It’s not easy being a real man these days, Giles thought to himself as he tried not to gag on the bacon butty that Gabriel – his impossibly handsome Animal Husbandry course leader – had just handed him. All he could think of, with each fatty bite, was Ernie the Pig – his favourite from Gabriel’s litter, who’d always grunt appreciatively whenever he came near – and sincerely hoped that this butty had nothing to do with him.
Trying to ignore his craving for a frothy cappuccino, Giles quickly threw his sandwich over the edge of the riverside treehouse that the group was breakfasting in. And after taking a sip of the tea – which had been made from river water boiled over the campfire – he sent that over too.
Ironically, it was his wife – a Chelsea girl to her bones – who had launched him on this journey of atavistic self-discovery, with the gift of a Handy Man course for Christmas last year. He knew full well that this had been a tactical ploy on her part – the fact that he had been known to call out an electrician to change the lightbulbs was a truth that now made him wince – but he had taken to it like a carpenter to joinery, and never looked back. For his birthday, Ophelia had then given him a Carving Course at Simpson’s in the Strand and this, in turn, had set a sort of Alpha Male domino effect into motion.
Carving had led him onto Meat Curing and Smoking which had segued naturally into Butchery at the Ginger Pig in Borough Market (“Positively out in the sticks,” Ophelia had laughed). But what is a butcher without knives? And so he had enrolled himself onto a three-day Bladesmithing Course at an old Blacksmith’s forge in east London. But what are knives without sheaths? And so, he had enrolled himself onto a weekend of Hide Tanning and Leatherwork, with the added bonus of a night spent sleeping under the stars, warmed by a fire he had had started himself with nothing but flint and tinder – and that taste of the wild had made him realise that he needed to delve deeper into the Great Outdoors. And thus, the pilgrimages down the A303 to the River Barn had begun in earnest and this was where he had really started to reconnect with his primal self.
“Why can’t you just get into meditation like everybody else?” Ophelia had groaned, regretting what she’d started, as he’d got dressed in the dark at 3am earlier that morning. But midway through his explanation of how, for him, there was no greater state of Mindfulness than returning to Nature and one’s basest male instincts, she had started to snore loudly.
Back in the treehouse, while no one was looking, Giles quickly checked his iCal to see what the next three weekends had in store: Heavy Horse work this weekend, Keeping Poultry next and… oh dear – can he really not have taken this on board? – Animal Slaughter for the grand finale.
Something clicked inside him. Who was he kidding? He was a lover, not a fighter. He couldn’t even watch Game of Thrones without a pillow covering one eye. When he’d see Ernie, all he wanted to do was to scratch him on the top of his hairy head, not slit his throat.
Empowered by this lightbulb moment, Giles lowered himself gingerly down the rope ladder and went to find Gabriel. From the metal scraping noises coming from the barn, he was sure he’d find him there; he was probably sharpening the blades of the plough or forging the Heavy Horse shoes. It was dark in the barn and it took Giles’ eyes a while to adjust but, as soon as they had, he cleared his throat and asked Gabriel if he could have a word.
Out of the gloom, Gabriel walked towards him, shirt off, real Real Man muscles rippling. In the half light, Giles could see something glinting in his hand.
Opening his mouth to speak, Giles noticed that it was, in fact, a knife. A much bigger, more intimidating knife than he had seen on any butchery course.
“Um, I was just wondering,” squeaked Giles. “If you needed any help harnessing up the horses?”
“All in good time,” grunted Gabriel. “Seeing as you’re here, come with me out back. We’re jumping ahead a couple of weeks, but there’s a pig I could use a hand with.”