that this would work that I took the following photos. I had pre-set the string and it did take a bit of teasing to get it through the hole but I was pleased as Punch when I saw it re-appear (with the aid of a serrated steak knife jiggled in the tiny amount of space behind the board) dangling below the board. I tied a firm knot and got out my oven gloves so as not to cut my hands on the string as I pulled the wooden board upwards. The wallpaper crumpled and tore a bit more but, at last, I could see the board peaking over the top rim of the radiator. With a final pull I had it in my arms and lovingly cradled the ‘almost lost’ chopping board like a disaster movie survivor at the end of the film.

It is now Sunday morning as I write this for your amusement. My thumb is tender to touch and a lovely yellow and bruised blue colour. A small price to pay to make you all smile. Have a good Sunday and don’t do any DIY.

Now, where’s that tea towel?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Update on a recent post

I got an email today - actually it came on Monday 11th May but I can be a bit slow at catching up with emails. Regardless, it was one of those nice surprises that one gets from time to time and came from a Mr Hart -managing director of Caffè Nero (London). He had been made aware of my blog post promoting his Angel Row branch in Nottingham and he is sending me some drinks vouchers as a reward.

How nice is that? Thanks so much Caffè Nero.


Penny for your thoughts

We all like to people watch and sitting in a cafe can be one of the best places. We hear snatches of conversation from time to time and these can be quite intrigueing but what if we could hear thoughts! There is a buddhist saying that 'we are a result of all that we have thought'. I wonder what these people are thinking. Comments please abstract or funny but not too rude. Enjoy and be creative. For ease of reference call the pictures 1 to 8.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Smashin' bit of Blue Stilton

Sometimes it is nice to discover new places in your neighbourhood and slightly beyond and last Thursday was one of those days. My neighbour Jo and I went out to an area of countryside that borders Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. I don’t drive so she kindly drove us around and originally the couple of hours trip was just going to be to the Tall Trees plant nursery and tea rooms. You know how I love a cup of tea.

The Tall Trees tea room was ok but nothing to get overly excited about, except if you are a buyer of fresh English and exotic tea leaves and coffee beans from around the world. They have a very good selection all housed in large jars. We had some Assam tea and a bit of cake for me and Jo purchased some coffee beans. A pretty peacock squawked a lot and I took a photo. The plant nursery looked a bit run down and there were masses of weeds under the display trays. I all looked a bit uncared for to be honest. The tea was nice and the coffee cake had a good coffee bean crunch to it. The machinery below is a coffee roasting machine.

Moving on we travelled a few miles up the road to the village of Lowdham and mulled around the tiny bookshop and got offered a free coffee as part of their service which we declined. It is a sweet little bookshop and even runs writing and reading festivals throughout the year and has attracted major authors in the past.

There were young children coming out of school as we left the bookshop and drove off to a pub in Colston Bassett. It is a very pleasant drive through the English Wolds of south Nottinghamshire but sadly the pub was closed when we got there. Shame because I was gasping for a lovely pint of Abbott’s Ale. Undaunted, we crossed the road, past the old Colston Bassett Market Cross (a National Trust property) and on to the old Post Office that is now a deli, gift shop and tea shop. The renovation of the old dilapidated Post Office was beautiful and a treat for the eyes and stomach. They sell a variety of cheeses and cooked and cured meats and one of the cheeses is the famous Colston Bassett creamy Blue Stilton cheese. Have a look at their beautiful website for a much more in depth virtual taste of this scrummy cheese.

Cheese, I should never have mentioned cheese, now I can’t get the actor Peter Sallis’s voice out of my head. “More cheese, Gromitt? Smashin’ bit of cheese.” Although I think Wallace’s favourite is Wensleydale if I’m not mistaken.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Pull the udder one!

I went to my local Co-Op supermarket today to get some milk. I tend to use the UHT semi-skimmed milk in red cartons for my tea and coffee. It lasts a fair amount of time opened in the fridge and generally it pours easily from the container into my cup.

