Honour buys no meat

Monday, 3 March 2014

Yup, she's coming. 
If she mentions that fucking book again, I'm gonna feed her into the sausage machine. 
And that's not a euphemism. 

Two of my earliest memories are of butchers' shops.

In my first memory the butcher is singing a Beatles song to my little sister who beams fatly in her pram. I am jealous because I don't have a name in a song, and I pinch her when nobody is looking. She cries, and the butcher's boy goes out and comes back with an ice-cream in a waffle cone.  I am forbidden from having a lick, and she holds it, uneaten, and melting down her little arm until it is thrown into a rubbish bin on the way home. 

In my second, my granny is telling the butcher to slice the ham more thickly because she has her granddaughter over for lunch.  I am gently coaxed to go round the side of the huge counter to be cooed over. I refuse to move and afterwards, my little paw in my granny's gloved hand, she explains that sometimes we have to do things to make other people happy, even though we don't want to do them ourselves.  

I think it was the worst piece of advice I was ever given, though my granny followed it religiously and, as a result, was adored by hundreds of people. I am happy to remain unadored and pleasing only myself.

Now I am a doughty lady of a certain age, I have a wonderful relationship with my butcher. He runs a proper sawdust-on-the-floor, blood-smelling shop with tiled walls and metal chains on the door to keep the flies out. He called me 'madam' for five years, and then I was upgraded to 'sweetheart.'  

I have learned to avoid Monday visits because it's when the deliveries come and there is still enough of the experimental teenage vegetarian in me to find the sight alarming.  There are whole carcasses and open-topped boxes of offal. there are little rabbits and braces of partridge, all tied at the neck and slung with casual morbidity, across the table in the front. They lie slumped, awaiting the honed and lethal blade that quietly transforms the bloody, dripping lumps into sanitised and picturesque cuts.

I didn't fancy seeing that today, but the chicken I had bought for the weekend was off, and I knew that I had to go and let them know.  It turns out I am more British than I realised.  I felt shy and guilty at bearing bad news and was tempted to say nothing, ever. But I took a deep breath and went in; I apologised for saying anything; he apologised and I apologised for bringing it up.  He apologised that I'd had to make the journey down the hill and miss my Sunday roast.  He was so mortified he called me 'madam' twice.  He pressed on me an enormous bag of chicken and livers and a couple of chops.  I felt awful for having to tell him, he started another round of heartfelt apologising. He was also sorry for the horrible rain we were having, and what the hell was going on in Ukraine. I felt as though I'd been in there for hours.

He insisted I took an enormous bone for the dog. I hadn't the heart to say she prefers toast and Marmite instead. I should have asked him to buy me ice-cream and sing me a Beatles song instead. 


  1. I loved reading about your butcher memories. One of my earliest memories involved a butcher shop too, only that one gave me (a mere girl of nine) the fright of my life. I shall never forget the sight of a naked man parading past our local butcher shop on the high street in all his glory. What possessed him I shall never know but, suddenly, my mother's order for sausages lost their appeal (this is a true story!).

    1. Chrionica, what an alarming image! Where did this nakedness occur?

    2. My parents used to live in north London when I was very young, and they liked to shop at a butcher along Green Lanes. This was back in the early 1970s. Shall never forget it!

  2. You are so brave, I feel the same about delivering that sort of news. Love your Grandmama.

    1. I didn't feel brave; I just knew that my husband would come over all Victorian and perhaps even use the word 'tradesmen' if I didn't.

  3. My first column piece concerned my despair regarding the retirement of our local butcher's. I managed to slip in the phrase 'I've tasted a few Lincolnshire sausages in my time...' and I don't think anyone noticed.

  4. I bet you have. I just brought Cumbrian sausages back, based at them in a haze of nostalgia for so long that they went all gamey and had to feed them to the dog. Acres of them.


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