You get all your best stories down the pub. I was there on Wednesday, the dreaded Brownies night. Non-Brownie daughters and I head for the solace of the tap room while E learns to skip, make strange things and generally be a Helpful Person. Anyway, it quickly became clear I have barely scratched the surface of local goings on in the four years I’ve been here. I was there with another friend from school and his daughter. While the girls did things that three girls under 8 do, he and I swopped stories over wine and beer.
I have learnt that there is a whole world of wild men and wild food out in them there ‘ills. There is Mark the Master Mushroom Picker, for a start. According to this stalwart of the local food underworld there are hundreds of different varieties to be found. He won’t disclose all his hunting grounds, of course. But if you buy him a pint or two he might let a few secrets out, slowly, like sap oozing from a lopped branch. I have to say I hadn’t associated the High Peak with mushrooms. I think more of woodlands for mushrooms. Of course, we all know mushrooms are big in Europe – especially France and Italy where that magical misty autumnal hunt for Cepes/Porcini and all their lesser relatives is such an evocative ritual. I haven’t dared try it myself – God forbid the results. Children in spasms, hallucinations, green vomit, dash to A&E for stomach pumping. Terrifies me. But it seems that, with the right books, and if you start by just concentrating on a few of the more obvious ones then this nice little activity isn’t necessarily a sure route to death. My companion looked at his daughter and said, ‘Do you remember those mushrooms we picked M?’ She looked up, briefly confused having been engrossed in Girls Play, then broke into a wide smile and nodded furiously making yum-yum noises. She obviously lived to tell the tale.
She was equally enthusiastic about the crayfish. It seems there’s a river not far from here which is heaving with them. Big ugly blighters, all grey-green and pre-historic looking with huge snappy claws – sometimes one bigger than the other if it’s been broken in battle and is re-growing. Enough to give you nightmares. Anyway, apparently, at early doors one night when all these characters tend to gather at another local hostelry, some bloke comes in and goes ‘There, what d’ya think of THAT then?’ throwing a particularly huge and angry crayfish onto a table of men quietly engaged in a game of cribbage. Apparently they all recoiled in horror as this thing skidded across the table, scattering cards, pegs and beer, and snapping furiously in their horror-struck faces. Undaunted, my friend had taken his long-suffering daughter to the river of origin, laid nets (badly) but somehow managed to come back with a couple of decent ones. They chucked them into a pot of boiling water on the Aga and watched them writhe in snappy agony. I stupidly asked, ‘I wonder why they go pink?’ to which the inevitable reply – ‘wouldn’t you if you were chucked into a pot of boiling water!’ Fair point. Whatever, it's a whole new angle on 'gone fishing'.
I'm told, too, that there’s a whole load of bartering attached to these activities. Mark the MMP often swops a punnet or two of mushrooms for a couple of someone else’s illegal pork chops. And if you haven’t been to the cashpoint but fancy a pint and happen to have a leek or two about your person then that will do nicely. I always knew the old ways were the best ways...
In the meantime, I’m starving and need to make some lunch for me and the girl – think I might just pop out into the garden and scrape a bit of old fungus off the wall and fry it up with an egg and a twist of black pepper. Mmm, delicious.