Saying that the most recent carton has decided to play up and the white rectangular plastic pourer thingy got stuck and I ended up ripping it from the top of the carton leaving the milk to pour from a gash where the pourer used to be. Now it sloshes milk everywhere but in the cup. Instead of a nice calm flow of creamy white milk I’m getting a glugging white rapids effect where the majority of the liquid goes on my kitchen surface or the floor. I have tried putting some in a jug instead, pretty much with the same result – milk overflow. So today, I got fed up of constantly mopping up milk and decided to go and see what other types of non-sloshy milk I could buy as an alternative.

I never knew there were so many options!

Alpro Soya milk – low in unsaturated fats.

Fresh pasteurised semi-skimmed goats milk from happy mountain goats.

Yeo Valley Organic skimmed milk.

The co-operative organic British wholemilk from deliriously happy cows.

Robert Wiseman dairies The ONE – only 1% fat.

Cravendale filtered for purity – fresh filtered whole milk skimmed and semi skimmed. Presumably from spiritually pure cows, from Cravendale.

Co-Op’s British red label skimmed and semi-skimmed milk.

Pure Milk – sterilised whole milk.

Pure Milk – Slimmer brand from weight conscious, slimmer but still happy cows.

Instant dried milk.

Marvel dried skimmed milk from marvellous cows, no doubt.

Longlife UHT standardised whole milk.

Longlife semi –skimmed organic.

Provamel Rice with improved taste! Dairy free, lactose free, low in saturated fat and made from a blend of water and rice with added vitamins and calcium.

Co-Op UHT organic un-sweetened soya milk drink.

I think I’ll buy a cow and make my own.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Italian Job or "More tea Vittorio?"

Last Sunday I was walking the streets of Nottingham taking a few interesting photos around the Nottingham Playhouse area. The weather was a brightening up and it was about 10am. There weren’t so many people around. As I returned back into the city centre towards the bottom end of Derby Road and the junction where all the new hotels are I bumped into (not literally) two smart looking people asking a girl for directions. You could tell that from their body language. They were a middle-aged couple in expensive looking overcoats and the girl was pointing generally in the direction of the road running down to the Old Market Square. She also looked like she wasn’t quite sure how to help them.

The girl went her own way and I caught up with these strangers and asked them what they were looking for – being the nice friendly person that I am. It turned out that they were from Italy and were on holiday in the UK and were looking for … wait for it …tea! Well, they couldn’t have asked a better person could they? I am the expert on tea shops and coffee shops in Nottingham.

Now this was a Sunday morning and to my knowledge there aren’t that many places open on a Sunday at 10am for tea. Even the general shops and big stores aren’t allowed to start trading until 11am. Anyway we walked and talked for a few minutes and I pointed them in the direction of Caffe Nero, an Italian style coffee shop. I’d been in there before and it always seemed a pleasant place to relax with a coffee and I was sure that they did what this couple wanted …some English tea. I gave them one of my little business cards for this blog, called Moo cards, said ‘farewell’ or should that have been ‘cheery –bye, toodle pip’ if they wanted the full English experience, maybe not. You can go too far you know old chum!

They seemed a nice couple and meeting them led me to ponder what it must be like to be that foreign tourist/visitor to my city of Nottingham or Great Britain. I am very aware of my surroundings where I live and I know places that it perhaps isn’t safe to go late at night but generally I feel safe in Nottingham. I know the verbal language of the inhabitants; I can make sense (generally) of the body language of people around me in a visceral way. Everything is familiar and normal day-to-day living. I can find my way about easily – even if I don’t always know the exact street names.

Sometimes, however, there are surprises and the urban landscape has suddenly changed; a farmers market may have been set up on the Old Market Square; a building has been sealed off by police perhaps; a main thoroughfare has become a narrow thoroughfare through road works. The mind adjusts and one re-arranges one’s route to cope or linger. And all these things are reliant on an unconscious familiarity of one’s environment.

Now imagine that suddenly you are that foreign visitor or tourist with no idea of how big/small the city is; where the bus destinations are on the front of the strange looking buses; how to pay for things; where the nearest place to rest is and perhaps experience a proverbial slice of Englishness or Britishness.

I would love to be in their shiny Italian leather shoes and be them, actually be them for a day or too. In other words, to see my city through their eyes and perspective and to understand what they got out of that experience. If I had said to them “Would you like to visit my village –now- on a bus with me? I can make you a cup of tea at my home.” what would there reaction have been if they had taken up my kind offer? Remember to them I am a total stranger keen to show them a real English village as part of their visit. I am proud of the best aspects of English life and culture. It would look and feel so different from an Italian village. But they don’t know that my offer is meant in the best natured of ways. I could be a right nutcase who lurks around every Sunday ready to fool innocent travellers or worse.

I guess it is the same as when you go on holiday to a foreign city and everything is a heightened experience; different smells, different sounds, different degrees of personal safety and opportunities to acquire knowledge of new and stimulating things.

It is the thrill of being in a strange place that is literally ‘out of the ordinary’ for you. It is the discovery of a different culture and a need to take some of that home in tangible and intangible forms and enjoying perhaps the common currency of a café and a drink particular to that country.

And all these thoughts arose because some strangers in town asked where they could get tea in a city in the Midlands on a Sunday morning. I hope it has given you something to think about and I hope the two Italian folk had a great experience of our city. Now if you’d come to my house I could have given you some cake as well and showed the church, the pubs, the…. "more tea Vittorio?"

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Fit as a butcher's dog. Part three

The Rydes Years and final part of the story.

We are now coming to the end of the 1970s and on until the final dénouement in the year of 1988. I had applied at Rydes the Pork Butchers in the Cornmarket just around the corner from the Guildhall and the old Market Square in the recently christened ‘city’ of Derby. I wanted a wage rise and less travelling. I already had a Master Butchers Certificate so I was well on my way in terms of professional butchering experience.

The shop was managed by a former manager of one of the Dewhurst branches, a man called Steven Robertson. He had the air of a smarmy working man’s club comedian without the laughs and next to no managing skills. Most of the time he was off on angling trips in work time and colluded with the assistant manager to explain his regular absences to anyone who was interested to know. The head office would ring and ask to speak to Mr Robertson and we used to answer “Oh he’s out on deliveries” or “stuck in traffic.” Complete lies. He was very full of himself and thought himself quite the ladies man. When he gave me the job I had no idea of the fun and games in store for me.

The odious assistant manager was known throughout the shop simply as ‘Butch’. Another clown, this one modelled himself on Bernard Manning – he was vastly obese, arrogant, a real bully, uncouth, a ridiculous show off, louder than loud and those were his good characteristics. He made the ‘lads’ lives hell by constantly ringing the shop service bell that linked with an upstairs preparation room. I think that he thought himself as some kind of Lord of the Manor. You had to answer it very quickly otherwise he would go ballistic and thunder his demands up the stairwell. Ironically, after using the young work force to run constant personal errands for him, he would complain if the tasks of the working day weren’t completed on time. He never called any of the lads by their correct name and referred to me constantly as Stanley. I have no idea why but it used to annoy the hell out of me back then. Consequently, I grew to hate this obscene man and have no doubt that a few of the lads spat vigorously in his cups of tea that he was constantly insisting on.

As well as a Saturday girl there were three other older ladies who used to do most of the serving and monitored the cooked meats side of the counter display, all of whom were friendly, down to earth women, who just got on with the job. Like Dewhursts, it was a very busy shop and the main branch in a butchery empire of about twelve shops spread across Derbyshire. In the early 80s there were a fair few independent butchers on the high streets of towns and cities. The major supermarket chains like Tesco and Asda had yet to monopolise the food industry and strip the towns, cities and villages of any individuality.

Whilst employed at Ryde’s I began to discover an latent talent for poetry and a love of language through joining Derby Theatre In The Round and Derby Shakespeare Society and I remember writing pleasantly satirical poems about the members of staff and did caricatures of them that got pinned up on the staff room wall for everyone’s amusement. At the same I wrote a long lost poem about my gross unhappiness working in the butchery trade and called it Murderous Monotony. I got a prize for it in The Derby Poetry Reading competition. I also wrote another called ‘It’s not for me you see’ based on the customers and their own perception of appearing to ask for something awkward or different and pretending that the item was for another. That got published in the local paper and I got a fiver for my efforts back then. There is an expression I heard from the female staff at Rydes as I started to develop as a creative individual and that was “You are wasted here”. They weren’t wrong but it took me a fair few years to escape the ‘murderous monotony’.

Part of my escape was to get out of the shop at lunchtimes and go somewhere else to read or learn German as I was keen on doing at the time through a Linguaphone course. Where did I go? Well hold your breath and get ready to gasp, and this wasn’t a political decision at the time. I wouldn’t have known a political decision if it had raised its manifesto and slapped me about the head. So personal politics aside, where did I go?

I went to the Lettuce Leaf on Friar Gate. A vegetarian café! I just loved the gentle ambiance and the lemon meringues were to die for. I never wanted to go back to work as I sat amongst their big paper lamps, brushed pine interiors and friendly, intelligent salad and vegetable lovers. Over time I taught myself quite a lot of German in there and got to meet some very nice people. Did I tell them I was a butcher by trade? I think they could probably smell it from my clothes but they never kicked me out and were very kind to me once when I had a couple of bad nosebleeds in the café.

Back at the butchers’ shop I had a lot of near misses with serious accidents. One time I nearly lost my arm when a chain saw flew from its housing as I was sawing up some marrow bones: I got several scars from stabbing myself with a boning knife, one of which I can still see between right thumb and fore finger, and I can’t count the amount of times that my Doc Martin boots saved me from a cleaver or carving knife going through my foot as the sharp instrument crashed precariously to the floor. One day I missed being ran over by a bus by seconds as I rolled out of the way after the hooked end of the pole meant for pulling out the shop blind suddenly fell off. This meant that I landed on my back in the middle of a busy road and I narrowly missed being crushed by the No 67a bus.

We still had to unload the vans in the morning with fresh supplies and this time the heavy fore quarters and hind quarters not only had to be carried into the shop across slippery wet tiles but then we had to carry them upstairs to the first floor prep room. Plenty of back injury potential there, and once I slipped on a wet floor carrying a big round metal bowl of pigs liver and seriously put my back out as I crashed to the ground legs akimbo and was off work in great pain for thirteen weeks. Unlucky for some I guess you could say. For months afterwards I suffered from bad sciatica and was sent to another branch on the outskirts of Derby (Alvaston) as punishment for taking such a long time off work!

After that I stayed at Alvaston for a couple of years with an odd trip up to Allenton where Rydes had another branch. Alvaston and Allenton are two big council housing estates near Derby. I got to know a few more managers who were equally as characterful as those I had encountered in town. But at least they weren't  the out and out bully that Butch was, far from it.

There was a nice guy called Sandy, the Alvaston branch manager, and another man called Curley who, later in life, had a strange epiphany and became a dedicated marathon runner. At least both managers stayed on the premises during their working hours even if it was to enjoy looking at the council estate womenfolk going by the shop or to comment on their ‘availability’ or ‘attributes’ in a thinly disguised backslang. This was the politically incorrect 1970s and 80s remember. I confess I went along with the backslang habit at the time too and fancied a young woman called Ann at the local bookies on the parade. Sadly she was already taken.

Whilst I was Sandy’s assistant manager he got himself excruciatingly entangled with the razor sharp circular blade of the bacon slicing machine in that its blade cut deeply into his left palm as he cleaned it one day. He, understandably squealed like a stuck pig  as blood poured down his arm and he wanly awaited the ambulance. That meant that he was off work for a fair while and I had to take over as manager and run the branch. Curley had been 'let go' for taking too much time off work practising running and Sandy took over his shop due to his eventual recovery and lack of manager in Allenton..

