It is often touted that one should start one’s morning with a meditation, a time of quiet reflection, to ground oneself in readiness for a bustling day. Perhaps one might even partake in a chant or absorb oneself in a short, morale-boosting motivational quote.
Whoever comes up with such schemes has neither had a cat nor young children. May’s five o’clock dawns have the not-so-jeffing-Admirable Nelson yowling to go out first thing. This is several hours before I become of a similar mind. With another month to go until the longest day, his demands for a brisk morning’s perambulation have become quite the ear-sore, and only quieted by my putting the pot on the stove for coffee to stoke me up for the day, and harnessing him up.
Due to the roads we live adjacent to for the most part, he is leashed. Finally, and after much coaxing, he has succumbed to the indignity of being tethered. I call it a compromise on the grounds of health and safety - his. If he could speak English (he is selectively mono-linguistically Korean), I suspect he would call my decision an abominable decimation of his feline rights.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, walking a cat is quite unlike walking a dog. Dogs follow. Dogs, well most of them, obey instructions, even as they skitter backwards and forwards about their walking companion, their excitable tails creating a small wake of turbulence as they go. They mindfully take a few moments to pee or poop, before they resume their bouncing and sniffing down the bridleway or trail. On the whole, the dog and owner keep abreast of one another, and both benefit from a bit of forenoon’s exercise.
Cats, on the other hand, at least mine, will spend a minimum of five minutes scanning their environment before tentatively stepping forward approximately half a foot. In Nelson’s case, this takes him from the rim of the van to the footstool. There, he will perch for a while in order to contemplate his inner zen. Some indeterminate time later, he might bimble off in search of some grass, or he might trot off. Or bolt. There’s really no predicting the timing nor the speed of his departure from the stool. For that reason, his leash is three metres long. Cats do not follow. Cats do not follow instructions either. Cats do, however, sniff one blade of grass tremendously intensively before biting the head off it or turning around to pee on it. My cat will then decide that a blade of grass about twenty metres away must now be inspected - immediately. The inspection may take up to ten minutes. That done, I release the leash as Nelson gallivants straight back towards The Shitron: sometimes at breakneck speed, sometimes outpaced by a snail, and sometimes flourished with a roly-poly. Usually he trips on the footstool as he launches himself back into the van before conking out for an early morning snooze.
During this period of outdoorsiness, I might avail myself of some gentle, non-cat-spooking, stretches. Other times, I must keep my fix firmly on a hawk, swirling above us, spying for breakfast. Sometimes, when I have had moments of sufficient presence of mind, and time, I will grab my phone on the way out, I may check out the goings on in the frivolous world. I never read the news before dusk, but I do like a modicum of flippancy to accompany my morning slurp. Of course, this is as whimsical as Google decides and very much driven by any cookies left over from previous wanderings around the Interweb. No other kinds of cookies in my life last as long.
As I was in Leicestershire, home of one of England’s most recognisable cheeses, it was unsurprising that Google had felt obliged to inform me that a Canadian woman had won this year’s cheese-rolling contest, having splurged unconscious over the finishing line. This contest of calamity takes place annually in Gloucestershire, despite it being banned more than once on the grounds of health and safety. For the unfamiliar, it involves a large wheel of Double Gloucester cheese being sent spinning down an exceptionally steep grassy knoll, and for reasons of idiocy, approximately twenty-to-thirty twenty-to thirty-year-olds chase after it. It is not necessary to catch it to win. At the bottom of the hill is a line of string to mark the end of the race, behind which stand fifteen burly rugby players serving as brakes, and an entire fleet of St. John Ambulances.
Most participants stagger downhill for around four or five paces before gravity and velocity do their scientific thing. On this particular morning, YouTube thought I might also appreciate “People Chasing Cheese Downhill To The Sound Of Ave Maria”. YouTube was quite correct and it certainly set me up for a decent morning’s work learning as much as I could about Leicestershire’s most striking cheese.
