• Jake O'Brien Murphy

Hammocks & Hills

I’ve never really understood why certain people apportion so much personal value to a national flag. There are so many things in everyday life of individual consequence a person could waste their time on. A flag is nothing more than an elaborate length of fabric of which the designs are almost always artistically worthless. Special mention, of course for the Mexican flag which is strictly heavy metal in presentation. A Golden Eagle. Atop a cactus. Killing a rattlesnake. Categorically the best bird in Top Trumps perched on a plant that endures the harshest wastelands and is composed entirely of hypodermic needles, making the villain responsible for the most snake bites in North America look like a scrap of overcooked linguine. That being said, take it too seriously and you’re still singing about a jingoistic devotion to a bedsheet.

Then I was given a hammock as a gift and I began to rethink elaborate lengths of fabric altogether. A hammock is a portable piece of paradise. Easy to put up, perfect for a snooze and easy to dispatch. I’ve spent the past few months pitching my hammock about the Ribble Valley, a slumbering dimple of outstanding natural beauty that anchors heaven itself to the rest of the mundane world via the A59. This is the kind of scenery that ‘mockers, that’s hammock owners to the uninitiated, rub their knees over. Wildlife teams about the place, often encroaching into the realm of people and central heating; edging ever inwards towards the biscuit crumbs and bare feet. There’s a herd of meandering deer that eye me with daggers of suspicion every time I spoil their Elysian scene with my fat footedness and signature rattling wheeze. As if I’m abruptly going to whip out some cutlery and a handkerchief and sink my canines into the youngest, frailest, fattest, oldest, stupidest, quickest to trust-est or most asthmatic of them. They have a supernatural gaze that causes me to feel a pang of personal guilt for mankind’s eco-crimes and for that, I’m glad we eat them.

The work that brought me here is honest and hard. It requires a degree of manual, hand-operated, lift with your knees labour, that doesn’t exist behind the poxy cocktail bars I usually inhabit. If I can manage to avoid the snares of endless mud, torrential rain and simpering idiots, I’m head over heels in love with it. I can’t however, shake the feeling, I’ve stepped into someone else’s, well-worn, oversized wellies. Not a day goes by now, where I won’t exchange pleasantries with a passing farmer or distract the sheepdog from her duties with a knuckle behind the ear. Collect firewood, light fires, attach a trailer to a tractor and so on. It’s all a thinly veiled lie, of course, I still pay exorbitant rent to sublet an envelope in an East London flat. I drink tiny Italian coffees, made by androgynous artists and I’m honestly coming around to the idea of a pair of Birkenstocks. I’m taking a holiday from myself and I’ve pitched a hammock in my own deception.

Regardless of the ongoing swindle, I’ve been here long enough now that routine has been carved into my day. As with everything else in my life it hinges around the central question of what I’m going to eat next. For centuries on the very same fields I’m now play-acting, Lancashire dairy farmers have worked to make one of Britains quintessentially traditional cheeses. Part of what makes Lancashire unique is the way the cheese itself is made. Instead of completing the process in one day, cheesemakers would combine curds from two or even three days of milking. This arose as an elegant solution to a ball-ache of a problem. Dairy farmers could not produce enough surplus milk from a single day to produce an entire cheese, so the whole thing snowballed. Before you mutter all-knowingly to yourself; yes, it is “kind of” like a sourdough. Well done you possess common knowledge. Somewhere up the very same road, I’m temporarily calling home, is Kirkham’s Lancashire. A family of third-generation cheesemakers and the last raw milk Lancashire cheese being produced anywhere in the world. It’s formally designated “succulent-yet-crumbly” by people whose overgrown ear hair threads seamlessly into their cardigans. I, on the other hand, have this to say, as cheese sandwiches go I’d consider myself a blackbelt or whatever corresponding grade of the same level. Of late I’ve spent many happy afternoons, basking in the rugged panorama of the Ribble Valley, the breeze rocking me lightly in my hammock and in the short-lived company of a Kirkham's Lancashire, on a white teacake, with salad and a ratio of near 1:1 English mustard to bread and every time it’s touching perfection.

Originally published in Essential Journal

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