James is Lovin’ Roadkill

I had just attended a very sad funeral in Barcombe, the village I grew up in and on the journey home by Scaynes Hill Cricket ground I noticed something big and still…. A surge of excitement ran through my body as I quickly indicated to pull over. The one animal that had alluded me (partly because I hadn’t really been able to pursue it) was deer.

Oddly (and illegally) I had a knife in the car from an Allotment Dinner I had the day before and so I grabbed it and rushed back to the dead carcass which was a Roe deer! Whooo-hoo!

Have you seen how expensive venison is?!?!

I stood over the  body sizing up what fleshy goodness would be good to eat. I then realised I hadn’t actually thought this though and actually a suited man holding a largish knife on a busy road standing over a dead deer at half three in the afternoon was not a great idea, and possibly a bit stupid. I quickly folded the knife away and tried to act natural. Difficult.

My mind raced. I couldn’t set about chopping it up where it was because I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to terrorise kids returning from school (seeing me sticking a knife into Bambi). Removing the whole deer was my only option. I returned to my car and backed it up so I could lift the deer into the boot. As I opened the boot and worried over what evidence I was going to have to hide so that my wife would not know what I had done, I realised there was a woman walking down the grassy verge toward me. I appreciated that a suited man wrestling with a dead deer may have looked a little strange but I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Having lived in the country for so many years I have noticed that more people are less engaged with what you might call country ways and furthermore may object. My paranoid mind told me that she looked like an ‘objector’; perhaps she might think a dead deer is best left undisturbed or it’s soul will be destroyed. As you can see; I suffer from an over active imagination which leads to all sorts of problems at times!

Holding the front and back feet in each hand I struggled to lift the deer into the boot and winced as I saw the blood trickle out of the deers mouth and down the bumper. In my mind I was working out if I had enough wet wipes to clean up this early evidence. I could hear the foot steps of the woman behind me and a rush of adrenalin came over me which helped with the extra effort to get the deer in the boot. By the time I was reaching up for the boot lid a rather old woman with lots of white hair was at my side looking into the back of the car. I laughed nervously and turned to her smiling and said “Well, waste not want not…eh?!” and I braced myself for a possible hostile response, but she replied with vigor “GOOD FOR YOU, yes, good for you!” and she carried on her way. Phew… I didn’t hang about and carried on home.

Once home I quickly changed and pulled the animal from the boot and without the adrenalin I had before I struggled to move it. Luckily I had been showing my kids a couple of my skateboard tricks and so my ‘deck’ was close at hand to use as a trolley. Once I got to the end of the garden and the deer was tied up by it’s front legs I then once again realised that I didnt know where to start. I understood that gut, shattered bone and feces are all things to be avoided when trying to harvest easy meat. I got my hands on the deer and felt around the body trying to understand where the impact with the car (I presumed) had occurred and it was clearly evident on one side as the ribs were clearly fragmented and instead of being firm actually felt like a bag of marbles.

The legs looked good and much of my ‘deer fantasy’ involved cooking a whole leg in a similar way to Ray Mears when he cooked a leg of deer with some Gurkhas (series 1) by fire pit. I had seen a deer skinned at The Wilderness Gathering with Nick Weston and Ash Ross and was happy about peeling back the furry skin and go about trying as best I could to get the legs off. Having taken legs of smaller game in the past I was content that I had some idea what to do although I was pleased to have no-one watching me. Admittedly my stabbing motion probably wasn’t the right or correct way to go about it, but I eventually removed one hind and then the other.

I trimmed up the legs and hung them up. I am so pleased to see two haunches there ready for chompin’.

I looked back at the deer thinking a) well, without rear legs that’s one weird looking animal and b) what more can I take? I knew I needed some words of advice so I called up my friend Ash and he said that I had to get the backstrap (the long meat section that runs along both sides of the spine) so he gave me a couple of pointers and off I went… These backstrap cuts were absolutely amazing. Two long tender-looking juicy pieces nearly the length of my arm! As Alan Partridge would say “Back of the net!”.

Alan Partridge

Once I had taken the meat from the well mutilated body I was saddened that I couldn’t make better use of what remained. Perhaps next time, with more time, daylight and experience….

Thinking about when the daylight returns; I reckoned my neighbours wouldn’t want to see this beast in the middle of my garden as they looked out of their bedroom the following morning. I dragged the two legged lump up by my shed although this was more ‘tidied away’ than hidden from view. I decided the short winter days might buy me a couple of days to work out what to do with the remains. I kind of hoped that the foxes were hungry and might kindly finish off the deer, but to be fair it would have been a big meal for the Sussex Puma.

Eventually, two days later and with the deer having been munched a little by something and with a musty smell surrounding it I pulled it out, wrapped it in a plastic sheet and then I dumped it in a skip at work. I appreciate there may be reasons why this was the wrong thing to do, and I wont repeat it, but I was out of options and had to get the body out of there fast whilst I had the chance.

I gave one leg away due to lack of freezer space, I have another leg in a mates freezer, have one section of backstrap left and I ate the other piece with my friend Charlotte at Christmas…. it was better than I could have hoped. Wrapped in bacon sealed in a hot pan, and then cut into thick slices and served very pink. We ended up using this cooking method as we run out of time and the weather turned bad so we had to adapt.

My wife although annoyed at my antics has no real reason for complaint as there is very little evidence of what occurred in the car or garden.

Ray Mears and his pit cooking.  (3mins 30sec in)  –  SADLY REMOVED BY USER…

but check this out! They used a tractor!

A video that I will refer to next time.

Advertisements
Posted in Deer, Food, Road Kill, Something New | 2 Comments

James is…Still Thinning! ITV Follow up

It’s over.

My experience with ITV and Satura Rosta / Pro has come to an end. If you haven’t seen the introduction to this click here.

It has been an interesting few months. It was real good fun to start with, and then I soon realised that the five (if that) minutes of fame had a  price tag.

The Treatment

The treatment involved putting a unique combination of natural oils in my hair and then massaging the oils into my scalp. Next part of the treatment was the electric comb. This mains powered comb conducted electricity into my scalp through it’s teeth/prongs and although it was slightly uncomfortable it was a necessary part of the treatment so I just got on with it. No pain no gain eh? After the combing I put a disposable shower cap on my head and on top of that a wool hat to keep the heat in and allow the magic to happen. Only problem was that I had to wear the wool hat with shower cap combo for 5 HOURS! Yep, your reading right, 5 hours!

At least one treatment per week was due to take place in London by the people behind the product and the others at home. The clinic that they rented space from in Covent Garden folded a couple of months into the process (nothing to do with Satura people) and so we were left with no city venue to continue treatments. After some discussion it was decided that the remaining treatments would be done from home. By me myself and I.

I was instructed to every treatment in front of a webcam so that using Skype the Satura people could monitor my technique, ensure I was doing it, and for the necessary period of time; which was fair enough. This was a major hassle as I would return from work, say a quick ‘hi’ to my family and leaving my wife to handle bath, story and bed time, get out the laptop go into the front room (the smell of the treatment oils was quite strong). I’d hook up to Skype with all necessary equipment including a massive amount of hand towel to mop up the excess oil from my hands and neck. There was lots of ‘excess’.

Five hours would often expire between midnight to one in the morning. I then rinsed my hair, washed and washed again. The oil didn’t leave willingly.

Going out socially with oil in my hair (with hat on) was not great and meant that I had to explain my reason for wearing the wool hat in record summer temperatures, or other occasions like sitting at the table at a dinner party. I believe our friends shared in the comedy aspect of this venture but the fun for me was now wearing thin (no pun intended). I was committed to seeing the process through purely as I like to be true to my word, but it did become tiresome.

I had an agreement with Satura that I wouldn’t cut my hair without authorisation, and by this stage my hair was looking kinda crazy. Long or longish hair had not been a good look for me for some years and I wasn’t pleased to see it back. Volume or density is good, length not so.

I wanted assurance that the treatment was going to be concluded. The time when we expected to return to studio for the follow up come and went and then could hardly be seen in the distance… ITV were hard to get a response from.

ITV were fairly slack from the start with their communication. I’d be lucky to get a phone answered and getting an email response was a waiting process. Month four came and went with no word. After many attempts I contacted the Assistant Producer to enquire what was happening and eventually he organised a return to the studios on November 2nd. He asked me some general questions about the process and what I thought about the result, I answered as best I could and looked forward to the experience being concluded.

