A Matter of Perception
Simply because of his diet, granddad was an outcast, a recluse,
There were few mourners at granddad’s funeral. Not because he didn’t have any relatives, but because he’d lived mostly on a diet of rats. People shun rat eaters for some reason.
Granddad had never married. As a young man, he was engaged to my grandma but then war came. Off he went, leaving Grandma pregnant with my father. Like so many wartime tragedies, their wedding was not to be. Shortly after giving birth, grandma was knocked down and killed in the London blackout. Granddad survived the war unscathed.
In the peace jobs were scarce and he, being unskilled, found life very hard bringing up my dad on his own. Still, never one to complain, he took any work he could find. Eventually, he was offered a job cleaning sewers for the local council.
Food was still rationed and he had himself and my dad to feed on meagre wages. He’d heard of prisoners of the Japanese eating rats to survive. Granddad’s work environment was teeming with them and he thought well, why not? So, he bought some traps. He said his first efforts were horrendous failures as he left the fur on and the guts in.
‘I hadn’t a clue’ he said ‘then I found a recipe book for small game in a second-hand shop, it cost tuppence. No rat recipes of course, but plenty for game, I thought rats couldn’t be that much different.’
Soon he was serving up rat ragout, rat stuffed with crab apples and his favourite, rat pie with bacon and shallots.
Because my father was a strapping lad and his school chums were all puny, his neighbours accused Granddad of buying black market meat. How could a shit shoveller afford that? When delicious cooking smells wafted from his kitchen, some of his neighbours went to investigate and his secret was out. He was, thereafter, shunned.
Another reason people despised granddad was because he stank. Even after his weekly bath he carried a faint odour. He didn’t care. When my father was bullied at school, Granddad would say, ‘He’ll have to learn to fend for himself.’
Granddad rented a small cottage from the council on the outskirts of the village, where they lived a reclusive life. Even close relatives shunned granddad. He attended family funerals only.
My dad grew up and did National Service. He met my mother, a NAAFI girl, and never went home.
Though times got better, Granddad had developed a taste for vermin. He’d cook Squirrel skewers, badger burgers and a delicious road kill roulade. His feral pigeon Au poivre and his hedgehog stuffed with sweet chestnuts Wellington were a rare delicacies.
I loved that old man, he taught me so much about patience and acceptance of any situation one couldn’t change. ‘It’s all a matter of perception’ he would say. ‘Take food, folk in this country eat Lamb, beef, pork and the odd goat as well as poultry and game. Just mention eating horse meat and people look aghast. Why? It’s a quadruped same as a cow. They eat horses in France and no one objects. We eat shellfish and shellfish eat all sorts of crap. So, no matter what the animal eats it turns it into meat, it just needs cooking right.’
Everything granddad cooked was delicious. I was, of course, forbidden to eat anything he offered me. This made it an irresistible challenge for a young boy. After all, Granddad was one of the strongest, healthiest blokes I knew. It was he who sparked my interest in cooking and I went to college to study. After years working in hotel kitchens, I opened my own restaurant, using only conventional meats of course, and I prospered.
After forty years of hard work, the council sprung a surprise on Granddad. Because of his unfailing willingness to turn out night or day in all weathers to deal with overflowing sewage, clear blocked drains or stand in for grave diggers, they put him forward for an MBE, which, surprisingly, he was awarded.
Now the relatives wanted to know. Oh yes, a trip to Buckingham Palace and a day in the spotlight, refulgent in reflected glory, was definitely on. Of course, my mother Mabel and her sisters, Florence and Doris had to be the party to be at the presentation. They spoiled the day though by loudly complaining about the cost of new clothes, travel and the brevity of the actual ceremony. What were they expecting? A sit-down meal with the queen?
Afterwards, once the hullabaloo evaporated, they went back to snubbing Granddad.
In his last year, Granddad took to watching arty-farty cooking programmes on TV. He noticed that modern chefs served their meat very pink, so he started doing the same. I warned him not to eat rare rat, but he wouldn’t listen. He died of dysentery after a short illness, mind you, he was ninety-one.
The mourners moaned until I told them he had an insurance policy that covered his funeral costs. They cheered up considerably when I said the wake would be held at my house with free drinks and a splendid meal.
Funeral over, and the mourners gathered in my lounge. ‘We’re having a starter of Pate Au Savage with wild mushrooms’ I told them, followed by my famous game pie and a sweet of elder flower sorbet.
The wine flowed, and the wake was a great success.
Meal finished, I proposed a toast and gave a speech about how granddad had inspired me to be a chef, hence my present prosperity. I said ‘you know, granddad said enjoying food is all a matter of perception. Take this meal for instance. The pate I made with the hearts and livers of feral pigeons, the game pie was a mixture of sewer rat, squirrel, and hedgehog, which, I'm sure you'll all agree, we all greatly enjoyed.
It cost a hundred to get the carpets steam cleaned and there is still a faint odour of puke, but, god, it was worth it.
Note: NAAFI Navy, Army And Air Force Institute is the British forces PX.
The MBE is an award given by the queen to people from any walk of life who have preformed outstanding service to their community.