Although I was never that interested in being a manager I did feel some benefits in the freedom it offered me and the lack of abuse from other folk like ‘Butch’ from the Cornmarket branch. I looked after a young lad called Lee and treated him with respect. It was wonderful not being dictated to. At this time I was actively participating in amateur theatre and seriously considering going to drama school such was my passion.

In the late 1980s the branches of the Rydes butchery empire got sold off one- by-one as they were becoming unprofitable due to the rise of the hypermarkets and supermarkets opening up all over Derby and enticing customers with cheap offers and free buses to their sites. We just couldn’t compete. I got briefly employed by another butchery firm from Nottingham (for two and a half days!) until they discovered that they had been given inflated figures by the sellers and they suddenly pulled out leaving me and Lee instantly out of a job.

Myself and my faithful assistant Lee then got re-employed by Rydes and when they sold the property again within three months I had to fight for a redundancy claim (as a new employee). Good huh? I was out of work for a long period of time but it was the best thing that ever happened to me as it gave me the determination to go to University and live out my artistic dreams of doing a Performance Art BA (Hons) degree for three years.

For a long time I lost total interest in the world of butchery and even suffered some bad nightmares over the years from the cruel actions of some of the ‘delightful’ characters I encountered along the way. But, I am pleased to say I have put all that behind me now and presently see so many specialist butchers firms still surviving in today’s economic climate and along with my general interest in foods can see a more mature and encouraging approach for meat products through the Farmers Markets and organic farming.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Fit as a butcher’s dog. Part two.

Dewhurst the Master Butchers. (image above taken by Derby evening Telegraph.)

Whilst under this company’s employ I worked in Sadler Gate (central Derby and old shopping centre before the Eagle Centre Mall was built), the towns of Beeston, Belper and the factory on the outskirts of Derby. The last venue was deemed a punishment for lads who got too cocky.

In the Sadler Gate premises the manager was a strict little bulldog of a man called Dave. He had black hair, hints of grey and a chin you could strike matches on. It was a very busy shop and he ruled it with a rod of iron, or so it felt to my young and sensitive perceptions at the time. He had a favourite young man helping him called Geoffrey who I didn’t like much as I experienced him to be a bit of a bully. Geoffrey seemed to have this predilection of poking the other apprentices’ bottoms with the knife sharpening steel as a ‘bit of fun’. I don't mean the cheeks, I mean something more invasive .... nuff said. If you said anything to him he would make trouble for you with the manager and sneakily do it even more.

There were other older female staff, including a large woman of Irish descent called Annie who looked like a red-faced boiled sweet on stubby legs. There always seemed to be friction between her and the Dave the manager with Geoffrey there as Iago in the background subtly implying more wrong doing by the largely innocent Annie. Then there was a buxom gentle soul with lustrous dark curly hair called Sally. Ah Sally, dear Sally always smiling and pleasant to the constant stream of customers, and buxom, very buxom. I liked Sally. Actually, I fancied her rotten but she was a married lady and probably saw me as a gauche slightly spotty youth.

I’m sure there were others that came and went over time but I do also remember a lad about my age then with white curly hair and white eyelashes and a cocky and condescending attitude. This was Andrew. He and Geoffrey spent a lot of time together plotting and planning practical jokes – mainly on me.

Looking back I think that I was probably seen as being a bit cheeky, a bit daft and someone who was getting obsessed with Kung Fu, Karate and a new hobby, amateur theatre. The people that I was working with were more into looking after their families and for the younger lads; football, the potential for sex with anything that stood still long enough and was willing and getting pissed on a Saturday night out in town.

These years were really hard work with the weekly bonus of some free meat for my Mum as well as wages. The shop was on a main shopping thoroughfare in Derby and we were constantly busy, learning and practicing butchery skills, creating elaborate meat displays for the shop window, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning and killing mice. The cellars and age-old tunnels beneath the street were full of them and each morning as we arrived for work there would be at least a couple of brown mice dodging around the floor and surfaces in the prep room at the back of the shop. The braver of the mice set up a Saturday Night Fever dance routine in the empty shop window and scarpered as the manager’s key turned in the shop door of an early morning. Eventually the Health folk came in a laid poison traps everywhere to try to eliminate them.

