Would You Buy Your #Meat From This #Butcher

Just now I was sitting working when a mobile butcher’s shop pulled up outside my house. The driver sauntered over to the house and hit me with his rehearsed speech.

He travels round neighbourhoods from as far away as Ballymena and Ballycastle selling fresh meat. He used to have a butcher’s shop in Ballymoney until his father died. Ever since the family business has switched to the van.

On invitation I wandered over to the van and had a look inside. It was like a very small village butchers with cuts of meat set out in a small counter, much like you would see at one of the country markets that appear in our high streets. This guy was showing his meat to the people.

He had a food standard rating of 4 out of a possible 5 he told me up front. I admired his resourcefulness and his honesty. And his enterprising nature. I was surprised when he told me he had no high street or even village street presence. This was it, one man and his meat. In a van.

I admit I wasn’t blown away by his set up, but it was impressive. It reminded me of the old grocery vans that used to deliver back in Omagh in my distant childhood. There was something homely about them and the combination of smells that assailed my childish nostrils when I ventured in there.

In the butcher’s van the smell of flesh was heavy, oppressive and slightly overwhelming. He had a fridge on board, the place looked clean and tidy. And crucially for me there were no flies, always a good sign. I told him I would keep an eye for him on his return. I think it is the second such van doing the rounds of late – I may have imagined it but I thought I saw a fresh fish van drive up our way last week. If it appears again I will stop it and board it for inspection.

The point of this story is this. A while ago I wrote a piece for the Marketing Institute of Ireland on the use of social media in marketing. It referenced the way a crêpe seller in San Francisco with a handcart promoted his wares using Twitter. It was brilliant.

It got me thinking today, as you do. What if our mobile meat man had a Twitter account. What if he could tell his followers of his whereabouts each day?

What special offers he had, what special cuts and what this week’s sausages were. How do his customers know where to find him? Could the one man van and his meat have a Facebook page? And why not?

Without this insight he is like a modern day Telemachus travelling aimlessly in a meat Odyssey hoping to meet Ulysses. Along the way he may run into sirens posing as desperate housewives and the odd oxen of the sun. Whatever, the opportunity is there. Likewise the opportunity is also there to all those doing the country market circuit.

I let him go without offering any insight. Maybe next time. First I’d need to be sure I would buy his meat myself. After all, it’s all about the product.




Sorcha, with Hub never too far away.

This day last week I took our dog to the vet and had her put to sleep. I stayed with her and held her as the vet administered the lethal dose. Hub gradually relaxed and slipped away from me, her beautiful black coat still shining. Her gleaming eyes dulled as her spirit left her.

She had arrived about nine years ago as a six week old bundle of fun and mischief. At the time my son Leo was toddling about and he used to kick her vigorously as she stole his football and snapped at his feet. They both thought it was great fun.

She tortured our then other dog, a placid golden Labrador we called Peig, who was like the conscience of the house. Any raised voices she headed for cover. Not so Hub. She was a fairly indisciplined critter, at first when you took her for a walk she wouldn’t come back and she used to drive me into paroxysms of frustration as she ran round the car refusing to get in, bucking and lepping.

Once we left her with the friend I got her from when we went on holiday. She ate the bottom of his creosoted gate over the course of our break.

Even up to her final few days with us she enjoyed the odd glorious rampage, sprinting hither and thither with abandon.

As the children grew up, Hub was part of the family. She always showed up in portraits of the family drawn in primary school, this four legged black shape in the foreground. That’s Hub, the various children would declare matter of factly explaining their latest piece.

She was so much part of the family, the furniture and the fun round these parts that we took her for granted. Not so the postman, or coal and oil delivery men. She would rip the post from the post box and in the process destroyed a few cheques I received from clients and at least one DVD.

She would station herself in the car if a door were left open and developed a penchant for chewing seatbelts. An expensive taste, I spent several hundreds replacing them. Any coat left in the car was liable to have a bite taken out of it. She had a go at my training cones too when she got the chance.

The children loved Hub. Every morning Sorcha’s first point of call was a visit to the living room for a hug.

Last week I took her to the vet to have what I thought would be a diagosis of some sort of infection. Instead she had developed dog diabetes and we took the difficult decision to have her put to sleep. In this home we shared, the strict regime required to treat a diabetic dog with absolute rigour would not be practical. I was heartsore as I took her for a final walk down to the beach.

But it is what you sign up to with a dog. The agreement was there from the moment I lifted her in her cardboard. By taking on the responsibility of this black Labrador pup we also committed to being there with her to reassure her and comfort her when the vet puts her to sleep. You can do no less.

This day last week I took our dog to the vet and had her put to sleep. I stayed with her and held her as the vet administered the lethal dose. Hub gradually relaxed and slipped away from me, her beautiful black coat still shining. Her gleaming eyes dulled as her spirit left her. It broke my heart.




And When Necessary, Use Words

Pope Francis at Casa del Marmo, the Juvenile Detention facility in Rome

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

Fr Austin’s words to me after Easter Sunday mass yesterday, quoting St Francis of Assisi.

I was having a short conversation with him on the subject of priests and their sermons, having been asked by BBC Radio Ulster to go on air this morning to talk of how priests might improve their weekly homily.

Ironically, in an example of miscommunication, Radio Ulster had been led to believe that Pope Francis had called upon priests to up the ante with their weekly homily. As it transpired the new Pope didn’t say this at all. It referred to a much earlier comment by Cardinal Ravasi back in November 2011 for priests to embrace new media in their communications. He pointed to the likes of Twitter as a media that would appeal to the younger generation. The Catholic Herald reported:

“A Vatican cardinal has appealed to clergy to liven up “dull, flavourless” sermons in an address at a conference in Rome.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, claimed that homilies had become “irrelevant” to worshippers who were used to the thrill and excitement of modern technology such as the television and the internet. He said: “The advent of televised and computerised information requires us to be compelling and trenchant, to cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour.”

Fr Austin’s comments on St Francis immediately steered my thoughts to our modern day Francis. Certainly the new leader of the Church is aware of the power of words, but his signature so far has been actions, not just what he has said. Both bear close scrutiny. Since the announcement on 13 March he has dispensed with much of the starch, stiffness and conservatism that Pope Benedict brought to the office.

Last Thursday he said mass and washed the feet of juvenile inmates in Rome’s Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility. This in turn prompted a series of open letters from young inmates in an LA Correctional Facility including the following:

Dear Pope Francis,

When Jesus washed the feet of his friends he gave an example of humility. I have been raised to believe that it is only with respect in hurting your enemy that you are a man. Tonight you and Jesus show me something in this washing of the feet something very different. I hope we kids learn from this.

Dear Pope Francis,

I have never been to Rome. I do not know if it is near Los Angeles because all my youth I have only known my neighborhood. I hope one day I will be given a second chance and receive a blessing from you and maybe even have my feet washed on Holy Thursday.

Since being elected, the Argentine Jesuit has eschewed the trappings of office. He has declined to wear the elaborate red, ermine-trimmed Mozetta favoured by Benedict. His choice of residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than the expansive top floor Papal Apartment in the Vatican. He has gone walkabout to meet real people and ventured off script frequently. His message at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday was an appeal to Priests to go to the outskirts to minister to those at the margins. A challenge for the times we live in, if ever there was one.

Returning to Cardinal Ravasi’s original exhortation on the Priest’s weekly sermon, those people at the margins may not be present in the Chapel every Sunday. Nor are they necessarily open to the appeal of social media. Many feel they no longer form part of the broader Church. And, the institutional Catholic Church in turn has damaged itself with them, with its failure to adequately address the failures of priests and religious implicated so disastrously in child abuse and the subsequent failure of the Institution to deal with the victims in a meaningful way. A culture of us and them has evolved and developed and grown exponentially. The communication has been poor.