I had always thought England was world-renowned for its cheeses, especially given that we gave the world Cheddar, or rather Somerset did. The Americans, just like the British, have cheddar as their number one flavour of cheese, although experience did teach me that our two nations might not agree on how that flavour should, in fact, taste. I remain steadfast: eggy is definitely not how it ought to be.
What did come as an even more tremendous surprise was not one of England’s five favourite cheeses was ranked in the best one hundred cheeses of the world. In fact, England only had one nomination and it neither came from Somerset nor Leicestershire. It was even beaten in the rankings by Montenegro’s unpronounceable Pljevaljski Sir, the dreadfully mouldy Crottin de Chavignol (from where else but France), and the almost-warty-looking Bundz from Poland.
It transpires that England’s only entry to the Eurovision Cheese Contest (which incidentally includes cheese from elsewhere in the world) was: the Lincolnshire Poacher. Coming in at fifty-fifth place, I was surprised that I, a life long turophile, had never tried it, let alone heard of it. It seems also to be absent from both Tesco and the Vanlifer’s most favourite supermarket: Morrison’s.
Thankfully, TasteAtlas, who conducted the survey of 21, 133 cheese-eating sufferers of ageusia, qualified that their rankings "should not be seen as the final global conclusion about food.” Thank Goodness for that: I was about to be stoked into a fit of the most outraged.
A good cheese should in my opinion be full of flavour, pleasant on the nose, smoothe on the tongue and in particular should have be the quality of
So cottage cheese, for example, finds no home in my tiny van’s refrigerator. Nor does Leicestershire’s most notable cheese, the one that comes with Protected Geographical Status…the utterly unsuitable for vanlife, and very revolting: Stilton.
Stilton used to be a village in Leicestershire, alas it was requisitioned by Cambridgeshire, so the settlement is no longer eligible to churn out wheels of its bromodosis-smelling namesake. To call a cheese a stilton, blue or white, it must be produced within a designated region by ruining some perfectly adequate pasteurised cows’ milk which in turn must be obtained from locally-grazing dairy cows.
Once upon a time, such cows would have dwelled in the pastures of Lindley Hall Farm owned hilariously enough by a certain Mr Farmer and his wife, Mrs Farmer. His first name is recorded as Stephen. Hers not at all. Sadly in 2001, Foot and Mouth disease ran rampant through their holding. The culling and subsequent imaginable heartbreak ended any hopes of them continuing to contribute to the Stilton cheese factories. Today the farm is mostly meatstock or arable.
Their fields can be found languishing near Fenny Drayton, and combined they are registered as a farm by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). DEFRA has the field registered in Warwickshire because of the farm buildings’ erroneous CV postcode. These fields are, however, most definitely situated in Leicestershire. This most emphatic assertion came about in 2002 when the Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of Great Britain, decreed that contained within one of Lindley Hall Farm’s fields was the centre of England.
For five hundred years, Meriden in the West Midlands had staked the claim in this instance with a monument of sandstone shaped into a cross. Then along came Global Satellite Positioning and it moved six miles. Thereafter, permitting Mr Farmer to stand a railway sleeper on his ground, announcing to all and sundry he was the fine owner of middle England, and that all and any other claimants were nothing but imposters....
Such claims stoked the anger not only of the residents of Meriden, but also those of Morton in Derbyshire, and Midland Oak in Leamington Spa, some twenty-four miles south. Possibly, even the notoriously indignant denizens of Tunbridge Wells, Kent too.
For the record, I think Red Leicester is Britain’s bestest cheese and that sixty-eight percent who preferred Cheddar are plain delusional. That said, both cheese do best when kept in the door of the refrigerator, rather than deep within the recesses. One should also avoid storing it in clingfilm or tupperware, but preferably wrapping it in parchment paper so that it breathes rather than sweats.
Mind you, that presumes it lives in one place for very long at all.