Hunting

The morning sun was already above the trees and peeking in to the back garden, I finished my cornflakes and walked out of the backdoor, it was 6 a.m. It would be a warm day for Redbourn especially the first week of October. I was dressed in light brown flared corduroys and Dr Martin boots. I wore a long-sleeved cheesecloth shirt and my knife was sheathed on the left of my belt and an old army tin water bottle to the right. I had an anorak tied around my waist just in case of rain.

Time was of the essence, moving fast down Tassell Hall, along the back of Library Lane up through Hilltop, winding through the alley and jumping over the school fence. It was Sunday, the Caretaker will still be snoring.

Up through the school field, shuddering when I saw the 400 meter track still faintly marked out from the summers sports day, Jesus I hated the thought of the coming Monday and 10am PE.

Over the school fence and through the tacky mud of the recently ploughed field, easier to go around, but time was of the essence, things happened fast, they would be gone and I needed to blood my knife.

Reaching the hedgerow, still partial burned where the September burn-off got out of control, pushing through blackened hedge and on to Redding Lane. Stamping my boots to clear the sticky mud.

Good, still early enough, no one was around.

Moving along the road, a gap in the dense bushes and trees, over the barbed wire and in to Redding Wood.

The wood was small, still dark and cool, musky damp odours reached up and tickled my senses

Dad had said that the Godly’s grew walking sticks in this wood and Mr Godly was very particular about his walking sticks and guarded his secret with a red faced rage.

Delicately picking my way through the trees, senses were heightened with one eye on the way forward and one on the ground, for fear that I trod on a baby walking stick. Ears were pricked for the sound of a red faced rage…

Maybe it would have been better to follow the road around and over the fence by the water tower, but the clock was ticking and red faced rage or not, best to cut through.

Effortlessly through the woods and to the fence adjoining the Herts Showgrounds. Glancing left then right. The field was occupied by a large herd of Heifers. One furtive glance behind, not a red faced rage or walking stick in sight, I vaulted over the barbed wire, landing lightly in the field. Heifers were abundant and so were their pats. Silently f’ing… I slid my right boot first one way and then the other, getting as much of the shit off as possible without using a stick.

The heifers noticed me and decided I was fair game and came bounding over, heads wobbling like those plastic dogs. Uncle John once said show no fear, stand your ground, slap their noses. But, Jesus when you’re skinny and twelve… I eyed the fence behind, going back was not an option, and running would be a bad move. I thought about standing still and trying to stare them down but didn’t fancy my chances. So I kept my cool and walked forcefully in to the field. As soon as I put my foot forward they stopped. They were about 30ft away. I paused, they moved forward, I walked on, and they stopped. Heifers are dumb for sure.

Moving to the left and towards the top of the field I was in prime position. Unsheathing my knife, stealthily moving now almost silently. My prey could appear at any time.

Stooping low trembling with anticipation, heart pounding, knife in hand. I gently moved the knife in to position, cutting deftly, slicing through the flesh, a short almost silent squeak and the head of my prey dropped gently in to the palm of my left hand.

Signing with relief, no one had been before me and my first lone hunt would reap the rewards. Raising the sacrifice to my nose, the smell is damp, almost milk-like, with a hint of earthiness. Always best to blood your first kill, slowly I popped the white creamy head in to my mouth.

Ah! Nothing has tasted quite like it since, my first raw mushroom. The field was full of fresh mushrooms, the raw taste. But Oh! Nothing like what was planned ahead, where Sunday breakfast would be adorned with fresh mushrooms…

You cannot beat a fresh cut mushroom, especially with bacon, eggs, thick slices bloomer, spread generously with butter and steaming hot Rosie Lea.

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A 1974 Redbourn Mushrooming Memoir.

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Mark O'Hara

Many years ago, I wrote a story… a very short story, I showed it to my then English teacher, who set about destroying the appalling grammar and spelling. She looked me in the eye and said, don’t bother again, the story will never make sense until you can construct a sentence and use correct grammar. A harsh lesson, indeed! I would like to say I took her critique on board and worked really hard and published my first novel… but alas, I never tried again… I was twelve

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