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Animal passions


Man in queue at an open-fronted butcher's shop on the Ile St LouThis one’s about me and the butcher. So any fastidious vegan/vegetarians had better look away now. And fast, for this is grisly stuff. If not actually gristly – this is a Good Butcher, after all. Would I pay him any attention, were he not? Of course not!

Me and the butcher are fast friends. Even though I never buy any meat from him. Must be a record – for him, at least. For me? Not really. Expensive commodity, meat.

Anyway, the butcher always greets me, includes me in ongoing conversations with adjacent stallholders and, often, other customers too. Such courteous gestures of incipient friendship are always well-received at my end. They’re too darn rare, for a start: I’m more accustomed to the “AmIsupposedtoknowyou?” type of approach – the answer to this particular rhetorical question being negative, obviously. But that’s nonsense anyway: nobody is supposed to know anybody, are they? What dire and dreadful things some people are prepared to do to distort a beautiful language, bending it to their will – or, rather, their ill will. Happily the language – Joyce’s joyful ‘Jinglish Janglage‘ – is both a lot bigger and a lot stronger than they! (If you ever have to deal with this treatment, btw, it’s worth bearing in mind at all times that people who dish it out are functional illiterates, and therefore utterly beneath your notice.)

But to return to the point: the butcher is definitely a man of mystery. He’s a man with that … look. You know the one. Hang-dog. Hang-dog big time. Hang-hound-of-the-Baskervilles-at-rest-after-unsuccessful-howling. Cubed.

His expression is that of a Christian facing a lion and knowing that things don’t look good. And are going to get a whole lot worse. Very soon.

I know that expression. I see it in the mirror every morning and, even, sometimes in the evenings (if I’m being especially careless and have forgotten to avert my eyes, that is).

The butcher looks at me with big, doe eyes. He makes sheep’s eyes at me while handling a side of beef – and how many more meaty, animal-related figures of speech can I get into one paragraph? And is it worth trying?

“Did you have an enjoyable Christmas? Did you celebrate with your husband?” enquired the butcher after the holidays.

“Yes, thank you,” I said. And “No. He celebrates Christmas with his wife.”

“You are not married?”

“No.” I gurn wildly at him to indicate that this is fine by me.

Doesn’t work.

Sorrowfully – can this man get any more doleful? Apparently he can. I watch him do so with increasing fascination. Yes, it’s possible – it is! It is! He’s reached the heights – or, rather, the depths, the very nadir of glum.

“But for a beautiful woman like you, not to have a husband – it is not right.” moaned the butcher in full bovine-headed-for-slaughterhouse mode. He looked towards Manu, the neighbouring greengrocer, and Veronique (the other greengrocer) for support; but they were fully engaged with customers. Just as well. I know those two: they are far more likely to snort with barely-suppressed mirth at the very idea.

“I beg to differ,” I said sharply, “and how much for that capon?”

He winced. Capons … (Men and any other member of the animal kingdom, er, surgically parted with its, erm, parts: makes them feel a bit insecure. Naturally, I occupy too elevated a plane to consider such matters.) But a sale’s a sale, so he told me the price.

Which information was duly greeted with unceremonious derision on my part:

“Tart!” I said tartly. “But this is the extortion, house-of-ill-repute and tart of house-of-ill-repute of stuff-you-find-all-over-the-pavements-of-this-city!”

(I am translating literally, you understand. Well, almost.)

But my colloquial bad manners were duly neutralised by his performing the good old lift arms, present hands with palms upward, shrug shoulders and blow a raspberry routine (properly done, it can soothe even the most savage female breast).

“What can I do?” said the butcher on a gusting sigh of an expressiveness, profundity and duration that would have made Bryn Terfel envious. “It is, Mrs, the crisis.”

It certainly is.

To hell with the crisis, then! ‘Beautiful’ old bats like me deserve the odd roast meaty treat, surely? And I owe it to ‘beautiful’ old bats everywhere to take a lead on this matter, do I not?

So I bought the capon, having watched the butcher slowly and carefully pick out the best one – his face conveying mournfulness on an operatic scale – before equally sorrowfully taking up and applying a blow-torch to ensure all the remaining vestigial quills were removed and the skin prepared for roasting.

And made myself four meals out of it, the last one consisting of a herby, delicately jellied stock in which I poached Puy lentils, chopped shallots and lots of sliced garlic. Beats baked beans any day.

The simple things of life – definitely the best.

But, honestly, the things some men will say to sell a girl a little chook, eh?

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