You may be surprised to hear from me again after eating that raw sea urchin – but my urge to bring you another installment of how we live on a Hebridean Island has pulled me through.
Sea urchin doesn’t form a large part of our diet… but nature’s larder does – we only draw the line at carrion. Although I have to admit that looking out of the kitchen window one day last summer, onto the single track road which winds its way across the moor for four miles to reach a dead-end, I noticed lying in the road what I took at first to be a small deer. I knew it hadn’t been there five minutes earlier, and deduced that it must have been hit by a car within the last few minutes; and so went to see if it was alive – but injured; or dead. When I got there I found that it was a huge Hare – dead as a stone but without a mark upon it… and realized that it must have been clouted by a passing car under which it had insufficient head room. Two things make me hesitate to pick that, or any other animal up: the first is a feeling of deep foreboding about whether or not it is ‘all right’; the second is that I don’t want to look like Norbert Colon out of Viz.
The meat we buy from a butcher, or supermarket, is kept alive only for as long as necessary, in a large and choleric herd by the administration of a cocktail of drugs; and has been precociously fattened through an un-natural diet of growth-promoting feed and hormones. It’s also quite expensive. Yet the meat we get from the wildernesses of land and sea is better than free-range; so organic it doesn’t need a certificate; and doesn’t cost a penny. Once we’re over the emotional hurdles of ‘wild food’ – we’re better-off in every way. And for flavour, it has no equal.
But even a looter of the hill has to earn money, so let me move on a chapter with my early island career. Having brought myself to attention by advertising that I could ‘make furniture with real wood and traditional joints so cheaply you’ll wonder how I eat.‘ …queues formed; my wood pile diminished; and a great number of the days I counted as my future, become those I counted amongst my past… yet at the end of it all it was me who wondered how I would eat. Badly priced jobs saw me working long days without pay, and giving the wood away. So I stopped doing all that and began to design and build unusual pieces according to my own whim.
During the long years of building a 15 ton classic boat we learned some ‘curved’ carpentry tricks; designed the appearance of the ‘rooms’ which were to become our home for seven years… and they had attracted so many admirers that it made sense to continue building one-off pieces of furniture. For houses.
The latest piece – pictured above – is an Elm chest elevated on dowels, with wooden hinges and latches. That is now one of my Islay jobs. The other two are illustration; and writing for ‘sports and leisure’ press.
I spent the whole of last year writing a book… a career so littered with screwed-up manuscripts and rejection slips, that it’ll be the subject of my next blog.
It’s late on Sunday afternoon, and I’m just off to prepare Ballotine of wild goose with Savigny-les-Beune and a Chestnut custard. (Larousse Gastronomique). I can’t tell you where the goose came from – but if you pop back in a couple of days I can tell you how it went down.
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The story of how Justin and Linda came to be live on a boat, following a house fire, is told in his book: Phoenix from the ashes; published by Bloomsbury http://amzn.to/xc4qn3