Archive for the ‘PIGS’ Category
As we nervously entered the abattoir as part of our writers’ week experience, two freshly killed pigs swung from hooks directly in our path. We stopped in our tracks and I heard someone behind me say ‘god, they look like people.’ It was true – whether it was simply the size of the carcasses, or their pale flesh, hairless and vulnerable – there was definitely something about them that felt human. The abattoir worker lifted an electric saw and started to expertly split the first animal in two – the head neatly divided, exposing half the brain. As we continued to watch the animal being butchered, and we then moved to the shop next door to see the finished joints of meat, I thought about what had been said and remembered the story of ‘A Joint of Wyffe.’
The ‘wyffe’ in question is Constantia de Pauncefort who married her husband Grimbald at Much Cowarne church in rural Herefordshire in 1253. The legend goes that Grimbald, a brave knight, was captured during the crusades by the great Muslim leader Saladin. On hearing of Constantia’s beauty and devotion, Saladin demanded a ‘ransom of a joint of wyffe’ in return for Grimbald’s release. Constantia immediately sent for a surgeon from Gloucester Priory and instructed him to cut off her arm below the elbow. The severed limb was then packed in salt and despatched overseas. Saladin, impressed by Constantia’s wifely devotion, immediately released Grimbald, and husband and wife were reunited. Grimbald and Constantia lived happily for many years and were eventually buried together in the south aisle of Much Cowarne church – and an alter monument with their effigies was mounted over them. According to legend, the effigies lay on their sides gazing at each other rather than up at heaven – with Constantia’s right arm ‘couped betwixt the wrist and the elbow’ and her stump elevated so that all could witness her great sacrifice. Sadly, Constantia’s effigy is long gone (although when I first recalled the story I was convinced that I had seen her lying there, love-struck and one-armed) and Grimbald now lies alone in a corner of the church gazing miserably at a wall. The disappearance of Constantia’s effigy remains a mystery – some claiming it was stolen during the civil war, others blaming the local inhabitants for allowing it to go missing following a fire in more recent times (by which we mean the 1840’s) and there is even a rather unfair rhyme about the village which, given they are neighbours of mine, I will not repeat here. Others think the effigy – like the story – is a romantic fiction and that it never existed at all. I suppose the fact that people even remember Constantia de Pauncefort and the story of the ‘joint of wyffe’ eight hundred years later tells us that – like all the best love stories – it still says something important today about the nature of love and sacrifice.
That’s the question everyone kept asking me when I told them I was off for a week’s residency and to be honest I wasn’t sure myself but when I got there I was delighted to land in one of Britain’s historical towns. It was an experience that will remain stained on the tapestry of my memory.
The week was filled with trying out new experiences; I remember the visits to the pig farm because they made me think about halal pork. No, such a thing doesn’t exist and I’m very pleased it doesn’t because there are four things I remember most about my trip to Ludlow and that was just one of them.
First, was how beautiful the piglets were (some might consider this blasphemy from a Muslim), and how I didn’t have to feel guilty about eating them. In fact, I am currently questioning eating meat at all, I’m not sure if I am quite ready to be a vegetarian but it’s something that I am gonna think about seriously.
Second, the military precision with which a Michelin Star restaurant is run and how like the army, it’s very male dominated arena. Thankfully, there were no Gordon Ramsay rants and I was given mundane tasks like peeling the shells of chick peas, which was a wise decision on the Chef’s part, because I could have easily had that star stripped off him if I had been entrusted with something important.
Third, the trip to the abattoir in my black and gold wellies; this was the experience that I thought would horrify me. There were chain saws, dark burgundy blood, and pig corpses going round on hooks but all this was strangely beautiful. I felt as if I were watching artists at work. It was interesting to see what went on behind the scenes, prior, to being able to get our nice neat meat chops at the local Tesco. It was a great reminder of the respect we should give to animals for nourishing us.
