Boing!

Being so accustomed to the mundanity, the reach-for-your-coat-and-waders routine, I almost forgot to take a second look.  I mean a proper David Bellamy kind of look.

Well I have now, and it appears that elusive Spring has soldiered on, regardless of abmismal conditions. Seedlings have popped their heads above the parapet of soil to  wave infantile arms (“Feed me!”). Vegetable beds that were cleared, are now proudly sporting a new buzz cut of young grass and creeping buttercup. Wood anemones are carpeting dappled, forgotten areas of woodland and roadside ditch. Even forget-me-nots have started quietly illuminating the rise of soil around gated field entrances. I should have guessed that Spring would carry on, regardless. She always does.

Time to get my fork out again..


A Thing About Fish.. how it began

The first ‘real’ fish meal I can recall was Conga pie. By real, I mean it wasn’t preformed to look inoffensive and un-fishlike. (Saying that, I will always love a fish finger sandwich!)

Growing up, our little kitchen was (as is for many) the hub of familial life. Everything that was anything happened there. Various dogs carpeted the under table area, waiting to hoover the inevitable fallout from above. There was usually a chair resting, legs prone, on top of this table, enduring a ‘French Polish’. A sewing box took up a weekly slot, at the other end, disembowelled during a spate of darning and hemming. The sink draining area doubled up as storage for cleaned pans as well a resting place for a half plucked goose or freshly gutted fish (ultimate hygiene always top of the agenda!). The true heart of the kitchen though was the Raeburn. Mottled cream with a black top it sat quietly, always ready to cook or simply give comfort to a cold rear (unless the morning ‘coal swing’ had been forgotten).

I must’ve been about 8 years old. Coming in from a prowl and play around the field I was welcomed by a distinctly different smell hitting my nostrils and throat.  I walked over to the Raeburn and on tip toe peered over the edge of mum’s gargantuan pot that always seemed to be bubbling on the single hob.

The bizarre sight of 4 inch thick slabs of twitching muscle floating in a simmering sea of milk seemed entirely wrong to me.

“Mum! Stop cooking this thing! It’s still alive!”

“Don’t worry darling, it’s really not.”

“What is ‘it’?” I asked, with not just a little misgiving.

“It’s Conga eel (bright, cheery voice), and (firm voice to discourage any possible revolt) it’s going to be a wonderful fish pie”

Not in the least reassured, I vowed that this was one dish that I wouldn’t be eating, no matter how it was ‘disguised’.

Of course I did, and I absolutely loved it. Everything that got put in front of me got eaten, not simply because I had to, but because it usually tasted great.  My dear mother was (and still is) is an extraordinarily inventive cook. One of those who can literally pull something out of the proverbial hat, even when the cupboard or fridge looks decidedly devoid of inspiration.

Living near the coast meant that our diet was rich in fish. It was cheap too. really cheap. There wasn’t a huge cheffy/media push on fish at the time, so not many English cookery books featured them, let alone dedicated a whole book to these odd ‘foreign’ foods. Consequently, mum used to make it up as she went along. We ate a lot of sole, plaice and skate.

One that appeared with great regularity was mackerel, and it was at this point that I started to get ‘hooked’ on the sheer beauty of fish, any fish, even the so called ‘ugly’ ones.

If you click here you can see a few of my favourite fish I’ve illustrated.

The most enduring one for me though remains the mackerel..

I met it properly for the first time at the age of 9, as I hauled it up, flapping and flexing, out of the sea and into a sandcastle bucket. The eye popping colours of a living mackerel are quite the most vivid and hypnotically intoxicating that I’ve ever seen. Sadly though within hours of being caught, like all fish, the colours start to fade.  As an illustrator I work mostly from life and so it is when I draw/paint fish: the real thing perched in front of me.

My current mackerel painting started with a visit to my lovely local fishmongers (click and have a listen).

The chosen ones, with bright fluid eyes, got to pose for some colour ref shots before they faded..

Progress..

And then finally…

And of course to round it off, I should really give you my most favourite mackerel recipe..

1. Go fishing and catch your own, then

2. BBQ it on the beach on which you land.

It will never taste better than at this moment.