It was arranged that we would travel to London the night before and be ready to go to the studio early the next day. With some careful organisation we were all set. I packed a few things on the morning we were due to head up to aid a quick departure from home. At 4.30pm I got a voicemail message from the Assistant Producer saying it had been cancelled. Cancelled!?!…. I  was just about to leave work, collect the mother-in-law (babysitter during our absence), change, grab my bag and dash with my wife for the train! I called him back as he requested however he simply said that for reasons that couldn’t be discussed at the moment; the feature had been pulled.

I pushed him for some more information and he said that it rarely happens, but from time to time when for example a VIP wants to come on the show which short notice, a feature has to be cut.

Twenty three days after the scheduled return to the studio I received this email from a senior producer.

Subject: Balbusters

Hi –

Thanks so much for all your patience in getting a response from us and thank you so much for taking part in our Bald Busters item. As you know we have decided against showing this item again for the moment. Sadly this does happen from time to time on a live show and things change around all the time.

It was a great item and I hope that you are both happy with treatments.  We obviously care about our contributors and as you know it’s our viewers that make This Morning so special, so it’s really important that you are not out of pocket as we agreed to pay your expenses. Please could you get in contact with the Assistant Producer and send him your recipes and we’ll get it sorted out in time for Christmas.

Thank you so much and I’m sorry it’s taken a while to sort out so like I said we really do appreciate your patience.

Shirley

Umm… thanks for that honest, straight speaking explanation Shirley. Why does she want my recipes?

So what was the result?!

Did the Satura treatment work? No not really. My wife says it has improved a little, but I don’t think so… Certainly nothing that makes me say ‘wow’.

Would it work better for you? Maybe. Different people, different hair types, different application style… who can tell?

My Conclusion: I wouldn’t spend £3000+ on the treatment, but then I don’t have £3000. If you do have the money and are up for trying something new – go for it. Don’t expect changes right away. Possibly don’t expect a lot at all. You may be surprised, you could turn into Brian May over night, but I doubt it.

Being that there is life after hair loss, why not hold on to your money. Instead maybe spend your £3,000 or your lady (or man), go crazy and get your car serviced… go on a foraging course, buy a gun… well that would be my choice.

Well in the main it was fun. Onto the next adventure…!

I just found this (below). This is not what I experienced?!

http://vimeo.com/i6644 – Satura Promo. Looks fancy!

Posted in Something New | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

James is At Lindfield Bonfire

So Bonfire night has been and gone with nothing to show for it other than scorched grass, discarded spent sparklers and the occasional rocket stick.

We went to Lindfield Bonfire which always celebrates on the 5th just as Lewes Bonfire societies do. There are some key differences between the two events however a friend summed it up well on Twitter saying, ‘Lindfield is like Lewes except there are more families and Barbour coats’ – too true.

I was staggered to hear that there had been so many injuries at Lewes and with 60,000 people it sounds as full on as it has always been. When I went I never found it enjoyable having to defend your spot on the pavement and ensure that some 15-year-old doesn’t burn you with their fag or spill their Diamond White down your trousers. I appreciate I was 15 once, but I am sure I was more respectful and less inclined to drink overtly.

(Above: why I don’t attend Lewes)

Just to be clear; I love fireworks and during my stupid years I came close to losing fingers playing inappropriately with them and got up to all sorts. The joys of blowing up bottles, dead fish and the like was brilliant, but 20 years later the draw of a wee dram and a hot dog (as well as ensuring the comfort and protect of my family) now means; I just cannot be arsed. Apparently they call it maturity…

Another friend walked up a hill near Plumpton with a few friends and enjoyed the views from all around as the various bonfire societies in the villages and small towns had their respective firework displays. A simple tarp set up with some hot chocolate and cookies is all you need. The smell and sounds of young teenagers (fag smoke combined with what must be a whole can of Lynx and bad language) is not something you have to put up with.  Ideal.

