An Almost Pleasant Pheasant


It’s not often in the city that you hear about people hunting.

It’s not often in the city that you see any wildlife, unless you count pigeons and ragged city foxes screaming in the middle of the night and knocking your bins all over your garden. It’s also usually the case that for convenience sake you nip to Tesco for your pre-cleaned, pre-branded and pre-packed dinner, already looking appetising on a serving suggestion with the cooking instructions on the back.

That’s why I was quite excited when the chef at work announced his mate had been out shooting and had given him three pheasants, and that one was mine if I wanted it. So, in exchange for a shot of rum, I was handed a bin liner containing the bird. ‘You know what to do with this, right?’ he asked me.

‘Of course’, I replied.

‘And you’ll be alright with it? My wife won’t let me bring it in the house’.

‘I’m from Lincolnshire’ I told him. The implication and my defiant tone meaning, of course, that I was a country girl.

I’d encountered plenty of freshly shot game in my youth, I’d seen my mum pluck and gut birds when I was a kid, and excitedly helped her out.

There’s nothing more appealing when you’re a kid than the prospect of mess, guts and gore, and really getting your hands dirty.

And you assume, as you get older, you get more worldly wise, tougher, more able to cope with the events life throws at you.

In a way, you do.

What people, myself included, forget, is that despite the city hardening you up in many ways, it also mollycoddles you, takes you away from anything natural, and hands you a whole lot of things on a plate – often a plate prepared, cooked, and then washed up by, someone else.

It was my housemates reaction that suddenly made me squeamish.

I told him I’d brought home a pheasant from work, which was fine and made him pretty happy until he learned that the pheasant was currently in a bag, in the kitchen, still feathered, still with feet and beak attached.

The look of horror on his face both amused me and took me by surprise. Promptly, (and I know I’m far too old to behave in this manner, but it was too easy) I grabbed the bird from the bag and chased him around the lounge with it.

I don’t care what you think. It was worth it to see him hide in the corner, hands in front of face.

Daft, I thought. This is how all our meat starts. How can people be so hypocritical and fussy. If you’re going to eat the stuff, you don’t have the right to get offended if it’s not shrink wrapped and sold with a pretty label on. What is there to be squeamish about?

However, when I got the (literally) bloody thing out onto the chopping board, I have to admit (although, not to my housemate of course) I changed my tune. Gone was that no nonsense Lincolnshire lass, and in her place was a whiney city girl I didn’t recognise confronted by a horrible dead carcass. I grimaced at it lolling there, eyes white, shot hole in its side, and so many feathers.

So what the hell happened? Anyone from back home would have laughed out loud. Told me to man up.

So, being the stubborn git that I am, I decided, I had come this far. I wasn’t being defeated by a dead bird. Like that carcass, I had guts. Into a bucket of hot water poor lifeless Mr Pheasant went, and while he soaked, I poured myself a very large glass of wine, and put his sopping bedraggled body on my chopping board.

I took a very big swig, and started plucking.

Not so bad, I thought, as I put all my muscle into wrenching out the feathers, dropping them into the bucket on the floor. Not so bad until I got to the top, grabbed a big chunk of wet feathers at the breast, peeling the sinewy skin away right up to the neck, revealing shiny blood covered tendons and veins.

More wine. I looked at the poor bird, its little head still feathered and attached, but its skin hanging off around the base of its bloody neck.

Head off I thought.

So I took a second and picked up the knife. Brandished it in defiance over the sorry creature.

I held its now bald and exposed body up, placed the knife on the lolling, torn up neck, gritted my teeth, and then cracked it. It came away pretty easily, and I quickly chucked it in the bucket, out of sight. My housemate came in, poking his head tentatively round the door, obviously morbidly fascinated. That was the worst bit done, or so I thought, and I wasn’t going to let him see me being squeamish, so I chopped off the feet, and chucked the body in water in the sink.

By now, and to my relief, the bird was beginning to resemble something on a supermarket shelf, and with its sad little head out of sight, my pheasant torturing guilt had subsided.

Only one job left to do. Just gut the thing. Not so bad right?

I’ll spare the details, but Christ, the smell.

As soon as it hit me, I remembered it from when I’d helped my mother as a kid, but, as a proper grown up, I’m sure it was worse. Also, as a kid, it wasn’t my kitchen, so I had no responsibility to clean guts out of the sink.That smell stuck in my nose for the rest of the evening.

I felt like Macbeth, with blood forever on his hands, guilt tormenting his soul about what he had done.You know, “What’s done cannot be undone” and all that. I’d killed that poor creature! Well, I hadn’t actually. But I’d stopped it resting in peace.

Anyway, I’m over it now, and the moral to this pleasant pheasant story, if you can call it that is as follows.

My kitchen is now clean, and you’d never know the horrors that took place there.The gory remains have been safely disposed of. Mr Pheasant, when cooked, looked just as appetising as anything in the butchers, and much more appetising than anything in the supermarket.

And, it tasted bloody lush.

So, trendy city dwellers, get your hands dirty.Take away is great, but nothing is as satisfying as doing it yourself, short of shooting the damn thing and really being responsible for the whole process. I don’t think I’d be great with a gun.

And, a thought possibly more horrifying than any of the afore mentioned process – maybe Gordon Ramsay had a point when he butchered his kids pet chickens in front of them. Or maybe not. I’m undecided.

Assuming you think this is a great plan and decide to go out and gut yourself a tasty meal, here’s my last cautionary tale to city dwellers: When I said the carcass was ‘safely disposed of’, I may have lied a little.

I advise those of you attempting anything similar to weigh down your bin lid. Bloody foxes have left a right feathery mess, right across my garden. Maybe the city is better without wildlife after all.


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