We saw a fantastic deal on ducks at our local butcher – four for a tenner. They weren’t too big but we thought the price was too good to miss out on (it worked out about the quarter of the price of prepared meat).

The birds

The birds

The only problem was they were intact (aside from the shot wounds or broken necks); we had a long evening of plucking, eviscerating, cleaning and butchering the ducks, but at the end we had eight breasts, eight legs, a huge pot of carcasses for stock plus some interesting other edible bits: hearts, gizzards and liver.

Plucking the wing

Plucking the wing

The first stage was plucking a band around the wings which would allow us to cut them off later.

Removing the down

Removing the down

Next came the more general plucking of feathers; once the top feathers are pulled, there is a layer of dense down underneath. This got everywhere of course.

Pile of feathers

Pile of feathers

We wondered about using the feathers but adding them to the compost would probably have attracted foxes, so we bagged them up for disposal.


Finishing the pluck

Once the birds were plucked (the one above was the most successful!) we cleared up a bit and got ready for the evisceration, which we would need to do before we could butcher the meat.

Off with her head

Off with her head

The feet and wings came off first, then the head. This was the moment to pay some sort of muted respect to these beautiful iridescent birds. As meat goes, this is pretty happy stuff – one moment they were evidently stuffing their crops, then in a flash, oblivion. No lifelong corralling or drawn-out sadistic death.



Digging the organs out of the body cavity was next, using two probing fingers. First the gizzard (on the far right in the picture, more on that below); then the guts, being careful not to perforate them; the lungs; then finally the heart and liver.

Gizzards and hearts

Gizzards and hearts

The guts and lungs were discarded but we kept the gizzards and hearts and a bit of liver (though the liver was very fragile). We had a chicken the other day and will combine the leftover hearts and livers from all the birds in a dish.

Inside the gizzard

Inside the gizzard

Cleaning and preparing the gizzard was probably the most interesting and fiddly bit of work. You have to split the casing, then clean out the grit and other contents. The texture of the inside is remarkable, like a gnarly old heel or piece of crinkled leather.

Prepared gizzards

Prepared gizzards

You can see one of the gizzard linings on the bottom left, they are remarkable. Tough as old boots. This is carefully sliced off leaving some rich, deep burgundy gizzard meat.



We then had four gutted ducks, ready for filleting, along with a bunch of gizzard halves and some hearts and liver.

The fruit of labour

The fruit of labour

So that’s what we ended up with: eight legs for confit, eight breasts, a pot full of carcasses for stock, and a few bits of offal. About four hours’ work (and a ten quid outlay), but most of all a good lesson into the process and reality of meat preparation. I was a bit rubbish at plucking but I’m sure I’ll improve…

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 10:07 am  Comments (2)  

Hadrian’s Wall: Day Two

On Tuesday we undertook the second day of our Hadrian’s Wall run challenge. Day one had been difficult, due to my ongoing illness, and had really left us up against it on the second day – we had until around six ‘o’clock to finish, and where we had hoped to reach about 49 miles on day one, the time lost to various things (though mainly dashes into the bushes) meant we finished at around 41 miles. Nick also twisted his knee in a boggy field just at the end. We didn’t know how serious that would be until the next morning when it was clear he was in a lot of pain. I was also reduced to a slow pace to keep my guts in check, and we spent most of the second day at a walking pace – this put us at about 3 mph over the hilly middle section, and it rapidly became obvious we wouldn’t be able to get to Newcastle by evening. We ploughed on, eating up the miles at a steady rate – Housesteads, Brocolitia, Chollerford, Portgate… but once we got towards Wallhouses, Nick’s knees were becoming cripplingly painful. We’d had a lovely run of well maintained, relatively smooth grass surfaces, but on the way up to Harlow Hill we hit a series of waterlogged, boggy sections and heavy side-to-side gradients which knocked us out. We called in the support van (thanks again, Nic Sr.!) so Nick could try walking with poles, and we did the last few miles like that. Though progress had been slow on the day, we’d made almost thirty miles over some pretty hilly terrain at walking pace, and on top of the 41 miles on day one we feel like it was a decent achievement.

Nonetheless, it was frustrating not to be able to get to Wallsend. The time constraint, my illness and Nick’s knees all contributed to us ending up about twelve miles short or so. We’ll go back at some point to run that final stretch as soon as we can, but in the meantime we really hope nobody who sponsors us feels like we cheated or didn’t fulfil our attempt properly. Obviously if anyone is aggrieved let us know! Two other important points – first, and foremost, this was done to raise money for Refuge. As our donations page shows, we have reached around £1100 so far. Although it probably sounds trite, having Nick’s dad as our support team to come and help us when the pain got too much drove home exactly why I’d been running – there are hundreds of thousands of people with no support network who need Refuge to help them escape from domestic violence. Secondly, we had a good time – in spite of the pain, in spite of the indignity of dashing into the bushes every couple of miles, it was fun. The views were absolutely spectacular at points, and it was the first time I had really seen Hadrian’s Wall properly. Anyhow, here’s some photos from the two days. A video may follow later in the week…

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Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

I, one Snout by name, present a wall

Tomorrow morning myself and a friend will begin a two day run of Hadrian’s Wall. From Bowness in the west to Wallsend in the east, we will take in 84 miles of what looks to be beautiful, rugged country. It is a charitable endeavour – and if you feel moved to sponsor us, you may do so here, for Refuge – but I have come to love running in a strange and contradictory way. As training for this, I have done half-marathons in Leeds, St Albans, the Cotswolds and around Box Hill – places I didn’t know well, which thanks to running I now feel acquainted with. I also appreciate the time I get when on road or trail to think and to consider. While I know it wrecks my legs, it helps my brain for sure.

I feel underprepared of course – I have been for almost every run I’ve ever undertaken, from my first 10K three years ago to the pair of marathons I’ve done. My feet have been problematic, though I’ve sort of fixed that with a combination of exercises and better footwear; I’m a good stone overweight; my knees have been dodgy for since I hit my teens; and I can feel the sinister forewarnings of shin splints. In anticipation of crippling wear-and-tear I have brought a walking stick north with me.

I am looking forward to it though. Tomorrow we will try to run about fifty miles, with about thirty on Tuesday. We’ll be up in six hours’ time, clad in lycra, sipping coffee and gearing ourselves up for the days ahead. Let’s see how we get on.

Published in: on July 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

City & Northern Light Railway

The Thameslink franchise is up for grabs soon and one of the bits that is being bundled into it is the oddity that is the Northern City Line (from Finsbury Park to Moorgate via Essex Road). It’s a bit of useful infrastructure that is woefully underused (not at all during later evenings and weekends) and I strongly feel it should be integrated into the underground network. FCC or its successor could run all its trains from Hertford East or Welwyn into Kings Cross, and the NCL could join up with the old line from Finsbury Park to Muswell Hill (which is now Parkland Walk) to make a useful line comprising thirteen stations and intersecting with the Northern Line (at Highgate, Old Street and Moorgate), London Overground (at H&I and at a new interchange station at Stapleton Hall Road), with the Victoria Line (at H&I and Finsbury Park) and with EC/Thameslink services at Finsbury Park. Current commuters from Harringay out to Hertford etc would have a relatively simple crossover onto the new line at Finsbury Park and ticketing could mean they weren’t disadvantaged by the change.

Someone on wikipedia has done a version of the line in LU style here as it was planned in the 1930s – my version would not be part of the Northern Line – in fact it wouldn’t use underground rolling stock at all (see below) – and would include the extra station at Stapleton Hall Road and is shown below in more of a sketch style! Obviously the loss of Parkland Walk (a lovely green space which I use a lot, though not too useful in actual transit terms) would need to be offset somehow – let’s say by the guarantee of two ‘greenways’ (i.e. for foot and cycle users, with ample space/separation), one for the Highgate/Muswell Hill crowd, and one for the Stroud Green end).

I would be inclined to run it as a DLR type service, since many of the platforms on the northern end would need to be short. A frequent service would be well-used and extremely useful in my view, not only linking parts of London which are somewhat tricky to get between but also getting people into town quickly from some poorly connected areas (Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Tollington). Between the DLR style and the Northern City Line designation, something like the CNLR might be a sensible name for the whole thing.


Published in: on July 18, 2012 at 8:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Productive Land: Back and Forth

The blog entries on our Productive Land project dried up in Autumn, for a number of reasons. I’ll catch you up soon, beginning with last Autumn’s harvest and this year’s planting as soon as I can, but a major preoccupation has been keeping chickens. It’s been a mixture of joy and anguish so far, and right now it’s only the latter.

Our initial pair – Big Coopie and Little Coopie – arrived in September, and started laying in February. We were getting around ten fantastic eggs a week. However, the day run we had built was designed to keep them in, not to keep predators out. We were scrupulous about locking them up by dusk, but in the day we let them wander about inside their (mostly netted) pen. One morning, though, a fox got in – in broad daylight – and killed Little Coopie. Caught in the act, the fox fled, and Little Coopie died in the kitchen, probably of shock. After this, we resolved to only let them out in their pen under supervision. The rest of the time they would be locked away, safely.

We got two lovely little hens – Snowy, a Light Sussex, and Buffy (you’ve guessed it, a Buff Sussex) – a few weeks ago, and after a bit of initial tension with Big Coopie, they’d settled in and were having a whale of a time.

Then today, a hammer blow: a fox (or more than one) got into the coop itself, while it was locked – through the nesting box, whether by brute force or cunning I’m not sure. While the lock is supposed to be foxproof I think if enough force were applied it could slide open. Snowy and Buffy were taken – Snowy evidently made a run for it first, getting at least to the other side of the garden judging from the trail of white feathers – while Big Coopie must have stood and fought behind the cage, being killed and left there.

Big Coopie, Snowy and Buffy

It makes me feel very guilty. The whole point of this part of the project was to be able to eat delicious eggs knowing that they have come from chickens whose lives were as fulfilled as possible (broadly defined). Though they had plenty of opportunity to root about in the foliage and so on, the net result is still that four lovely chickens have died. To carry on with this endeavour we will need to make sure the coop itself is even more secure.

Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm  Comments (2)  

The Literal Collapse of Social Democracy: Robin Hood is (Nearly) Dead

I wanted to write a long and probably boring piece on this, but I don’t have time, so thank your lucky stars. The basic points I wished to convey were as follows, in shameful brevity:

1) Robin Hood Gardens, the Smithsons’ (subjectively) beautiful but (objectively) run-down social housing development in Blackwall, east London, is due for demolition. Built for ‘the socialist dream’ and now, in classic neoliberal fashion, a public good which has quite intentionally been allowed to malfunction and decay in order that a private alternative would seem attractive. See also, for example, inner city state schools, and, shortly, the NHS. When Jonathan Glancey went to visit in 2009, he took a rather skeptical view, but almost all of the documented complaints refer to maintenance, not architecture. When I visited, the streets in the sky concept – which I love – was in full swing, with groups of kids playing football and cycling up and down.

2) Social democracy and the welfare state as a linked pair of historical phenomena seem to be just as run down (or to have been run down just as much!) as Robin Hood Gardens. In the cases of Italy and Greece elected governments were earmarked by the EU for demolition and replacement with private-finance friendly technocratic post-states. In Britain we are consensually daydreaming our way to something similar. Here was a physical representation in east London of the grand political shift of our era.

3) But wasn’t the social democratic ideal always like the Robin Hood of legend? Couldn’t a capitalist welfare state only ever survive as long as there was money coming in, strongarmed from the rich in times when there was gold sloshing around to be thrown at foreign wars and other follies? What happens when Robin Hood is dead? Weren’t such handouts always dependent on the goodwill of an enlightened member of the nobility (the mythical Loxley, the actual Beveridge) to sweep crumbs from the table into our grateful paws? Where do we go next?

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(Note, there are two photos of nearby, more modern buildings – hopefully it’s obvious which ones!)

So I went to look around and take some pictures before it is gone. A few things struck me. In relation to the surrounding monstrosities of Canary Wharf (and other faux-marble or glass-and-steel yawnfests slightly further north), Robin Hood Gardens is a fine piece of architecture. It is elegant, sweeping and open, with its deck access ‘streets in the sky’ and setting around a shared garden. It’s not too high so even in early spring (when I went) the sun comfortably enters the communal space. The ratio of windows to wall is extraordinary compared with most more recent mass housing (whether social or yuppie). Even in its decrepit, boarded-up state, there is something friendly and hopeful about it. It’s a great shame that it has been deliberately run into the ground. I really liked it.

Published in: on May 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm  Comments (3)  

Relatively simple East Kent rail idea?

If you stuck a double track chord (I think that’s what they’re called…) in just west of Canterbury between the Dover and Margate lines (see circle on left of map) you could run high speed trains from Ashford to Canterbury East (and then on to Dover on the standard tracks, should you wish, though there is presumably a good reason why they don’t go on from Faversham to Dover already). They’d already be slowing down to approach Canterbury so the junction wouldn’t be too disruptive.

Ashford - Canterbury East - Sandwich (click to embiggen)

In and of itself this might not add much value, but if the relatively short distance between Bekesbourne and Sandwich (around six miles I believe) were spanned – with possible intermediate stations at Wingham and Ash – then high speed or regular services could travel through to Sandwich and Deal, turning round there so as not to overload Dover. Deal used to be a terminus and is a wide-berth station, so probably has room for another platform/track in the middle I would think.

This would make an enormous improvement on journey times to Canterbury and London from Deal and Sandwich, and would provide train service to two intermediate towns and surrounding villages. Currently, from Sandwich it takes an astonishing 2hr20m to London on regular service and 1hr45m by high speed, as well as an hour to Canterbury (no direct train). There are a couple of HS trains which are direct in the early morning but even they clock in at 1hr30 and I suspect the line capacity after Dover might prevent running such a service all day. I’d estimate that a high speed train (56m London to Canterbury) would need a maximum of 20m more to reach Sandwich even on standard speed track (there are a few curves to take into account after Bekesbourne – this is just a suggested route and obviously hasn’t been surveyed or anything!).

Obviously an alternative would be to double the curve which links the Ramsgate-Canterbury and Ramsgate Sandwich lines at Minster, but the journey would be longer and again I imagine track capacity would be an issue (and there would be no benefit for intermediate towns). A further benefit of the method above would be to give the Sandwich-Deal area much simpler linkage with Faversham-Medway too.

Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Exmoor, Porlock and Minehead

A slideshow of some non-music photos from the weekend

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Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

An egg!

We’re completely ova-eggcited (double groan, no more egg puns, don’t worry) as today, one of our hens (we suspect the big one) laid our first egg. And here it is:

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Published in: on February 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Transforming the Garden

I got to August with the detailed descriptions of transforming the garden and came to a grinding halt. I will write something about the  (in parts) triumphant harvests of September and October soon, but in the meantime, here are the collated pictures of the garden from the time last January when we had lifted the old paving slabs until this winter’s snow. There’s a bit of a lacuna in Autumn but we didn’t really have one – it was pretty green till December, and then it wasn’t! This year’s work will begin soon.

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Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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