Yesterday I decided to make my own biltong. A male urge for concentrated meat, designed to be held in the fingers and gnawed apart by the teeth of a wild man. Ah yes, that famous wild man of Battersea, place of danger and intrigue. Of course, the real intrigue is the call of the wild that a man hears now and then, that drags him back to his roots and demands of his flesh that he build something, hunt something, declare something, show the world that the testosterone still courses through his veins.
I know my veins track through my body as a stalking animal would meander through a jungle, and not as metal tomb on an asfalt highway would go directly; as a white water river, tumbling past rocks and filled with bears and fish, not as a sedate canal filled with leaves and locks; as a great storm cloud, growing and shedding as it pleases, shouting with thunder and lightning, not as the humid air, sucked out of a damp bathroom by a mould covered extractor fan.
I am a wild man. And yet, I am constrained by a world that demands my pound of flesh in spreadsheet fashion, a tax on my head. The figures I have to input are not the fish or fowl I have caught that day, but a record of the boring past, detailed out in receipts for adventures long forgotten. What of today’s adventures? Ha! He is not interested, that can wait a year.
And so, biltong, jerky, spicy dried out beef, whatever you wish to call it, I have cooked it up. I have smelt the delicious flavours that permeate my kitchen, causing my nose to anticipate the joy ahead. This man can Man.
I took a 2 kilo piece of beef, could have been buttock, a firm and fleshy, darkly marbled muscle; red meat for a man, weeping haemoglobin gravy. With a manly knife, a knife sharp enough to cut the paper of any spreadsheet, a Global carver, whose razor tooth bites softly and easily through what previously was living and will soon be feeding. Into strips I cut it, and into a large metal bowl it went, and followed by 150 grams of vinegar, 100 grams of soy sauce, 40 grams of salt, a tablespoon of crushed black cardamom seeds, a tablespoon of crushed coriander seeds, a tablespoon of crushed black peppercorns, a tablespoon of chilli flakes. And there, the man puts forward, is the marinade.
It was so delicious smelling, I had several strips for my supper, fried up and presented with a stir fry of field vegetables; mushrooms I like to thing were gathered at dusk under a full moon, courgettes picked by Eastern European labour on a Norfolk farm, onions lugged, in 70kilo bags, from truck, to lorry, to truck, to basket. Where does our food come from? Let the men out to hunt and gather.
The next day, the marinade smelt even better, and I put the strips onto a rack. The oven awaited but not for long, I gave it its meal of meat slices, and 3 hours later at 100 degrees, fan assisted, the full beauty of a home loved creation emerged, tender yet chewy, spicy yet delicate, pungent yet fragrant. Even the town hound was salivating, possibly because I had cut off strips of tougher bits and fed them to her raw. A 4 kilo dog, but a hound and a man’s hound at that!
The next time you feel like howling at the moon, do it. Your male sex hormones are girding your loins? Put on your loincloth and dance. You are feeling the saliva seep from your tongue? Your jaw is for biting and singing. The hair on your neck and hands is on end? Let that wolf within you out!
Shred the spreadsheet, the bank statement, the bill; dogs bite postmen because the dog is our best friend, and the postman only delivers reminders of a civilization we are ill suited to.
We are men.
We are proud.
We eat biltong.