By M.A. Toothill
Our local butcher had two enormous blackboards outside his shop that he chalked his daily deals on. It was an old-fashioned butcher shop with a stripy canopy over the front window and the men inside all wore stripy aprons. I was very young then and, when I went into the shop with my Grandma, my little face was level with the angled glass display cases. I would peer at the various cuts of mottled meat, horrified and fascinated.
I could read the short, simple words chalked on the blackboards but not the longer words. They didn’t all make sense to me: I’d tried Lamb, Beef and Pork, but Haggis, Tongue and Brains were a mystery to me. I can recall the Butcher telling me about them whilst my Grandma was haggling and joking around with the other staff. She always haggled when we went to the butcher on Saturdays to buy corned beef, stewing steak, and sliced ham.
The Butcher told me about the brave Scottish warriors that hunt the wild, deadly haggis and how hunting them was a risky, life or death affair. The hunters would either bag a haggis or the haggis would sting them with its incapacitating venom and then drag the poor hunter back to its lair and devour them, starting at the feet and eating upwards. He said there was nothing like haggis to be found anywhere on earth except for in the wilds of Scotland, some remote jungles and, of course, exceptional butchers’ shops.
Then he told me how he came to have so many tongues for sale in his shop. He told me that cows have a tendency to moo so often in their lives that they just completely moo themselves out. The constant mooing made the cow’s tongues loosen like a baby’s teeth and, as the cows got older, their tongues eventually fell out from overuse, leaving them like broken bells without clappers. He asked me how I would feel if the only word I could use to communicate was “Moo” for the rest of my life. Or how it would feel to be able to make no noises at all when I’d used up all my moos, and my tongue just detached and fell out onto the floor.
As for the brains, he readily admitted that he didn’t know how they got them out of the skulls in one piece, but he had heard stories of rams and deer bashing their heads into each other so hard that their brains just came out of their ears, and their antlers and hooves snapped off. He said that cows, like rams or deer, enjoyed a good scrap, so it was probably the same sort of thing.
I had a million questions for this slippery butcher, but my Grandma took hold of my hand and we always left the shop before I could ask questions or corner him on the reliability of his claims.