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Butchering the Big Fat Irish Butcher

It took me a long time to venture into my small local butchers in Kew. I had the idea that it would be all organic and out of the price range of most normal pocket-books. Like the organic store facing it, where a tin of organic beans can be yours for twice the amount of a tin from the Tesco Express, just a few doors down from the butcher. But, like many supermarkets, the butcher does a brisk(et) trade in the rotisserie chicken at a fiver a pop. The shop is so small that the small rotisserie, a narrow silver cabinet, is perched outside by the door, so that the juicy aroma reaches those commuters who emerge from Kew Gardens station, calling them to abandon their own oven for another day. Why make life more difficult, the waft seems to convey. It was this that finally called me in. And I was comforted, if a little disappointed, to observe the dearth of the organic fancy massaged-cow range in favour of all things butchery normal. Save for the shelf full of homemade liquid stocks at a few quid a jar. Or the few trays of medleys of meat on sticks in the main display cabinet. The rest were pies, waiting to be shoved in the oven and passed off as homemade; a mere technicality. But as I walked home this afternoon, library book of Tobin's short stories 'The Empty Family' borrowed from Kew Library (no closure in this affluent enclave I see, despite the main Richmond Library just a 15-minute walk up the road one direction, and East Sheen Library in the other direction), and collected my cooked chicken for two days worth of weekend eating (roast chicken salad and maybe a risotto), I felt a pang for the Irish butchers of my youth.
They are still there; the big Irish butchers, whose counters groan with ham shanks (hocks, these days), legs of lamb on hooks overhead, big bowls of whitened tripe in brine ready to be baked in milk and onions, mint-marinated lamb cutlets, dishes of mince, plates of plump bloody lamb, calves, and pigs liver, adjoining the piss-tanged kidneys that Joyce's Bloom would have been proud to fry, joints of pink pork - and the stock in trade - capons and chickens. I always recall the two or three seats by the door, where the older Irish and Caribbean men and women would rest whilst waiting for the queue to go down. Or a small child, chewing something sweet whilst mindlessly kicking their legs against the chair legs, staring at the sawdust on the otherwise immaculate floor. Me, perhaps, before I was old enough to do these butcheries on my own (9,10). I remember once my Da returning home on a Saturday, to where we lived in Hulme, armed with a cow's brain. My Mum opened the front door and threw the thing out, unwrapped, onto the communal veranda, telling him she wasn't cooking that bloody thing - tripe was bad enough. He'd have brought it back in and boiled it up and at least partook of it. He was ofally ambitious, my Da. He'd grown up with an old Irish abattoir butcher for a father. Just like his fatger before him - Edward Webb, born 1841 in Mayo - occupation: Victualler. Cousins, from whom the late Irish football player, Ted Webb, who died tragically young, still have their branch of the Butchery business 'Webbs' of Ballyhaunis, Mayo. Had I ever got the opportunity to persuade him to London, he'd have been in heaven at St. John's in Clerkenwell; although he'd have balked at the prices of its renowned offal dishes.
These Irish butchers would also have shelves of dried goods, showing off Kimberley biscuits, Gypsy creams, Nash's Red Lemonade. My Da would - a few times a year - bake his own Irish soda bread - which we ate cobs of, warm with Irish butter melting and melted in. Heavenly.

Next to the Irish butcher would always be the greengrocers. Rows of collies framed with their dark green leaves, like sunflowers; my Mum loved cauliflower; she would say it aloud whilst she or myself would break up the florets ready for the pan, stealing a few to munch on raw 'I love cauliflower, me,' she'd say, just in case anyone disbelieved her munching away. I too took a liking for raw collie. Why it was then boiled for too long is anyone's guess. There'd also be the darkest green savoys, a deeply pungent earthy counterpart to a boiled salty sheet of bacon ribs, or chunks of ham shank, both comforted - and the tastebuds neutered briefly - by the humble spud, often bought by the 55lb sackload, which my Da would carry on one shoulder from the greengrocers on a Saturday, before heading off in his good suit to the bookies, and then his second home of a small Irish pub, whose walls were adorned with portraits of Michael Collins - and the jukebox would ring out the rebellious lyrics against Maggie Thatcher. Oh, the days.

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