This is a real story of life as an eight year old in Cyprus in 1960 during the activities of EOKA terrorism. A time when there was no Health and Safety, and boys were able to be boys. I often used to go out in the morning and not be seen by my parents until teatime.
At eight years old I was not what my mother expected. Boys rarely are.
I regularly bought home insects: scorpions, snakes, chameleons; leaving them in places where it was guaranteed to scare my Mother or Sisters into a mass of screaming quivering jelly.
My Father was never around, off somewhere playing soldiers. So, I was never in an environment where football or other team skills were cultivated. As a result I became a bit of a Wild Child and found my own entertainment in the deserted terrain surrounding home.
Much of this centred on the wildlife frequenting the Island where I lived. I learned to climb trees way off in the distance away from human habitation that were upwards of sixty to seventy feet high. There I would fight the crows for their eggs so I could bring them down and blow them for my collection.
I had quite a lot stuffed under my bed in an old shoe box. Anything I wanted to keep was hidden there. The one place guaranteed to be out of reach of my Mother and Sisters because they were terrified of what they might find.
One day the goat herder who, when I was out roaming, would sometimes allow me to lie under his goats and receive their milk straight into my mouth, beckoned for me to leave my backyard (which was on the edge of the military camp overlooking a drop into a large wadi), and follow him
It wasn't unusual for me to do so. In my day predators were much closer to home than goat herders who were themselves often isolated individuals, lacking social skills and the ability to survive in educated company. My mother disapproved of my friendship of this wizened, but ageless spectre who seemed to appear and disappear with alarming ease.
As I vanished off into the wadi out of sight of my Mother, I stopped at the usual place where the goat herder would sit in the shade, usually making a small fire and cook his foul coffee blend, steeping it in sugar before drinking it from a tiny metal cup.
Euugh! As an eight year old I wasn't aware of any benefits of drinking caffeine, especially a mouth full of grouts.
Today, the Herder had his satchel open and was taking out string and his sharp knife, which he used sometimes to peel and cut fruit for me from the trees that frequented the wadis. He also used it to dig stuff out of the sheep's hooves and various other grisly jobs. As an eight year old this didn't faze me in the slightest. I wanted a knife just like it and watched jealously whenever he used it.
Today was special, the Herder pulled out a rabbit he had caught in a snare. It looked big to me. It was dead. He handed it to me for my critical approval. I took it, the body still soft, although no longer warm was heavy. I nodded approvingly as he retrieved it from me and tied a string around each of the paws. He smiled as he watched my intent interest in the proceedings.
Two tall stakes of wood had been driven into the ground at an interval of about three feet and two shorter ones slightly in front of them. The Herder tied each of the legs and then the string to each of the stakes in turn until the rabbit was stretched upside down over the space between them.
Then taking his knife he cut around the first back leg at the first joint, beckoning me closer, he gave me the knife and I did the other back leg. He didn't take the knife back, but instead took out another he had in his jacket.
Then showing me how to proceed with skinning it we worked our way down the carcase together sliding the sharp knife between the skin and the flesh until we had reached the head. Then with one swift cut he removed it with the pelt attached and laid it in front of the carcase.
Returning to the top of the rabbit which now looked strangely naked with just four furry boots on and he made an incision at the top of the stomach and carefully pointing the blade outwards, slit the belly down to the neck. The innards hung out and a few more deft strokes of his knife released them from the carcase. They landed on the skin which had been laid out fur side down.
Together we made short work of cutting out the heart, kidneys and liver. The rest of it he took over to his dog which was kept a goodly distance from us as it was guarding the herd. Returning he relaid the skin at the foot of the stakes and then cut away the joints of rabbit until there were only the two single furred paws hanging loosely from the string.
Taking two of the legs, he spit them and hooked them over the fire that had been burning and we tidied up and awaited the cooking meat.
The remaining joints he wrapped in the skin and returned to his satchel.
Taking down the string and removing the rabbit paws, I suddenly had an idea and took some string out of my pocket and tied one of the paws to it and hung it around my neck. A lucky rabbits foot.
The Herder looked on, a mad twinkle in his eye and nodded in approval. We sat and enjoyed the now cooked meat. Afterwards the knife coming out once more to slice an apple which we both shared.
That night when I removed my lucky talisman before going to sleep I placed it under my bed in the shoebox along with the egg shells. It didn't smell, much. It was four days later when my Mother decided to clean my room for only the second time that year. You can never figure Mothers.