Fungi Au Naturel

Those who know me – even a little – will be aware of the fact that as outdoorsy types go, I am at the back of the queue. Ce n’est pas mon métier. Not really my glass of tea, as it were. I, let the record show, once drove two hundred miles back home from a camping trip to fetch a mattress because sleeping on hard, unsympathetic ground gave me backache. No sniggering, please.
No-one was more surprised than I at the willingness with which I agreed, or at least, surprisingly failed to make formal protest, when it was suggested to me that a trip to the forest to gather mushrooms was a really good idea. I looked outside. Rain had been falling intermittently all day. The ground was sodden and there was more than a hint of further downpour. I found myself in Caterpillar boots tramping along a narrow lane, climbing through a barbed wire fence and into, not a small spinney, or even a copse, but a fully formed, mature forest, devoid of human habitation, populated with flora and presumably also fauna if the hunting signs were to be believed; a very long way from a Starbuck’s. The leaf canopy was close, but not close enough to prevent rain which had again begun to fall vertically and remorselessly since leaving the car gently soaking me to the bone. This was not, I have to say, a quiet stroll along well-manicured paths.  We walked. For some time. Secondary forest can be quite impenetrable and its branches young and supple enough to whiplash back quite sharply, catching one unawares, but, silly moi, I had forgotten to pack the machete.

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The ground was a uniform kaleidoscope of green and brown. As instructed, I looked in vain for small, white, fungi poking their heads cleanly above the leaf-mould, but competition with local slugs made most a touch more difficult to spot. The one pictured was the cleanest and most presentable I could find.  Regular readers will be aware that my companion is an expert botanist, and as such, specimens in a variety of colours in what can only be described as various stages of decay were identified in Latin with squeaks of excitement. One species in particular when cut and the flesh exposed to the air immediately oxidised and turned a cyanotic blue, which brought back a faint memory of the reaction between oxygen and psilocybin – characteristically blue magic mushrooms. The ones in the video are edible. Apparently. I couldn’t help but recall that fungi were also the cause of athlete’s foot, which will no doubt provoke helpless laughter from those better informed than I.
As an afterword,  filet de boeuf with wild mushrooms was on the menu later. Tee hee…

The Importance of Being Earnest, also Truthful

I was once mistaken for Stephen Fry by a group of excited British schoolchildren. It was midwinter in Austria and it has to be said I was muffled suitably against the inclement weather thus, fortunately, little of my face was visible. [note to myself – see a dermatologist]. Let it be understood, I have been trying by all means possible to make the image smaller and less conspicuously grotesque.

My companion – with spectacular presence of mind – walked over to the adolescent squeakers and gawpers on the other side of the street and entreated them to ‘leave him alone, he’s here for a bit of peace and quiet’ which they were courteous enough to do. I only mention this because I happened to pick up a copy of his latest book – ‘The Fry Chronicles’ and am two-thirds of the way through it. In times past, people have been kind (or misguided) enough to apportion the sobriquet of ‘wordsmith’ to my lumbering efforts. If so, I am a blacksmith to Stephen’s filigree jeweller. The man uses words as if they were liquid, dripping and coruscating honey on to the page. Comes from three wasted years at Cambridge and a degree in Eng Lit, I suppose.

He is an atheist – probably troubled by guilt – but this interchange between himself and Anne Widdecombe – formerly Conservative MP for Maidstone and a passionate advocate of the Catholic Church is too good to miss. It’s part of a now iconic clash of Titans – ‘the Intelligence Squared Debate‘. Here’s an abridged link...



I’m reminded of Dante’s “Inferno” where the ninth and final circle of hell is reserved for the treacherous. Together with Judas in this region of hell are others who, by betraying their masters or benefactors, committed crimes with great historical and societal consequences. Completely encased in ice – like “straw in glass” – the shades are locked in various antagonistic postures with no mobility or sound and, it would appear, can only gnaw and gibber wordlessly at each other. Dante’s use of irony is never used better. The greatest punishment would seem to be the inability to express an opinion. Stephen expresses his with considerable deftness here. Again, worth a look, repetition notwithstanding. Anne Widdecombe’s strangled tones and unfortunate physiognomy were a source of great material for the satirists of the ’90’s. Fry and Laurie were the archetypal comedy duo of the late ’80’s before the angrier and (in my opinion) less talented Rik Mayall and Ben Elton seized the mantle. As a matter of interest, I saw Fry in his final appearance in “Cell Mates” with Mayall before he disappeared with a nervous breakdown and the show closed because nobody could find him. Is it he, or I that reminds you of Quasimodo? Don’t respond, but if you must, do so with charity.