Fourth, deliberately placed here because this was what made the visit was how wonderful everyone we met were. That goes from the Pentabus team, to the writers, all the way down to the farmers who were so free with their times and minds
Since getting back to London after the week with Pentabus, I find myself interrogating everything I buy and everywhere I shop. The most satisfying shop I’ve had has been at the Co-op where their labeling is the clearest. Lots of it is freedom food, and organic but we learnt that quite a lot of the small producers meet this environmental and animal health standards but can’t meet the costs of paying for the inspections to get the organic/freedom food accreditation. But in a city where there isn’t anything grown or reared locally it’s the best you can do.
I missed both the visit to the abbatoir visit and to the Tudges farm because Pentabus hate me, but I did have an enjoyable afternoon cutting rhubarb into 4 1/2cm strips at Michelin starred restaurant La Becasse. I also enjoyed having a drink with the chefs on our last night and getting to know the peculiar pecking order. I have a particular talent for feeling inadequate in places of work, but this kitchen made it more acute than ever. The chefs were so hard-working and dedicated it was a privilege to be around.
Rhubarb Proportional Modification Technican
The pigs week was v interesting indeed, I wasn’t sure what to expect but now I find myself watching every bite across my mouth. Rashers aren’t just so innocent now and I am also an almighty food bore so thanks for that!
I’m starting to relate everything to where I live; the proximity of the local supermarket to the town centre, it’s effect on the shops in the town, etc. I suppose I’m just a bit more aware.
Also, one thing that struck everyone was the integrity of the people we met. That’s rare and it was pretty much in evidence in every farm we went to, and I think the governments new levy on farmers for foot and mouth is a disgrace.
What a fantastic experience – to follow the food chain from birth to death to the plate – via a variety of fascinating and dedicated people, was an incredible journey. The people we met showed such dedication to the food they produced that it will have a long lasting effect on the way I perceive what I eat, and the decisions I make about what I put in my shopping basket. The respect that these small producers showed their livestock, and their customers, only highlighted how in today’s drive for cheap mass produced food we have completely lost the connection between what we eat and where it actually comes from. The trip to the abattoir – something I think we were all dreading – although initially shocking in a ‘blood and guts’ sense – was a seminal moment. The sense of calm completely surprised me and illustrated that a ‘good’ death, as free from fear as possible, is as important as a ‘good’ life. An amazing week. Thank you Pentabus for giving us the opportunity, and, importantly, the access, to explore a world that usually remains firmly at the back of our minds.
no pictures I’m afraid, but here are my thoughts (apart from the stuff I’ve already given voice to – great fun, good company, etc):
Though fascinated in advance by the ideas and the issues surrounding food production, I have to admit that at the outset I wasn’t very clear where the human stories were going to come from. I had a couple of vague ideas but those went out of the window as soon as we began to talk to people. A week of total immersion in the stories and characters we encountered set me thinking in a different way about people, countries, landscapes and the whole question of our relationship to food and land – what the French would call ‘terroir’.
Above all I began to think about the tenuousness of things – how vulnerable farmers (like everybody else) are to the vagaries of nature (disease, say), politics (arbitrary regulatory decisions taken remotely) and fate (if the local abattoir closes what then?).
Who we are is a complex web of loyalties to and affiliations with land, culture, tradition and food – but it’s a web whose strands can easily be broken, casting people adrift in the world…
Food metaphors were hard to avoid during the week, but there’s no question that these researches helped to put flesh on the bones of an idea that I am now very taken with, and will undoubtedly pursue further.
BLOOD ON MY WELLIES…
It’s pig’s blood – probably. That’s what they were killing just before we arrived. Can’t say I was sorry to miss the actual slaughter – though having watched them managing the carcasses with such professionalism and skill, I figured maybe I could bear to watch it now. It’s not a comfortable thing; though I felt less of a ‘townie’ when one of the pig-breeders told us he’d never seen his animals killed and didn’t want to.
