By Dave McGowan
A tale of co-operative country life.
I’m staying at a Co-operative Community in the middle of Devon. It’s not in a town, village or hamlet. It’s on a hairpin bend in the road and it is where it is and that is its name, Beech Hill. You can find it listed in Diggers and Dreamers, the UK Directory of Co-operative Communities. They’ve got a massive, labyrinthine 18th century farmhouse with seven acres of land. The house is broken up into large rooms and apartments and is occupied by 20 odd hard working happy hippies and their progeny. I know it may be difficult to imagine happy hippies but they’ve got extensive vegetable gardens, sheep that they’re not going to kill and eat, a reed bed sewage system and a swimming pool.
Beech Hill has two large kitchens. One is used to cater for WWOOFERS and occasional B&B punters and for storing meat, the other is the communal dining area and strictly vegetarian. Not that the majority of the Co-op members are veggies, in fact the opposite is true. But this way no vegetarians need ever freak out at the sight of tasty, tasty animal flesh and it’s no skin off any omnivores nose to comply with this rule. When I stay, I bring lots of the meaty and deli goodies that I’m accustomed to and store them in the fridge in the second kitchen. I have to write my name on everything to protect it from impoverished hippy hands. No name, fair game is the law of the fridge.
One resident, Anne has got a boyfriend. His name is Reg. He’s in his mid-fifties, wears the same practical clothes for the duration of each season, has a craggy face that projects slight suspicion of anything human and sports the type of pattern balding that leaves a clump of hair isolated at the front of one’s head. Islands in the stream. Where Anne goes, Reg follows. They regularly take her lurchers out rabbiting and dine off the proceeds. Reg is also an accomplished poacher and forager. Any money that comes his way is spent on beer and rolling tobacco but typically of all folks like this he’s always got one beady eye on your nice stuff.
There’s been a weekend-long party and we’re all lounging around the pool, high on booze, dope and pills and I’m skinning up between my crossed legs and concentrating on the job at hand. I finish and notice that there is a pair of balls inches from my right foot. My first instinct is to give them a flick with my big toe but then I stop myself. On looking around I see that pretty much everyone has got naked, I recoil at the sight of huge pendulous pensionable hippy dugs and vast swathes of pubic hair. Enough muff in fact, to break a man’s fall.
The spell is broken at this moment as Zdehou- a vegetarian- turns up to announce that he’s found a muntjac deer. It was standing by the roadside with its head buried in a hedge. On further inspection it turns out that its brains are exposed and it’s waiting to die. He’s brought it home to give it a comfortable death but it started stinking up the place almost immediately so he’s driven up to the nearby woods and left it there.
On hearing this Reg has leapt to his feet, put his clothes back on, run to the house for his toolkit and car keys and shot up to the woods to expertly butcher the carcass. He doesn’t get to eat roadkill like this very often so he’s very excited. He returns to fill the freezer with cuts of venison.
Meanwhile, I’ve padded back into the house, feeling inexplicably hungry. Entering the meat kitchen, or the black and white, as it’s known due to the colour of the floor, I open the large fridge door. Squatting in front of it I reach in and grab myself a chilled bottle of local ale and root around for some handsome comestibles. I want to cleanse my thoughts of the memory of matured mammaries and swaying fields of grey pubes. I’m frozen in time for a moment or two, drawing comfort from the lifestyle and income we take for granted in the city. I pull out some olives, some pickles and a packet of sliced meat. My reverie is broken as a shadow falls over me. I do not see him but I know it’s him and I hear Reg’s no- nonsense Lincolnshire accent utter the words, “is that ham?”
Dave also takes photographs, see them here: