James Johnston, my sheepdog, and I were watching one of the 'Twilight' films the night before last, but I barely saw a thing from behind the sofa. Gosh, it was scary.
"Grow a backbone you big wuss," James snorted.
"Don't tell me you aren't unnerved. You said you didn't trust anything that gets up before half past ten in the morning."
"They're just mis-understood people with a wet patch for blood. Anyhow, they wouldn't get me. Not this time of year, anyway."
"Even you couldn't out run them."
"Well, a, I could and, b, it's not about out running them, it's a case of what you run into. Dickwad."
Yesterday morning James rose from his bed (after half ten) and beckoned forth to show me what he had been referring to.
It was a grim, eerie scene that greeted us as a veil of fog crouched on the soil. We very easily could have been stalking through the hills of Pennsylvania en route to meet the Count. We hiked across the meadows and into the Smatcher wood. Coal tits and linnets were busy about their work, flitting from branch to branch gathering tufts of pussy willow and twigs to make their nests. Crossley the buzzard was reading a paper high up in the canopy of the oldest oak tree on the farm. When he saw us moving between the trunks below he jammed the paper into a fork of the tree and swooped down.
"Alright fella's? You haven't got 20p for the bus have you?" I reached inside my pocket, but James stayed my hand.
"20p?" James snapped, "minimum spend on the bus is £1.30 for a single."
Crossley looked furtive. "Alright, give me £1.30."
"But you asked for 20p."
"Now I'm asking for £1.30."
"We are not giving you anything, because you don't want it for the bus. You're going to spend it on cider." Crossley began to fidget.
"Is that true, Crossley?" I asked.
"Come on Tommo, a buzzard has got to get his kicks."
"I'm disappointed in you Crossley," I said and we continued on.
"Can I have £75 for the train, then?" he yelled, but his cries died out as we strode further into the shade of the trees.
The rapier rays of the sun began to slice through the fog and dappled light landed on the woodland floor. Owlet the thrush, Llanevan's janitor, was cutting fencing posts from the body of a fallen ash tree. He stopped the engine of the chainsaw, lent against the horizontal trunk and fished for his rolling tobacco.
"How's it going Owlet?" James asked, "I couldn't nick a rizla?"
"Thirsty work this is boys. You haven't got £1.30 for the bus?"
"Yeah, no problem," James said and handed over the fare. "Cheers for the skin," he said and we continued on.
"How is the bus going to ease his thirst?" I asked.
"What? He's going to spend it on cider."
"But why wouldn't you give it to Crossley?"
James stopped to light his cigarette and then shook his head, "you've got a lot to learn," he said and marched on.
We approached an area of the wood where young self seeded oaks twisted towards the light.
"Halt!" James said and looked me dead in the eye. Silence. He drew gently on his cigarette and stared at me. For an age.
James narrowed his eyes. "Why wouldn't the Vampires get me?"
"Uh, because you are boring? What are we doing stood here?"
James shook his head again. "You're going to have to learn the hard way," he said and headed off back to the farmhouse.
Midnight. I declared that it was time for bed, but James had other ideas.
"Put your running shoes on, you are coming with me."
The day of radiant sunlight had left a clear night sky in its wake. A million stars became our ceiling.
"Where are we going, James?"
"We are going to educate you. There's one thing I need you to do. When I say 'run', don't stop to ask 'why?'."
It was then that I knew we were not alone.
James paced purposefully on, his eyes continually skirting over the still night around us. His feet moved quicker and quicker, until we were both trotting. Then his ears pricked up and he looked behind us.
"Run!" I glanced over my shoulder to see three dark shapes moving swiftly across the meadow.
James was already twenty yards out in front moving quicker than a chav for the Primark doors on sale day.
He was heading for Smatcher wood.
"Who are your mates?!" I yelled as we sped into the wood and the throaty husks of the shapes grew ever so closer.
"Vampires!" he barked and my legs moved in an even swifter revolution. The thought of becoming the juice in a Vampire cocktail can't half make one pick up the pace and as we plunged deeper beneath the trees Usain Bolt wouldn't have got a hand on me. James and I were now stride for stride.
"What the hell are you doing?!" I screamed.
"The education is just about to begin!" he replied with a wicked grin and as we ran into the area populated by the young oaks the Vampires were close enough to pick a pocket; or nick a neck; and just as they were about to sink their teeth, they fell to the cool earth and thrashed about on the soil.
"Halt!" James ordered and he stopped. The Vampires climbed to their feet and bore their teeth, but would not advance. James set his rump down in the foliage and yelled, "come on then ya buggers! Blood on tap, right here!" but still they kept their distance.
"What kind of dark arts are at work inside this wood?" I asked.
"There are no dark arts, you plonker," James said ripping some leaves from the woodland floor, "it's just wild garlic."
He was right. And we were stood in a green sea of it.
"Well, well. You learn something new every night."
James and I filled our pockets and walked coolly passed the frothing Vampires back to the bosom of the farmhouse without so much as a fang injection.
Wild garlic pesto
The shiny, green leaves of wild garlic can be confused with other seasonal plants such as the lily of the valley on sight, but the simple way to differentiate is by ripping the leaf and inhaling the odour. Wild garlic, like it's bluebell chum, is a mean spreader and once you have found one leaf, you find a million.
100g of fresh picked wild garlic leaves
50g of shallots or spring onion
50g of pine nuts
150ml of olive oil
50g of grated Parmesan cheese
Half a tea spoon of salt
And/or half a tea spoon of sugar / black pepper depending on your tastes
Blitz the greens, nuts and oil in a blender, then mix in the rest of the ingredients with a spatula. It is a winner on toast.
Wild garlic and venison heart.
Venison is not only a fine meet, but the subject of the shortest joke known:
'Venison is dear, isn't?' You can thank James for that one.
Simply open up the heart(s) with a sharp knife, removing the capillary tube top-end, cut into slithers and fry in a very hot pan with olive oil. Lay the heart on the leaves and drizzle the pan juice all over. Deer me, it is a fine dish. The punch of the garlic marries well with the density and flavour of the deer engine.