By Daniel Igra
A woman peeling and carving up an ox tongue. A man reading erotically charged descriptions of human slaughter. An audience squeaking plastic hamburgers and turkey drumsticks. In the dark underbelly of a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. This was Hackney at its weirdest and arguably worst – certainly for the vegetarian who accompanied me. But at least there was plenty to laugh at.Ox Tales, a highlight of this month’s London Word Festival, was billed as an evening of “literary top-cuts and fleshy delights”, culminating in the aforementioned butchery demonstration. In truth literary tripe and fleshy disgust – especially when the aroma of cured tongue-meat filled the room – proved more appropriate descriptions, though there were some prime moments.
Among the offal on offer was a reading by Joseph D’Lacey, who took us to the gruesome abattoirs of Abyrne described in his novel Meat. If the graphic depictions of people being “spread-eagled on slabs” before having their testicles removed were not disturbing enough, D’Lacey’s evident excitement over his own text led me to fear for my safety sitting in the front row. This was a man with meat cleavers for arms after all. Particularly sinister were his squeaks on a plastic hamburger (handed out at the beginning of the evening) at the climax of each depraved passage.
D’Lacey’s alarming eroticism was returned to safer – albeit more boring – ground by Cockney poet Tim Wells, who read a piece about Guardian readers “bullying” their sausages in a greasy spoon somewhere in ‘orrible gentrified London. It wasn’t only the hackneyed theme that caused my attentions to stray. With his considerable girth and brown and cream brogue trotters, I was preoccupied by visions of D’Lacey butchering the man with his forearms.
Better attention was paid to Ross Raisin, a waiter at Smith’s of Smithfield (the restaurant renowned for its unusual meat dishes) and the author of celebrated novel God’s Own Country. The passage he read, told in the voice of the sociopathic son of a sheep farmer in the Yorkshire Moors, was lyrical and haunting And in Karen Hayley the evening had a charming compere, who, like all good hosts, started and failed to end a range of dubious anecdotes and jokes.
The night ended with chef Abigail Oborne holding aloft a gigantic slab of tongue before attacking it with a knife and serving it up as canapés. All the while an assistant read out yet another butchery-themed poem. Weird. And, as my vegetarian friend pointed out, time to go.
Video filmed and edited by: Daniel Igra and Oliver Shah