The whole working week at Dewhurst’s was like a military operation. Monday began with the male staff working on the general shop window display creating attractive metal trays of meat offerings like pork chops each with a small amount of grease proof paper rolled into a ball and pushed into the body of the chop to plump it out. Each item was arranged in a pre-destined order in the window and plastic rods with pretend parsley would separate each tray with a strip of bright green. There would be trays of pork chops, lamb chops, chump chops, steaks, (but no fillet steak as this deemed too expensive to display), shin of beef, chuck steak, sausages, mince, stewing steak with beef kidney, pork loin, black and white puddings etc. Scrag end of lamb and oxtail would on there too and I recall neck of lamb being especially popular for Lancashire hotpot. In a side display there would be deeper bowls containing lambs and pigs liver and kidneys. The women staff would be given the task of arranging all the pre-sliced cooked meats such as ham, corned beef, cooked beef, polony and black puddings as well as a few English cheeses.

At the weekend the whole window display would be given over to joints of meat like topside, silverside, brisket, shoulder pork and leg pork and seemingly dozens of shoulders of lamb hanging in serried ranks on the rails above the ramped display of joints. Fillets of English and New Zealand lamb would be on display partnered with legs of lamb with a sprig of plastic mint for good effect. Most of the time there would be fresh and frozen chickens on sale but the Game side of things was left to Roomes the fishmongers two shops up the street. Pricing up the joints of meat was a thankless task done very early on a Friday and Saturday morning. There was always pressure from the grumpy manager to get the job done quick with no mistakes. You had to put the item on the scales, tap in the amount per pound, check the resulting amount, fill in a rectangular paper ticket, attach a metal pin to the paper ticket, place it carefully on the joint and add it to the row of joints in the window. Ad Infinitum. I often got the mid week mind numbing job of pinning up all the tickets for ease of action come the weekend. We used hundreds. They all went into clean liver tubs ( the liver came from the factory or New Zealand frozen in plastic tubs which were utilised for further practical use in the shop).

The hours of work were 7.00am to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday excepting Wednesday when most of Derby closed for half day closing on mid-week so we shut at 1pm. Friday and Saturday we had to start at 6.30am to get the display ready for the first customers who would trickle in from 8am onwards. Sometimes even earlier. I cycled to work every day but no longer had to cycle around with deliveries like I did in the village. Once ensconced in the shop the only places I was released to go to were the Barclay’s bank to get change and Pearts the Bakers for food and soup for the break time.

One of the essentials that none of us looked forward to was the big daily delivery from the factory of all the fresh and tinned goods that were needed for this exceptionally busy shop. Whole lamb carcasses and pig sides (half a pig) were easy enough to carry from the van parked on the street, down the alley, to the side entrance of the shop as were the boxes of tinned peas, apricots, corned beef, mint sauce and horseradish sauce and trays of pork pies etc. The things that we lads hated carrying (and I had been let off this chore at Bosworth’s somehow) were the fore quarters and hind quarters of beef.

Cows and bulls are bloody heavy beasts especially when dead and slippery and they are very awkward to lift and carry. As they say in the world of awkward things ‘there is a knack’. The fores you had to allow almost to fall on you from the back of the lorry and hook the stump of the shin around your right arm and taking the full weight yourself across your back and then move swiftly to the point of disposal ie: down the narrow alley and inside to the fridge. The hind quarters were quite another matter; ridiculously top heavy with the powerful back leg of the cow uppermost and the sharp backbone of the beast lowermost. Now, you were expected to heave the blessed thing the same distance, hugging it like a dead lover with the bones cutting into your forearm.

