Monday 7 December 2015

The Best Laid Plans.....

This post was going to be all about the wonderful time I was going to have trying out the sport of archery for the first time in the delightful company of the Silverwood clan. Then along came Storm Desmond with his howling gales and our first ever RED weather warning, this one for rain plus all the usual advice from the Police not to risk any un-necessary journeys. I won't bore you with the details as most of my readers will have probably copped their own share of Des by now and some will have struggled with the genuine hardships of flooding and damage which make our 'big puddles' pale into insignificance. I am in no way claiming 'hard done by' status; we just got a bit wetter and more blown around than usual. I postponed the archery till after Christmas and opted to stay here and look after the place, the livestock (and Liz?) rather than leave Liz on her own.

This tiny narrow drainage ditch is not usually visible from
our hill top. Here the concrete 'kesh' bridges are submerged.
So, I have some nice pictures of our "floods". The drain that runs into the River Lung below us has burst its banks as has the Lung itself, the local bridge named for our townland is almost up to its arches with the River so full and high, and the name-sake Lough is as big and full as any locals can ever remember seeing it. That was quite some rain that came down. We were worried for the trees near the house (and may have decided we need to do something about them), of course, but relaxed enough to be joking about conspiracy theories.

The bridge is nearly up to its arches with the 'Desmond Depth'.
Are these storms now being named, we wonder, to soften us up because Met √Čireann KNOW SOMETHING about climate change that they are not telling us yet, perhaps that our standard N. Atlantic storms in November are going to be so powerful soon that we need to name them like Hurricanes? (gasp). More ridiculously, we wonder whether these storms are cunning enough to know that they can get named if they would only put in that little extra effort. Thus Abigail was not that impressive, Barney was getting there, Clodagh was definitely trying and Desmond was the best/worst ever. Do we have a Stephen King novel here? Sentient anti-cyclones?

The local Lough is no mean body of water this week. The tiny
white dots here are our wintering Whooper swans. 
Meanwhile, back in the real world the locals are all impressed by the size and fullness of the Lough. It has filled the whole valley, where it is normally a thin weedy ribbon of water half hidden by the bullrushes. Gossip has it that it was "always" this full and contained enormous pike one of which sits, stuffed, in a glass case in Liz's work-place. But then ten years ago the Dept of Civic Works (or what ever they are called) changed the drainage and allowed the Lough to empty much faster rather than hanging on to the water 'up here'. "You wait", said one local veteran, "..and in a couple of days you will hear of flooding in Boyle or Carrick. We never had that before. They should never have done that".

My new favourite 'weapon', this old cleaver was once the
property of John Walsh's Dad though he took to using it
in the cellar for chopping up kindling wood. 
So much for the rain and floods. We got off lightly this time and we are now enjoying some blue sky, calm (ish) days as the big puddles drain slowly away and the cat, Blue. stops cursing us for cutting off all his grassy walkways and hunting routes with water and puddles. We sympathise with the folk in UK who inherited Desmond from us and got the serious floods and damage. With this non-archery weekend over we are now coming up fast on Christmas and we needed to start thinking about festive food and, in particular, turkeys.

Liz dons farmer's wife hands and starts plucking this monster.
Our first 'customer' is Brother in Law, 'Sparks' who has this year bought one of those fancy-pants  American style, cylindrical, outdoor, deep-fat turkey fryers. He is due to cook turkey for a gang of mates this week and 'ordered' a bird from us, rather bravely, having no more idea than we did as to how it would 'do', how big it would get or what it would cook and taste like. This is our first year of turkeys and our birds are the old fashion 'heritage' variety "Bronze". These are old style "single muscled" birds where most shop mass-produced birds these days are white and 'double muscled' like Belgian Blue cow or a 'Beltex' sheep, bred to put on extra muscle in intensive systems and fed no end of special food, growth promoters and so on like a steroid-enhanced weight lifter.

Those massive wing feathers took some pulling. 
When these guys hatched in June, we had no idea how they would flesh up and I worried that we'd only be able to give Sparks an over-grown chicken. We were amazed and delighted at the growth rates on them and within 4 months the youngsters were nearly as big as their Mum (Barbara). Spark's bird was always going to be the biggest as he wanted his in early December but even so, we knew we were on to a serious weight bird and him only 6 months old at this stage.

If you don't want to know how these big, living birds turn into oven ready, plastic wrapped carcasses then skip this and the next 2  paragraphs. Then, of course, there was the problem of how do you cleanly, painlessly and respectfully despatch such a big bird. The books talk of a rather gymnastic process involving standing up with your bird upside down holding his feet in your hands. Juggle a broom handle across his neck, stand on it and pull his legs upwards, breaking his neck. I was not at all convinced that I could do this quickly and cleanly and with no stress to the bird so I have to admit that I fell back on good old decapitation, the trusty meat cleaver and a big chunk of wood. Thunk. Job done, 100% certainty of death.

A lively auction  down at the Community Centre to raise money
for the same.
Done well, the bird is grabbed and 'cuddled' so he stays calm though he might be a bit curious as to why he is being walked across the grass, through the puddles, out to the other side of the pond. At the very last minute you shift your grip to his legs and let him hang upside down with this head sagging onto the wooden block. He relaxes and possibly feels rather helpless but he is not in any kind of pain and then (thunk) he knows no more.

Our antidote to Desmond.
If anyone is thinking of trying this, just be aware that although the bird may 'die' instantly, he will kick off an unconscious explosion of wing flapping and leg-twitching which will go on for a good 30 seconds and will bleed out profusely through the neck cut. The flapping will splash this blood everywhere, so I do it outside and near some long grass, so that I can dangle the bird low to the ground and contain the blood that way. You always get some on your wellies and trouser legs, so it is worth wearing old clothes and being ready to rinse the wellies before you go back indoors! I take a dustbin liner out with me to 'hide' the dead one in so that I don't have to march back past my gang of curious geese, turkeys, chickens and Guineas with a dead bird hanging from my hand, making my way back to the shed where the bird gets hung upside down by his feet to bleed out into the bag. I don't suppose the birds feel upset or grief at the loss of their friend but it makes me feel better.

Polly doing 'Monarch of the Glen'
At that point the birds get handed over to Liz who loves the plucking and 'dressing' side of the job. My work is done (though I do help with the big, tough wing feathers). This lad we were delighted to find, weighed just under 10 kg 'fresh' (but sans head and blood) and then in 'oven ready' format weighed 7.9 kg (17 lbs). Liz went for the 'traditional' presentation, legs still on, some feathers still on the 'hands' and with the giblets (neck, liver, gizzard and heart) in a bag stuffed up his fundament. Sparks can cut off the hands and feet and make good gravy out of the giblets if he desires. Good luck, Sparks. You will be our first Guinea-Pig customer and we will be very interested to know how the boy cooked up.


Anne Wilson said...

Nice looking bird Matt, it made a good weight.

Matt Care said...

Thanks for that Anne. Not organic/non-GM fed as I know you do; just your bog-standard whole wheat, milled barley and layers pallets but we were amazed by the weight gain. At about 6 weeks they overtook the 4 month old Guineas they run with and at 4 months they had caught Mum up. Impressive.