Days actually, well in fact one day. To be precise a morning. It was enough. St. Bonaventure’s had taken me on a visit to Bootle Gasworks. Mable Fletcher Tech College took us to an abattoir.
I read somewhere that Hannibal, before crossing the Alps, had to cross the River Rhone with a bunch of reluctant elephants. His solution was to build rafts, each holding three elephants - one female to every two males - the principle being that the female would have a calming effect. Makes you wonder what we’re paying modern psychiatrists all the money for.
Anyway, this principle proved true on our visit to the slaughtering house. The boys showing a certain raucous callousness which in effect hid our discomfort, and the girls, afraid of retreating into a stereotypical ‘girlishness’, biting their lips, sometimes turning away as blood spattered a little too close.
I don’t know really what was worse, the clanging of metal gates, the smell of blood and fear, men coarsened by habit, their shouts echoing over the dying. On balance I think it was in the eyes of the animals.
We stood alongside a long and narrow metal pen filled with cattle squashed in single file. There was no escape for them and they knew what was happening. At the far end was a man with a stun gun, which in theory was quick and painless. The process was simple: stun, hook on to an overhead conveyor belt, which in turn led to where they were skinned and dismembered. They were still writhing and twitching as they passed overhead, each on a strong metal hook. ‘Just their nervous systems girls and boys. They’re all dead.’ Great.
We stood watching these animals, distancing ourselves with varying degrees of success. It was their eyes - anger, fear, dull acceptance - there was no single expression. Sometimes a cow would go wild and try to shoulder down the walls on either side, but with no space, there was no momentum - only the relentless push from the other cows behind.
Pigs however were killed a little more humanly, not so much from mercy, more pragmatism. We learnt that a frightened pig releases amino acids which give their meat a sour taste. I thought of south sea cannibals eating their ‘long pig’, and whether we released amino acids when scared, whether missionaries had sour meat.
Anyway, I digress. These fortunate pigs were allowed to run between a man’s legs whereupon what looked like ear-phones were placed over its head. Instead of Bruce Springsteen they got an electric shock, and before they knew what had happened they were pushed into a giant vat of boiling water.
Kosher killing we were assured was pretty painless. The chickens didn’t look to happy though.
As ‘day-outs’ went, it wasn’t the best.