I think Lindfield may have had its casulties, perhaps some damaged their pride (trying to light the wrong end of a sparkler), possibly a minor fall, and at worse someone may have suffered a bruise from balancing on a walking stick/seat combo (you know the ones!). I enjoy watching St John’s Ambulance  staff taking their role incredibly seriously, keen to be on hand for anything that may require a plaster. In all seriousness without those volunteers such events would be unable to be staged, so big respect to those people who give up their time.

No doubt next year I will be back at Lindfield with my kids again buying overpriced glowing bracelets and eating hot dogs at my friend’s house opposite the common. You know what you’re going to get at Lindfield, and they never fail to deliver.

Posted in Family Adventures, Kids | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

James is At The Beeb

It is always great to catch up with long term friends that you haven’t seen for a while, and regardless of the amount of time passed – you pick up where you left off. At my friend Sophie’s wedding I was pleased to catch up with my school friend Chris. Chris is a great guy who gives me much pleasure to talk about as he is definitely one of life’s good guys and he only needs to open his mouth and if you’re not careful you will wet your self with laughter. He often reminds me (without meaning to) of the importance of good bladder control.

Chris works for the BBC as a radio presenter for Radio 5 Live and can be regularly heard on his own Saturday show (Saturday Edition), or stepping in for other established presenters like Nicky Campbell or Victoria Derbyshire.

I am always pleased to hear about Chris’ career progression and as I have watched him on live webcam and listened into many shows I was able to ask him a few informed questions about his job. As he talked I realised that he could facilitate another mini-adventure (of sorts) and so I just came out with it and said “so how ’bout I sit in on one of your shows?”. ‘Seize the day’ as they say right?!?

Chris was very pleased to welcome me up to visit him at the BBC and was more than happy to show me what goes on. I agreed a date with him and on the Saturday after work I headed straight up there pleased to have a break from parental responsibilities for a weekend.

I arranged to meet Chris a couple of hours before his show started. He met me in the large glass paneled BBC reception which was decked out with a ballroom dancing theme, no doubt this was to promote the prime time Saturday night show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which had coincidentally started filming in a studio nearby a few moments before my arrival. I could hear the warm up guy going through the motions with the (over) excited audience.

Chris showed me around the Televison Centre which was interesting although he was quick to point out the failings of the centre and what the benefits were of the BBC moving to Salford. You could almost hear the building creek with age and the Broadcasting Corporation was visibly bursting at the seams. Time to move was possibly well over due.

The BBC Centre, other than studios and the exciting stuff, is just made up of three other components;

1. Staff – obvious really, someone has to turn the lights on/off.

2. PC’s – more screens than you can shake a stick at, seriously, there were enough computers to rival Houston’s Mission Control Centre.

3. Corridors – miles of walking space broken up by fire doors. Yep, if the staff liked to walk (and open doors) and walk, then they were working in the right place. Carrying a coffee any distance though must have been horrendous, add possible complications of carrying a Danish too – impossible!

Chris walked me through the Newsroom where the news comes in (funnily enough) and the TV studios which were mostly off limits due to ‘Strictly’ being filmed. We headed back to the radio studio where Chris continued his preparations for the show.

There is  an awful lot of work that Chris, the producer and the editor (plus other contributing regulars) put into making a show happen, and I was very pleased to meet two of the ‘regulars’; Helen and Olly who I have listened to their (Sony award winning) podcasts for some years (Answer Me This!). They do a  slot on Chris’ show giving a round up of all that has been going on in the world of the web over the week and review some of the interesting or slightly odd stories.

Despite being coy on my visit so far about getting my ‘proper’ camera out, I casually asked Olly for a photo and he casually agreed so I casually reached into my bag and not so casually gave it to Steve Fowler – the top journalist from Auto Express magazine (who does a slot about the top new cars and motoring news) and asked him to take a snap, which he did.

I watched the show from the production suite with the editor, sound desk lady and another guy that linked Chris up with the journos reporting news from the Ruby World Cup, Westminster (Liam Fox and Werrity story just breaking) and wherever else things were going on.

I was told that “what happens in the suite stays in the suite”, so I can’t tell you much more about what tricks are used to drive the engine of a BBC radio show but when I eventually felt brave enough I took a cheeky picture with my phone of what it looked like.

The show went smoothly and afterward the Editor held a short debrief meeting to gather thoughts and feedback.