I’ve eaten meat in moderation all my life, though I prefer fish and vegetarian dishes. Eating meat for me is cultural, and convenient. As a product of a working class Yorkshire family the Sunday roast, the ham tea, pie-&-peas are in my DNA. In addition to which, I grew up to be an actor and a writer – both of which are groups that accept any meal offered, wherever and whatever. Quite regularly I eat, and enjoy, meat…
…but now I have blood on my wellies.
They’re very pale wellies. My husband bought them for me a couple of Christmases ago. They’re ‘Hunters’ – which I’m told is rather smart. I wouldn’t know myself, but then I’m the kind of wife who doesn’t object to being bought wellies for Christmas. They were bright pink originally, but they’ve faded. Faded to the colour of… freshly killed pig-skin, actually. Rather unsettling, when you come to think of it.
A friend of mine, the daughter of a butcher, said to me that she thought that a visit to an abattoir should be on the national curriculum. I’m not sure the meat industry would encourage this. I doubt that all slaughterhouses have the exemplary high standards of Mr Griffiths.
And this is the really unsettling thing about our week. We saw very high standards of animal husbandry and meat processing; but the scale could hardly be said to be industrial. We met wonderful people with a deep, ancient connection to the land and the animals they reared. But they were not producing in the kind of quantities I know must be required to fill the shelves of the big supermarkets. I was disturbed by what I knew I hadn’t seen; but my heart was lifted by what I had.
As a writer you’re always looking for connections, relationships, stories. The week with Pentabus set my mind crackling. It’s like a fire is lit under my imagination and the scenarios unravel and unfurl like smoke in my thoughts. It’s my job to make stuff up. And I will…
…but there’s blood on my wellies.
I’ll still eat meat, but with a new-found respect; and I will redouble my efforts to ensure that meat is ethically sourced. And I won’t forget, because I have a pair of very smart wellies.
Hello. My name is Kate. I am the Associate Director for Pentabus Theatre and I have been given the daunting task of writing the first proper blog for the new Pentabus website. I am feeling the pressure a little bit, having never written a blog before, but I think it is a case of just writing some words and seeing what happens. So far so good. And I am trying to avoid the overuse of exclamation marks, which I have a tendency to do….
So. I have been here for a little under three weeks, back in lovely Ludlow, to help out with PIGS, this year’s writers’ week, which finished last Friday and was I think rather a brilliant success. More of that later.
As I look out of the window over lamb filled fields, I feel pretty lucky to be here with Pentabus, particularly at this point in the Pentabus journey. It is busy. And exciting. A new website, their 35th year, a new play going to the Edinburgh Festival and then to TheatreSevern in Shrewsbury, several more in development….. it is all happening. I spent some time with the company about this time last year and this is the first time I have properly been back, with the official title of Associate Director. And I am completely thrilled to be a part of everything. Only thing I am not quite so thrilled about is my big shiny face on the website. Vain I know, but I actually have had emails from friends saying they have been quite terrified by it. A photo of less enormous proportions has now been taken and will replace massive head soon. Phew. Anyway. PIGS. Orla, the Artistic Director, spoke to me earlier in the year about this year’s writers’ week, and how it was going to focus on all things food, in particular, pork. It has been my job to seek out interesting people, visits, info, to feed to the writers during the week in the hope that they might be inspired, invigorated, compelled to find a story. Where to start? Well, with a lot of phone calls to farmers, food shops, abattoirs, food and drink festival organisers, butchers, restaurants, nutritionalists, chefs. Trying to convince them to let 6 writers rock up to their place of work and grill them about what they do. Orla befreinded the head chef of La Becasse, one of Ludlow’s Michelin starred restaurants, and after spending a day helping them out in the kitchen, mainly gutting fish, he said he would allow a writer a day to come and work in the kitchen. I did not get around to doing this, but after hearing about everyone’s experiences, and meeting all the chefs in the pub, I really want to go and do it. I return in June. I will do it then. If they will let me. Anyway, on the whole I was surprised at how willing people were to help us out. One butcher (wonderfully called Mr Tudge-bit of a local celebrity in the area apparently. Think it is all in the name.) accused me of ‘buttering him up with trowel’. Not sure about that, but my buttering worked and we spent the most fantastic couple of hours at his farm, riding on tractors, watching pigs cavort in the mud, sampling his freshly cooked bacon and talking about his life and his work. Other highlights included:
-Nosing around the writers’ accommodation. They stayed in apartments above where I am staying (a quirky little place I affectionately call ‘the cave’ (due to its lack of windows) all owned by the same lovely woman, who has a penchant for bizarre artwork and hanging dried hops on the ceiling. One of the rooms was huge, and had a beautiful big wardrobe in the centre. Nothing odd about that. Open the wardrobe and you discover a full and complete kitchen. Cooker, microwave, toaster, crockery, fridge, kettle, kitchen sink. I felt like I had walked onto the set of a play. So brilliant. And weird. I will attempt to upload some pictures so you can marvel at it also.