A lot of mine hit the deck and one memorable occasion on a snowy Winter’s day I did an abysmal impromptu ice skating routine and smacked into a stationary Morris Minor landing this colossal greasy lump of dearly departed Hereford Heifer on the bonnet of the car. Fortunately it landed skin down. Dave the manager helped considerably by shouting “Pick it up! Pick the ruddy thing up!” rather a lot. He also went ruby red in the face and stamped his feet furiously which helped even further to calm me. I expect Geoffrey and Andrew enjoyed a good snigger in the background. Little Heifers!

During the summers we would expand our stock into tomatoes and cucumbers much to the chagrin of Ted the Greengrocer further down the street who got severely undercut in price by Dewhurst. So outside the shop frontage stood chips (balsa wood boxes) and chips of these toms and cucumbers. We got through tons of them and a lot of my time was spent tying up the boxes with string in the mice infested cellars. I was also learning karate on a Sunday and practised my side kicks on some unfortunate ‘damaged’ boxes. Not only that but it was the decade that Bruce Lee was the latest hot thing at the cinema and I was his biggest fan! I knew the whole soundtrack of Enter the Dragon by heart and did a very good Bruce Lee battle cry! Wa Ja!

I think that my work buddies finally knew I’d cracked and it was probably unwise to continue to poke my anus with the knife steel when I arrived at work with a home made set of nunchakas. These were two short fighting sticks – in my case cut off broom handles – joined together with a chain. I had roughly fashioned these at home and showed no fear in the narrow back yard of the butchers by swishing them rapidly round my vulnerable head in best Bruce Lee style. Wa Ja! Wuh! Achoy! Regrettably for the staff room window above the shop, the adjoining chain wasn’t quite as securely attached as it should have been and half a nunchak demolished a pane of glass and landed two inches in front of the manager formerly enjoying his cup of tea and slice of Pork Farms Pork Pie. Bruce Lee got his first verbal warning that day.

As times in the 1970s got more prosperous for Derby’s population the novel notion of bulk buying for the freezer became more feasible and orders would come in for a whole lamb, a side of pork or hind quarter of beef to be prepared and costed out to save the customer money over time. These orders bought in additional income for the Dewhurst firm and lots of extra physical work for us. In those days I never personally considered the economics of running a business. I was much more interested in getting my weekly wages on a Friday morning, come what may, and that interest expanded to the things that I could do with the money – like go on holiday abroad, trips to the cinema or theatre or buy the next Bruce Lee magazine.

I was still living at home and so had a reasonable amount of cash to indulge my young life with. I also had a strange obsession with the volcanically hot sausage rolls and Cornish pasties we used to buy for our break from Peart’s the Bakers around the corner on the Market Square. I couldn’t get enough of them and although they used to be hot enough to burn my mouth out I got an odd masochistic enjoyment out of juggling red hot meat and pastry in my mouth every day. Finally on this score, my buddies from the Venture Scouts had introduced me to the delights of Real Ale – a sorry day if ever there was one! Oh look there’s a beer festival……!

While I was employed at Dewhurst in Sadler Gate I had my first real little romance since leaving school – not with the buxom Sally but a sweet girl called Esther who worked at the Opticians on Sadler Gate. We went out a couple of times a week for some months and spent some happy hours cuddling and enjoying shy giggly kisses on the back row of the Esseldo Cinema. Happy innocent days.

Whilst I worked for Dewhurst I was constantly moved about in order to cover other branches who were short staffed and spent my latter times working in the Dewhurst branch in Belper in Derbyshire. I walked to the railway station in Derby (3 miles) early every morning to arrive by train at Belper for 7.30am and I occasionally got a lift back home by the area manager otherwise I had to find my own way home by bus or train. I was often late home for my tea and got a good bollocking for my tardiness and grumpily presented with a cooked dinner that had been kept in the oven and had rings around the dried gravy. After several of those bollockings I decided that it was time for a change and applied at a rival butchers in central Derby – Rydes the Pork Butchers on the Cornmarket.

I had, over the five years I worked for Dewhurst, learned a lot of butchery skills but still had a lot to learn about the trade – not all of it nice. See you soon for the final instalment.