As we collected our bags and pressed the button for the lift Chris gave me a smile and reached for his wallet, “I’m buying…..” Music to my ears! A couple of pints of Doom Bar, an exchange of stories and some Iraqi food was a great end to the evening.

Big thanks to Chris and his lovely Mrs for their hospitality over the weekend. You can follow Chris on Twitter; @chrisjwarburton or listen in to Radio 5 Live every Saturday from 8pm.

Have a look at Chris in action…!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00cjh1m/Saturday_Edition_04_12_2010_The_5_live_family_talk_about_our_family_survey/

Wishing you all the best in Salford – I’ll be listening!

Posted in Mini Adventure | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

James is A Dad

I have dug into my archives and dusted off this article I wrote for the National Childbirth Trust Magazine. It is very old! Molly is now almost 7 years old (I can bearly believe it) and a very different little person than described/shown here!

Two years and two months ago, my wife (and I) had a beautiful baby at The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. What an experience!

Being our first child Gayle (my wife) figured it might be a good idea to attend the NCT group meetings. I wasn’t quite so eager as it meant giving up some of my precious ‘chill out from work’ time and anyway, what if the other blokes are complete weirdo’s… at best they are likely to be more serious and adult than I. I still love my Hornby trains…! Would we get on…?

My wife and I had a brief discussion; she reminded me that when it comes to her pregnancy she is the boss so with no defence argument; we went. Once there, along with several other nervous looking mums-and-dads-to-be it was actually rather interesting and I learnt much about what happens. The guys were a mixed bunch but we were all up for a laugh and I soon relaxed.

Being somewhat of a wimp, I couldn’t watch the video of the water birth, however the ladies seemed fascinated and we all had a lively talk about why a midwife was holding a small goldfish net?!? As well as enjoying the comical aspects of the process together we all left the meetings feeling somewhat more prepared.

Having said that, nothing could prepare us for the actual reality of a grainy scan picture becoming an actual little person.

When the time came and labour ‘commenced’ I had 14 long hours trying to recall what I had learnt at the NCT course. ‘Long labours and how to keep bright and interesting’ did not feature as far as I recall. Thank goodness I thought to take my laptop with me! After watching a couple of my favourite DVD’s I thought I should really consider my wife’s entertainment needs and offered to put on “Aliens 2” but strangely she wasn’t in the mood so instead we sat and lay on the bed together watching ‘My Pictures’ roll past the screen in slide show mode. That for me was the best bit, seeing pictures of friends and family, thinking how the dynamics will change with a new addition. Being the 5thNovember we could just see fireworks out the window in the night sky. That is a memory that I will always cherish.

Being ‘supportive’ for such a long stint was hungry work. The hospital shop was closed but the garage opposite the hospital had a wealth of crisps to choose from so with a Lion Bar and a packet of cheesy Quavers in my pocket I returned.

As I re-entered the room it seemed like things were progressing at last. I tried to be ‘The Rock’ that I know Gayle wanted/needed me to be, yet I could only give reassuring nods and statements like “everything is fine, you’re doing really well.” In truth I had no idea how she was really doing, and as for fine…will she be fine, I don’t have a clue…. If the noise in the next birthing suite down the corridor is anything to go by then perhaps I should change my reassurance to “I am sure everything will be ok in the end, and I think you are doing well (so far…)” and then perhaps back up the statement with “no matter what happens – we’ll get through it” as it sort of covers all eventualities.

As I finished my Quavers and brushed the crumbs from my face the baby was born – Thank goodness… we’ve done it! I was knackered! (Oh and Gayle was too…!)

The midwife put the little thing under what looked like a mini hotplate briefly while the fingers and toes were counted. Fortunately everything was in order and Gayle was presented with the little bundle on her chest. We shared a moment – I didn’t really get ‘moved’ by much before then, but it was a great experience (apparently I shed a tear, but I think Gayle made that up as it is a preferred memory to the one of me eating Quavers).

Then it dawned on us – Boy or girl!?!?! – a girl, a gorgeous precious little baby girl. Obviously I wanted a boy, don’t all men…? However she was a real cutie and stole my heart immediately. Woooo there – hold up!!! What the hell was all that white stuff on her body…?  Turned out to be some weird stuff called Vernix. Then she was passed to me… wow… so small, so beautiful. As the realisation that I now had a family crept up on me my little girl marked the occasion by delivering a gift on my forearm called Meconium. If you dont know what it is – ask someone. Lets just say it takes more than one wet wipe to remove. I hoped it didn’t symbolise her future behaviour toward me.