-Going to the Slow Food AGM (for networking purposes, not that exciting in itself) at the Feathers, a building that on the outside is just extraordinarily beautiful, all black and white timber, gorgeous, but is let down by a bar and restaurant that feels like a dingy roadside caff. But. The AGM was held in a room upstairs, and I had to hold back a gasp on entering as it was so amazing. Wood pannelled walls, low ceilings, roaring fire, I felt like I had been let into a secret room known only to members of Slow Food.
-Going to a pig farm and seeing pigs that were less than 24 hours old. All scrabbling around and crawling over each other to try and find the warmth. Someone in the group asking the farmer ‘don’t you just want to pick them up and hold them?’ Answer: ‘No’. Right. No time for sentimentality in this business as we were whisked from pig pen to pig pen, moving through the 7 stages of pig right up to seeing pigs that were due to be taken to the abattoir.
-Going to visit Douggie at his abattoir in Leintwardine. Walking into the tiny little shop, greeted with beautiful cuts of meat, jars of pickles and jams, the aroma of freshly cooked sausage rolls and watching a transaction between customer and butcher that took nigh on fifteen minutes. All she bought was some bacon. They had a lot to chat about. You don’t get that in London. Then being led out the back by Douggie, given a white coat and hat and trustingly following him into another building. Opening the door and being hit with the full on vision of animals being sawn in half with huge metal saws that dangled above us in true horror movie style, dripping with blood, when they were not in use. Knowing that these animals were alive not 20 minutes ago. Watching these men, engrossed in their job, skillfully cutting out innards, chopping off ears, the strange beauty of these carcasses as they are efficiently taken apart. I have never seen anything like it, particularly so close up, and I have to say it was a real education in many ways.
-Setting up a ‘taste workshop’ for the writers and after sampling a local cheddar, all agreeing that it was quite delicious and after mishearing the word ’round’ agreed it was quite obviously made from ‘rams’ milk.
-Eating. A lot. Mainly brownies. We had brownies on a daily basis. We had ones from the food centre, which were pretty bloody lovely, but not a patch on the ones we got from someone I know only as ‘Lucy from the market’. Oh my god. I cannot describe how amazing these were. Our enjoyment marred only slightly by John coming into work on Monday with a laminated picture of a brownie with the words 1 brownie=250 calories underneath it. It is now stuck on the cupboard door in the kitchen. Thanks John.
-My car window breaking and falling down into the door, ringing up Tim, one of the writers, who came to my rescue with a wire coat hanger and a plastic bag…..!
-Sitting around the table on the final day listening to where each writer’s head was at in terms of ideas and stories. A very special experience, listening to writers read their own work.
So. Perhaps this is enough for now. Lots more to say but I don’t want to overdo it on my first time.I feel like helping with PIGS has connected me to Ludlow in a way that I would not have been able to otherwise, engaging with people I wouldn’t usually meet, working out the networks that exist in the town and going to places that I would otherwise not think about going to. I look forward to my return in a few weeks, where I will be tootling around the countryside delivering workshops about our next show Origins.