Johnnersintheraw's Blog

June 2, 2010

Hogget

The Age between Then and Tomorrow

The love the word ‘Hogget’.  I love it not only because of its sound and its appearance on the page, but also because of its mouth-feel.  Another reason I love it is that although nobody seems to know what it means anymore, it accurately describes almost every single one of us at a certain time in our lives.

Strictly speaking a hogget is a sheep whose meat is no longer lamb but is not yet mutton.  It used to be very popular on people’s dinner tables. In fact, very often – at least on the tables of the well-off, when on their menu card was written ’mutton’, what they were actually serving was ‘hogget’ – at least when those dining were not as fond as they should have been of strong meat.

I remember hogget being a regular feature of Thursday night’s dinners. And when it wasn’t hogget it was loin of beef or loin of mutton or a saddle of venison.  And why was such a meal served on Thursday when Sundays seemed to have been – in many households – the official day for roasts?  Simple. On Sundays – when I was home from school – I was off racing, or if not actually racing then point-to-pointing or show-jumping of riding cross-country or even – during the winter months – fox hunting.  And if none of these activities was in the offing, then I would be riding out at the trainer’s yard.  And if I was still at a loss of something to do and didn’t have a lot of studying on my plate, I could always go traipsing off with my parents and go mountain-climbing.  In any case, at our house, we simply had too many things to do on a Sunday to occupy ourselves with a heavy meal.  Therefore, even when we did happen to be home, it was not a day of cooking.  Hence, cold meals.  And this meant that whatever help we may have had at the time was given the day off – notwithstanding the blue laws and the unbending devotion to duty of the Mrs. Bichans and Miss Frames of our lives.  But whatever, unless there was some special reason, no major cooking was ever carried on Sundays.  And no major eating was done either.    

If there was one thing my parents loved to do, it was scaling a peak or three every weekend of the year – rain or shine, snow or sleet or blizzard.

Those, of course, were the days before Power Bars and the other easily-packed high-energy foods that make today’s hikers’ and climbers’ lives a comparative doddle.  It does go without saying, however, that even back then in the darkish ages of which I speak, nuts and raisins (and other dried fruit) and jerky were very much the way to go.  In fact, I well remember my mother making fruit-balls most weeks of the year – both for mountain climbs and camping expeditions or just because they were a healthy snack (for we were most definitely a healthy-snack family).  Needless to say there were no Cuisinarts back them, which meant all the fruit would have to have been put through a food mill, which was not an arduous task by any means – except for the cleaning afterwards which was (at least in my opinion).  Basically, fruit balls consisted of whatever dried fruits were available, but the favourites were apricots and currants and figs and raisins.  Plus dried coconut shavings, of course, and my mother’s favourite – crystallised ginger, although the latter famously managed to remain aloof most of the time – to be eaten without having to share pallet space with the more plebeian offerings.  After the gooey mess was ready, spoonfuls of it were rolled into balls, which were in turn rolled in sugar or something equally as binding, so that the balls might remain balls and not relapse into their former sticky state. Of course, fruit balls also put in an appearance at Christmastide, as snacks alongside tiny sweet biscuits and cakes and pies and puddings, but the time they tasted best of all was on a mountaintop following a meal of cold hogget or venison or loin of pork.  Or even better, after scarfing cold game pies with Cumberland jelly and smoked oysters.

I should mention here – for those who might be baffled by the comparative luxury of our camping food – that picnics were something that were taken very seriously.  Of course, in the days of grand outings in which a pack of servants took care of the logistics, picnics were extremely formal affairs.  Much like a grand indoor luncheon, only with flies and the odd dog or two; very often they took place by the loch or as informal dinners on the pier or inside one of the bizarre little follies.  Or, God forbid, even on a barge.  And even though times had changed long before I was born, the term ‘picnic’ was still something to be savoured and endured.  For it conjured up memories of another era and – for the lucky few – an altogether more agreeable time.  One element of a picnic that you could always be sure of was that was the quality of the food was designed to measure up to the scenery that was being enjoyed while the food was being eaten.

When I was a kid and was being dragged along on a picnic, I never gave a thought as to who was going to carry all the impedimenta – for along with enough food to fill the stomachs of a regiment there was also the inevitable primus or portable Colman stove, plus glasses and plates and utensils, rugs, and sundry other bits and pieces.  Looking back, I believe the hauling and lugging was always undertaken by my father.  If for no reason than he felt that he was the only one who could do it right.

The one climbing expedition I remember with particular relish involved the scaling of some peak or other in the Dolomites.  The climb, although not particularly arduous, was extremely unpleasant and hard on the feet – for the entire ascent consisted of one long skidding struggle up an extremely steep incline of loose shale. It was, however, one of the family’s favourite hikes, for at the top was a flat, level boulder – the lip of a dry waterfall – the view from which was spectacular.

On this particular day – as per usual – we reached the top and then sat under the weather-beaten conifers and gazed at the view down which – in the springtime during the thaw – there would cascade a thunderous torrent of water which would splash headlong into a basin several hundred metres below.