Priests in Ireland that have dared critique aspects of the institutional Church’s behaviour have been censured and silenced. Often they are respected local clergy, men and women whose stock clearly doesn’t rank high in Rome with the Curia. Little to commend there, in examples open communication, clarity of message and freedom of expression. It has become unhealthy. A case of ‘do as I say not as I do’. The Curia in Rome under the Benedict regime has been allowed to strengthen its hand, and instead of showing openness, welcome and forgiveness it has closed ranks. Benedict in some of his keynote addresses has used Latin. That in itself is anti-communication and displays however unintentionally a Church that is out of touch and not of its time.

The New Pope Francis on first impression, offers an alternative and possibly a last chance for the Church reinvigorate its true mission. He is thus far an inspiring Shepherd. The excellent blog Whispers in the Loggia allows watchers to absorb word and deed from Francis. Although aware of the strengths of modern communication, he has shown himself thus far to have mastered the art of the simple message irrespective of the medium. It harks back to a simpler Church with a more powerful mission.

Fr Austin’s reflection on the words of St Francis have never been truer.

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

‘It’s about what you do Joe’ he said to me as a parting remark, ‘not what you say.’ As an Easter message from the Pope, or in this case the local Parish Priest, it couldn’t come simpler or more relevant than that.

See the Hurl in the Ash and Set it Free

Putting the tin on.

A while back my wood supplier sold me a shipment of wood. He told me it had been seasoned. It wasn’t. It hisses and spits like a mean ole cat and the stove in the kitchen smokes like a train. In fact I was taking calls from the Vatican looking to borrow it for the recent election. Instead I referred them to my wood guy. Hopefully next time it will be better.

Leo decided he was doing goals for the u14 hurlers. Either that or he was picked. It required a trip to Scullion Hurls in Loughgiel to have a keeper’s hurl cut. Hurley maker Mick Scullion started the process while we waited, cutting the outline of the junior keeper’s hurl from a shaped plank of raw ash. His dad, Joe, the founder of the business then took over shaping the hurl down closer to its finished shape before Mick again stepped forward to sand it down to the required weight and finish. Joe advised getting the bas covered in muck to seal it before we might bring it back to get tinned.

Two generations of craftsmen a pleasure to watch, seeing the hurley in the ash, they set it free.

There’s something about Loughgiel. It’s not just a place. It’s a state of mind. I had cause to speak to Liam ‘Winker’ Watson about a game their underage players play. I had texted him asking the rules, his reply wasn’t precise enough so he called me to explain the rules in detail. Benches wouldn’t do Winker said, it had to be tables, the sort you might see in a canteen because the wee men might raise the ball he said. Instructions complete he gave a fleeting insight to their current state of readiness for the Antrim League and then was off. Sound fella Winker, in a league of his own. He came over to Owenbeg last year with the trophy and spent time with the youngsters. We all marvelled at the weight of his hurl, one of a fresh batch fashioned for each match by Mick Scullion. Whatever about the weight he knows how to wave it. Winkers Wand we named it last year. It carries a heavy responsibility.

The problem with hurling these days is the cold. Camoging too. I was only coaching on Sunday and my hands were freezing. Gráinne was fit to tell me the finger she had busted last summer ached in the cold. At the u14 match last week two boys had to be subbed it was that cold. Another cried when he got home he was that foundhered. Leo was OK in goals, we invested in a pair of expensive Skins leggings and he wore four layers on top. The keeper’s hurl did the job too.

I went back over last Saturday to Loughgiel to pick up a few Clones Mick had agreed to make for me. Again he had the rough shape done before finishing out the final sticks – one a 30, the other a 26, effortlessly mimicking Leo’s existing 28. Another Scullion original lifted off the shelf completed the deal. £70. For the four and three grips.

The other main point of note is the new workshop and showroom. Scullion Hurls have become part of the Économusée network a series of working craft museums across the north coast area. The new centre is superbly finished telling the story of the hurley makers, their craft and the games they serve. The attention to detail brilliant and the finished product excellent. There were three happy hurlers in our house for sure.

Next time I’m over I’ll be buying a few bags of seasoned offcuts of ash for the fire. It’ll burn better than the wet stuff. Should have done that in the first place. Maybe.