Saturday 22 June 2013

Salted Venison

It’s dreich and midgey – the worst kind of Highland summer weather. Dreich i.e. overcast, drizzling and as dead still as a Raasay Sunday; midgey i.e. swarming with clouds of Culicoides impunctatus. You can’t get anything done outside when it’s like this. Midge hoods and anti-insect sprays help a bit, but, inevitably, you still end up getting bitten (a lot) and having to retreat indoors in irritable, itchy-lumpy defeat. And no, you don’t get used to them, even when you have lived here your whole life.

There are, however, some minor compensations. For example, the long, calm and quiet dusks bring out all kinds of twittering, chirruping, grunting, bellowing wildlife; and the sea is either mirror-flat, or smooth-rippled like old glass. Our camera tends to put a cyan cast on photos, but with the overcast skies and, as a result, the strangely filtered light, the entire land and seascape really does have a very strong cyan cast these evenings.

Some of the local red deer (Cervus elaphus) population have been getting increasingly bold. Even the noise of shotgun blanks, fired by one of our neighbours, fails to scare them off. Some of the deer (juvenile or female reds, we reckon) have taken to crossing Gastrobeach at dusk. We didn’t find this too unusual at first, as we have seen them on the shore previously. When I took this photo, however, they were wading across it at near high tide. We have now seen them doing this several times; one of them was actually swimming, rather than wading.

It’s very pleasant to watch them seasoning themselves in this way (only kidding). Not, of course, that I don’t love venison. Red deer are now abundant here, so you would think that venison would be easily available from local shops and cheap to buy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and venison is still considered a luxury food.

They are certainly graceful animals. And they’re welcome to the shore, where they pose so elegantly on these still, filtered evenings. Anyway, I’m sure many local gardeners are much happier to see them down there than up here decimating their vegetable patches.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Beer and Oysters

Last weekend, our neighbours were kind enough to invite us over for refreshments. Well, we were really just supposed to be going over to pick up some courgette plants, but it turned into one of those evenings when the talk and the alcohol flows freely, and where an hour stretches into three or four without your really noticing.

Our neighbours have a beautifully-well-kept vegetable garden -- my mother described it as being like a market garden -- with a large polytunnel, enabling them to grow all kinds of veg that would otherwise struggle in our sometimes-harsh climate.

While drinking (in both senses) in the sun -- ladies on wine and gents on refreshing beer -- we got to talking seafood; they too have a good view of Gastrobeach from their house, so they've seen me down on the shore swimming and foraging (though not at the same time). Before I knew it, there was a tub of Islay oysters on the table, with chunks of lime to go with them.

I don't know about you, but that's my kind of evening: sunshine, shellfish, a few drinks and (at least initially) smart conversation.

We went home with much from that evening -- not just the washed and bagged lettuce and mange tout, not just the courgette plants, not just the satisfied belly full of beer and oysters, but the sense that good company and a wonderfully-relaxed atmosphere are sometimes closer than you think.

Sometimes, right next door.

Monday 7 January 2013

Half Light

The ever-expanding array of Christmas decorations may be packed away in the loft until next year, but I'm not ready to kill the lights just yet. As I have no religious inclinations I celebrate Christmas in the ancient way - as a time for family, fun, feasting (and a little drinking), but also in the other old sense of being a time to light up the winter darkness.

My ancestors, lacking LED technology, would have done this with blistering bonfires, and with torches made of bound-together twigs or rags soaked in animal fat attached to stout sticks. No such trouble is required to fend off the winter gloom these days, which makes it all the more odd that most people insist on removing every trace of festive illumination the moment 'twelfth night' arrives.

I do try to keep this continuing effulgence subtle. One string of 'warm white' lights adorns the crab-apple tree outside, and the 'bright white' Christmas tree lights have been relegated to a large glass jug I have placed on a shelf near a plug socket.

On a more serious note - winter darkness can have a serious impact on mental and physical (all the same thing anyway) health. Don't be put off lighting up your life by daft conventions about removing all that stuff, when you could keep at least some of it in place to help to cheer you up in the dark months.

Cinnamon-laced coffee now plunged and steaming away in my new Roland TB-303 (Bass Line) themed mug, I look forward to the remainder of the flaky hot-smoked salmon which I will be having for lunch.

It's properly dreich out on Gastrobeach today. At least the mountains are visible as I view their grey bulk through the reflection of my jaunty light-jug.

The attached photograph is from a walk we took on one of the few dry days. My wife captured the image - a creel-boat heading out of the bay at sunset.

I wish you a Happy New Year but at this moment I particularly wish you a happy January and February. And if their days can't be merry, then at least make them bright.