Gayle is now 7 months pregnant…. Does it get any easier with two….?

Posted in Kids | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

James is In The Paper

9

A tree house will delight your children, and building one is a perfect Easter family project. We show you how in five easy steps

Nick Weston Published: 17 April 2011 – Sunday Times

Tree houses are magical places. Few other things can conjure up the dreams and desires of adventure and escape within the minds of children — and of adults, too. Almost everyone has a tree-house story from their youth: either they had one, wanted one or played in a friend’s. When I was eight, a few planks crudely nailed to the fork in an oak tree did it for me. Two years ago, yearning for a change in my life from working in London, I went back to those boyhood dreams of life among the leaves and, with the help of a slightly broader range of tools than the hammer and the nail, I built a full-size tree house from recycled and natural materials in West Sussex, and lived in it for six months.

Recently, tree houses have become increasingly popular, prompting various companies to pop up, offering high-spec arboreal dwellings (all very well if you can afford the £10,000 price tag for a kid’s high-rise playpen; see panel, far right). For me, that’s not what tree houses are about: they are the very pinnacle of do-it-yourself, an exercise for the amateur, aspiring builder to flex his (or maybe her) construction capabilities. Designed to use up unwanted scraps of wood, they exist to fuel the imagination. And above all else, anyone is qualified to put one up (providing you know which end of a nail to hit).

Building a tree house is every parent’s duty and should be accepted as a challenge, rather than a chore Building a tree house is every parent’s duty and should be accepted as a challenge, rather than a chore. With spring in full flow and the schools off, it is a great way for the family to all work together: dad wields the drill and takes the position of foreman, children are the architects and help out where possible, while mum keeps everyone fed and watered, and is in charge of interior design. (Apologies for those sexist stereotypes.) A fun family project with only one requirement: a tree.

Even so, James Gaydon, 34, a manager from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, was apprehensive about building one for his daughter Molly, 6, and son, Reuben, 4.

“I’m terrible at DIY, and I’m not sure if we have a tree that’s suitable,” he told me when I offered my services as a tree-house consultant. “We have a willow and a fir, but one’s a bit wonky, and the other is by the fence.” While James clearly didn’t fancy himself as a handyman, his wife, Gayle, 36, had more confidence in his ability: “Well, you didn’t do a bad job of the shed…”

Gayle was right; the fact the two of us knocked up the tree house in two days (in the wonky willow) is testament to her husband’s abilities. And the whole thing cost just £160. It was a bit of a rush, though; ideally you should take three to four days, which should be easy, given all the bank holidays coming up.

Before reaching for your saw, bear in mind tree houses may be subject to planning rules. These vary, but as a general rule, a tree house must be less than 4 metres high to the pitch of the roof, if more than 2 metres from the boundary (and less than 2.5 metres high, if it’s within 2 metres). If it has a flat roof, it can’t be more than 3 metres. It should also be at least 5 metres from a dwelling and have no more than 30 square metres of floor space. If in doubt, check with your local council.

When it comes to materials, I’m a great believer in “treecycling”; that is, using recycled and natural wood. This not only keeps down costs, but adds character. And it’s a good test of your magpie instincts.

My nearest timber yard, Mid Sussex Timber, is happy for me to take offcuts for a few pounds. Skips, new developments and friends’ garages are another source (make sure you have permission, of course). Natural wood can be used as soon as it’s cut, and seasoned in situ. Hazel, ash, chestnut and birch are excellent for their natural straightness, and oak and hornbeam for their curves and contortions.

Nick Weston - Who has built a tree house - for the Gaydon Family. (Stuart W Conway)                                                   Nick Weston

Some materials will need to be bought: make the foundations or frame for the platform from treated two-by-four or two-by-six timber. For roofing, use shingles, featheredge fencing or corrugated iron.

The tools needed are fairly basic: a power drill, a jigsaw or skill saw, handsaw, hammer, ratchet, spirit level, tape measure and set square for marking. For fixings, a bag of nails and a variety of screw sizes are handy, though screws of 40mm and 80mm will meet most needs.

Large coach screws are best for attaching the platform frame to the tree; galvanised ones will minimise the damage to a tree (they don’t rust, and form a tight seal that reduces the risk of infection).

A few days building a treetop escape with the family will provide lasting memories. There is nothing better than sitting back and admiring your hard work, knowing that you have created a space for your children to enjoy for years: somewhere for them to play, to do their homework or to escape their parents — or maybe for you to escape them.

Scenic branches

If you are lacking in DIY skills, there are plenty of companies that will construct your tree house for you. The buildings range from children’s play houses to fully insulated grown-ups’ hideaways, complete with plumbing and electricity. Here’s a selection.

The Treehouse Diaries by Nick Weston is out now (Collins & Brown £16.99);huntergathercook.com

8

How it unfolded. My account! My blog!

“James, out of interest have you got any tree’s in your garden?”

Twitter is used for all sorts of things but a request for tree information from someone was a little… well odd. Why would anyone be ‘interested’ in my humble trees? What I then realised was that the ‘tweet’ had come from Nick Weston – a guy that had made his name by living in a tree house in a Sussex woodland for 6 months. Now when I say tree house don’t go thinking Wendy house 3 ft off the ground or flat pack shed type structure… no, it was somewhat more substantial and original than that.

Nick wrote a book called ‘Tree House Diaries’ and it is a great guide to living with the resources around you and using knowledge and skills to get by.

Nick's Tree House

Now for those of you that regularly read my blog posts (I appreciate that may just be me… and actually I am no frequent visitor) you’ll know I have mentioned Nick 2 or 3 times in the past in relation to his tree house adventure and also his knowledge and willingness to eat food that others wouldn’t consider (fancy a bit of Pike?) – my personal interest lies in picking up tips for eating the meatier wild food varieties. So it was a great surprise to hear from him, although it still didn’t answer the question of why he was interested in my tree.

I responded via Twitter and after a couple of emails I understood that he had set himself a challenge and needed a) a tree and b) a family that like to get involved in a project. Nick planned to build a children’s tree house from scratch in 2 days using at least 60% – 70% recycled materials (only buying wood for the platform base and some for the roof). Nick sounded positive about it but in 2 days? Really? He then explained that the Sunday Times wanted to cover the build for an a feature in the ‘Homes’ section in the following edition on 17th April. Nice, nothing like getting your picture in the paper eh!

Saturday morning came and Nick arrived with the content of a small copse poking out of his car which turned out to be the main upright and roof supports that he had cut himself that morning from woodland, mostly birch and hazel. Once the recycled bits of wood (skirting board, a woodflooring plank, some off cuts from someones new porchway etc) had also laid out I was pleased to discover that Nick believed that every good project should never be started without a cup of tea. As we drank there was a fair bit of pointing at branches, head nodding and statements from Nick like “yeah we can do that”.

Nick had only seen a photo of the tree before but had sketched a rough design which was a cute small version of his tree house. I knew Molly and Reuben would love it.

Work began and with only a rare glance at the clipboard design the sawing and hammering began. I soon realised that my skills were best suited to holding bits of wood, and fetching drill bits however Nick pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and get busy. I made the door and after that grew in confidence and happily put out some of the exterior cladding and made little adjustments here and there.

The tree house is accessed through a little trap door ensuring that the kids felt it was very much their tree house and gave them a sense of ownership. What they don’t fully realise is I have the agility of a mountain goat so if I needed to I could get in to stop any naughty behaviour or give assistance if needed.

Molly taking it easy…

Reuben getting involved…

Day two arrived and a cheery Nick arrived and once the tea mugs were empty more hammering and drilling started with surprising pace. The platform that we built the day before was soon fitted with a frame for the roof and then the sides and windows starting taking shape.

Both Molly and Reuben really enjoyed doing a bit of drilling although learning of this tool that ‘made’ things then meant I had repeated requests to drill and screw off-cuts together to make small wooden objects that only they could see any point in. Two small lengths with a screw drilled in the middle soon made a pair of scissors (of a sort) and a couple of other pieces soon made a Reuben what can only be described as a weapon… ummm…. that was soon confiscated.