Anyway, on this particular day, and after gaining the top, we spread a rug on to the smooth surface of the rock and unpacked our picnic, which, as I recall consisted of smoke oysters and crudités, tiny pheasant pies with red-currant jelly, a mustard-encrusted loin of hogget with morels, as well as various cheeses and fresh fruits.  And surprisingly, also making its appearance was a large, dense, whisky-soaked fruit case encased in marzipan, which had been packed in a large tin of its own and had been carried by an ever-disgruntled and long-suffering ‘Minger’ (yours truly).

At a certain point in the meal we heard voices coming from somewhere three-quarters of the way up the waterfall.  Climbers, of course.  So we fell silent and grinned to each other and waited.  And, sure enough up popped the head of a rugged and deeply tanned professional climber type who obviously was not excepting to see a small group of people enjoying a picnic more in keeping at Glyndebourne than at the top of a sheer five-hundred foot drop.  I believe he said something like, “What the fuck,” and then he started to laugh. For he was a professional mountaineer and guide, and at the time was conducting a class of novice mountaineers up their very first ‘serious’ ascent.  It goes without saying that all the students were under impression that the climb was one that was usually reserved for experienced climbers – and what did they encounter when they reached the top?  Us – drinking chilled wine and dining like characters from a PG Wodehouse story.  All that was lacking was a valet by the name of ‘Jeeves’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to bet the guide lost his street-cred then and there. 

And in case you were wondering how and why the wine was chilled, I can only say it was down to my father.  He could pull off almost anything he wanted.  Dry ice, anyone?

But then there were the riverbank, or riparian, picnics.  Everybody dreaded them.  Everybody hated them.  And those who could get away with it, pretended they had come down with a bad case of death.  Just in order to be spared the misery.

For the life of me, I do not know why they were not dispensed with altogether.  Probably tradition, like chilblains in the winter and mustard-plasters and castor oil.  The main feature of riverside picnics was that, come hell or high water, everyone got soaked through to the skin, everybody’s clothes were ruined, the food became waterlogged, the primus would refuse to light (meaning the tea or coffee would be cold), at least one person’s pole would get stuck in the mud at the bottom of the river, resulting in the loss of the pole and in the punter’s falling into the water, and – last but not least – by a thunder storm.  Of course, by the time the deluge started, everyone had given up all hope for the future. They would simply sit there on the sodden grass and gaze at each other forlornly.  And eventually someone one would remember that he or she had forgotten to turn off the iron.  But, never mind, since they were all going to die before the hour was out, they’d never see their homes again anyway.

And every person would swear on everything that was holy that they would never ever go on another picnic as long as they lived.  Not even if it was to be held indoors and around a dinner table.

But, course, next time around, there’d we all be (except the same selfish person who’d had the foresight to come down with yet another fatal case of the ‘I want to wash my hairs’).

One thing I never did – and which I shall never do – is take anyone I fancy on any sort of picnic.  For no matter how well planned, and no matter how beautiful the day might be, it is bound to end in tears. Because the thing is, the outdoor is alive with creatures that have no other purpose in life but to torture us.  Whether it’s chiggers or sand-fleas or ants or hornets or a loose dog chasing a rabbit or spiders or ticks or poison ivy or nettles or a gale or hail or ravening wolves, it will all be present on the menu of your romantic interlude in the woods.  And then that one special person – the person after whom you’ve pined for so long a time – will storm off in a huff and you’ll never see him or her again.  And just think: the two of you had planned to go punting the following weekend.

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about the passing the hogget.  And considering I rarely eat mean in any case, one could always say that – as a purely disinterest party – it really has nowt to do with me.  But in some respects the passing of the hogget was just one more nail in the coffin of traditions that are so forgotten that most people don’t know they existed at all.

With that in mind, let us discuss the hoggethood of mankind. 

Do I hear you ask what, is the hoggethood of mankind?  And when does a human become a hogget?  Let me illustrate this for you by presented the parallel ages of sheep and of men:  The first stage in the life of  commercial sheep is their first few months.  It is when they are called ‘spring lambs’.  This is the age when they have cost the farmer very little, simply because they have been suckling their mothers.  And the spring-lamb age of a person?  Well, commercially speaking they are practically worthless – unless of course they are from a certain location on the African continent and Madonna has just disembarked from her private jet.  They also have a certain commercial value – or so I’m told – in Romania and a few other countries that are eager to put their surplus babies up for adoption to citizens of industrialised nations.  However, now it appears that most of the economies of these selfsame industrialised nations are going belly up.  And this will probably lead to the situation whereby these formerly richer nations will start selling the babies back to Romania.  Except they had better hurry up about it, or else these babies will grow up to be hoggets and will be worth absolutely nothing.

So, in other words a ‘spring-lamb human baby’ has a negligible value, and what value it has is basically sentimental.  On the whole, they are – to use my favourite word du jour – worthless.  I mean, what are they?  Whereas a lamb at that age is worth more than it ever will be in the future, simply because of the tenderness of its meat, all the human baby contains is a limitless supply of poop, and it’s not as though you can even use baby poop on your roses. On the other hand, lamb poop makes excellent fertiliser.  Plus, unlike the baby variety, it comes in sweet little pellets.  Or buttons, if you like.  Just like those of big fluffy bunnies. Plus the fact, if the lamb dies, you can always make a hat out of it. But if you try that with a human baby, you might be asked to resign from the Rotary Club.

Now, let us proceed to the next stage of lambhood and babyhood.  The older lamb is also quite profitable – providing the supermarkets don’t cut its per-pound price to minus two pence per pound.  For at this age, the lamb is still basically nursing its mother although it is also eating a fair amount of grass – which, depending upon the size and philosophy of the farm, is either a good thing or a bad thing.

The human condition, which is called toddlerhood, is economically-speaking, a total disaster.  The toddler is eating its way through the refrigerator and destroying the house and developing all sorts of allergies for the sole reason that it wishes to send its parents – who neglected to buy it ‘Toddler Farmville’ and ‘Toddler X-Box’ for Christmas – straight into bankruptcy.  As for its price on the marketplace: zilch.  Unless of course the toddlers  are little blond girls, which is why – during economic downturns – blond hair-colouring kits inevitably become the ‘must-have’ item in every mother’s shopping basket.  For in the sex-slavery trade, there is always plenty of money for fresh talent.

 After this, we come to early hoggethood, a time when, for young female sheep,  life is on the up-and-up.   After all, they will soon be having plenty of sex and will start churning out sets of twins.  However, hoggethood for male sheep is not so nice. For unless some generous-hearted human special-orders ‘hogget’ or ‘mutton’ to serve at his table, by the time a male sheep reaches the age of hoggethood, he’s not a sheep anymore  He’s a ‘nothing’; the only physical evidence that he ever existed at all is the sheepskin jacket that the pink-haired bimbo down at the greyhound track is wearing. Hoggethood for humans is the time they are euphemistically called ‘teenagers’.  Mind you, they have only been called teenagers since the nineteen fifties.  Before that most people tried not to call them anything at all.  However, it should be noted that in the case of female hoggethooders, certain specimens have lives which definitely run along the same course as that of the hogget-ewes.  For like the hogget-ewes, female hoggethooders are sure to be having plenty of sex.  And like their sheep cousins, they will probably be churning out sets of twins.  So far, so good, but then the system breaks down.  Whereas the twins produced by the hogget-ewes immediately become either valuable spring lambs (in the case of males) or valuable future brood-ewes.  But in the case of the twins churned out by the by the female hoggethooders, unless they are cute little blonds and can sold to the sex-trade as ‘100 percent guaranteed Authentic blond virgins’, they have next to no value and are such hoodlums that your only hope is to sell them for a loss to terrorist armies as raw recruits.

Anyway, for a sheep, maturity is maturity is maturity.  The ewes have been mothers many times over and tend to live quiet, contented lives.  And if you happened to be the one-in-million males that was good enough to be put out to stud as a ram, you live the good life: it’s sex sex sex and even more sex, baby.

Human hoggethood is a time of gradually diminishing odds.  After all, you started out young and beautiful, and then before you knew it and certainly before you were willing to admit it, decay set in.  Hoggethood is a time when we soften the lights and lie to ourselves in the mirrors.  And it is also a time when we start to see the ‘writing on the wall’.  No, we are not going to accomplish anything important in our lives.  No, we are never going to find Mister or Missus ‘Right’.  And, let’s face it, our friends – who used to be so much fun – are growing old! They do nothing but complain about their health and the cost of living and the length of their sons’ hair.

And worst of all, their own parents are now passing the sell-by date of even the outer reaches of muttonhood.  This is the unkindest cut of all.  Parents, not matter how embarrassing they were, had always been there.  Your mother had always bustled around making cakes and going to bridge parties and wearing immaculate shirtwaist frocks.  Your father – a somewhat more shadowy figure – was a somewhat ill-tempered and disapproving man who always wore a suit and tie.

And suddenly, as you enter the depths of your hoggethood, your mother has started wearing her hair in tiny little purple curls – that is if she hasn’t been cursed by the beehive fairy and has opted for champagne blond.  Gone also are the smart shirtwaist dresses, to be replaced by pastel velvet track-suits.  And your once formidable father?  He now totters around in pink or baby blue boiler suits.  And he can never remember where he left his teeth.

To put it as politely as possible, their condition terrifies you.  The last thing you want to think of is that they are your future.  And no amount of exercise or cosmetic surgery is going to prevent it.  It’s what is called the ‘slippery slope’.  And even putting your end-game, sinewy, muttony addle pated parents in a nursing home is not going stop your decline.  Nothing is, for now that you are a hogget, your end is nigh.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: