With the sweet zephyrs of April playing in the streets and alleys of a city beginning to awaken from slumber, I thought it was time to attempt an amateur butchery of a dead pheasant. I had stocked up on information from YouTube. A very practical woman had repeatedly gutted an animal with her signet ring still on, narrating the process. A jolly young man had played with a range of knives and shown us all the contents of the crop and pulled and sliced for us. I had my anatomy lesson. I had noticed that both videos cut large parts of the plucking. I was expecting a good few hours labour. I knew a bit more than I did before. Time to put my new found knowledge to work?
I went out to the fire escape. There it had been hanging, maturing gently like a dissipated actor in his forties. Or so I hoped. I had set up a tripod for stupid video-making purposes. I brought it in. Suspicious whiff, but surely that’s just the gamey smell? I wanted it not to be a disaster. I was willing it not to be.
Laid on chart paper on the worktop, my array of knives ready for purpose, bin propped open beside me and bag for the feathers, I finally really got acquainted with the thing.
I have something to admit. I have a squeamishness about dead birds. I call it that instead of a phobia because I believe these things are there to be overcome, not beholden to. I don’t like touching raw chicken so I do it all the time. I grab the turkey and get my arm in it just because my instinctive brain is screaming at me and I’m showing my own brain that it has faulty protection mechanisms. I have a similar squeamishness about mushrooms that I can trace back to Babar the elephant. Knowing this might help you understand how I deal with things I am slightly phobic of. I expose myself as fully as I can and try to force my reward mechanisms and curiosity to outweigh my distaste and fear.
Nevertheless, from picking up the carcass to hanging it to today the one thing I had avoided until now was a close inspection. I was galvanised to get in there though. I was going to pull the feathers off and burn the ends on the gas ring and cut through various unsightly bits and crunch crunch tear rip AHA. But a closer inspection was definitely needed.
It was a lot more badly hit than I had let myself believe, this bird. And it was not a fatty. The wound was open and reeky. My gorge rose. Perhaps in company I would have gone deeper and even found parts to make a pie, but it was pretty clear to me that the end result would have been botulism. So I binned it, feathers and all. I’ll go to the butcher and buy one some time and pretend it’s the same one and I’ll never tell anybody I bailed and I certainly won’t write a blog about it.
I am not 100% sure – genuinely – if the damage was insurmountable or if I just decided there were things I’d rather be doing that didn’t involve tearing apart the wreck of what was once a noble creature. It’s strange with me that one – on some basic level I believe I should know how to do it. I don’t know why. Maybe it’ll serve me well in twenty years time when the Apocalypse has happened and we are all foraging and hiding from the rednecks with guns.
Anyway, I know how to do it in theory now. Maybe the third one will be the charm. Or maybe that’s why butchers exist and I’m an idiot.