It was a great opportunity to work as a family (with Nick in command) to construct this awesome tree house. The weather was great and it was amazing what we were achieving, never before had I considered taking on such a task but I began to realise that actually it wasn’t THAT hard! I smiled when I noticed that Molly had written her name on the trap door – she’s a proper little ‘tagger’ but she doesn’t put her name to just anything so I knew she was pleased with our work and wanted to lay claim to it.

The day passed quickly and although we were under pressure toward the end, the tree house looked great. Gayle got busy dressing the tree house with a floor rug, blankets, bunting, paper chains that she had been making with the kids that day, some flower pots and of course the Gayle trade mark – fairy lights. Beautiful. The very final touch was putting the name plaque on it… “Star Lodge”.

Stuart the photographer from The Times arrived and took some photos of us all in staged poses which was fun although Gayle was keen that I didn’t wear my ‘horrible bull t-shirt’, but too late, no time for a costume change now.

Interested to see how the article looks and read Nick perspective on how the project went.

As the evening sunlight began to fade Stuart and Nick packed up and after some high-fives and words of thanks they both left. Gayle got ice-lollies from the freezer and we all sat in the tree house licking our lollies with fairy lights lighting up our grinning faces. I was exhausted and very happy to see the delight that Molly and Rubes had sitting in their new den (that didnt involve 2 chairs and a blanket!).

Plans for their first sleep over are in place and once a couple of finishing touches are made… although originally it was designed just for the kids it will fit us all in there… I dont know who is more excited, the little ‘uns or me!

If you want to employ Nicks services in making something bespoke for you, give him a shout and I am sure he’ll be happy to talk it through with you.

Have a look at the ‘Products’ tab on his website www.huntergathercook.com

Tagged: tree houseNick WestonSunday Times

Posted in Kids, Something New | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

James is Searching For The Easter Bunny

One of our annual treats is to visit the in-laws in Ringwood, Hampshire every Easter.

The kids have the easter egg hunt in the garden, we visit some location attraction and visit or walk along the beach. Great fun.

One constant desire of mine has always been to understand the many different types of seaweed to create a seaweed snack, but even with The River Cottage book – Edible Seashore close to hand, I am still not confident enough to try the seaweed and unless I look like I know what I am doing in the kitchen my mother-in-law is unlikely to want to accommodate me. I think I am already seen as a bit of an oddity within the family as it is, so cooking up bags of seaweed wont help me…!

Thankfully there is more than one food for free, and rabbits are in abundance. I am more familiar with these cheeky little furballs than seaweed so I was thrilled to get the chance to shoot a few with my Ringwood friend Pete; who hadn’t previously ever shot rabbit. An opportunity to shoot and eat rabbit with my friends in the beautiful backdrop of the New Forest was something not to be missed.

Hiding near the paddock (suitably away from the horses) we were spoilt for choice and within minutes I had bagged a ‘biggy’ and shortly after Pete added a couple more, (he loved it!) so much earlier than we expected we sparked up a fire and started the prep.

Plenty of protein available for the taking

After skinning and gutting, I firstly quartered the rabbit and then removed the bone and chopped into bite size pieces. I used a mint type of marinade (I cheekily got it for free from the girl behind the meat counter, but can’t recall what it was exactly!) and covered the meat.

A Few Selected Cuts

I prepared a potato, a carrot, some courgettes, and onion, and leek and put in the pan with some water ready to boil.

The rabbit went on and cooked nicely and then I added some chopped lamb liver (got to have a bit of liver) and the veg pot went onto the hot ashes.

The end result was very very tasty and Pete, Heidi (Petes’ Mrs) and I sat drinking pear cider and reflected on the day and enjoyed the clear skies.

Rabbit, lambs liver, potato, carrot, courgette.....Done.

Only problem… the rabbit was tough as my old Doc Martens, but with a strong jaw and some determination, I got through it. I later learnt it was because I cooked the rabbit too quickly… the slower the better.

Next time I’ll possibly boil up in stock for a few hours and then pull off the bone to mix into a delicious dish.

Live and learn eh? You got to try these things!

Posted in Eating Out, Food, Rabbit | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment