AN­DREW MAL­COLM

An­drew Mal­colm (56) is a for­ager, whale-watcher and guitar-maker. He gives na­ture walks for Cliff House Ho­tel. Born in Car­ry­duff, Co Down, he lives in Lis­more, Co Wa­ter­ford, with his wife, Ann, along with their dogs, horses, sheep and pet hare

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - WAKING HOURS - In con­ver­sa­tion with Ciara Dwyer

I’ve al­ways been a morn­ing per­son, but I’ve gone a bit off-piste since I got mar­ried, be­cause my wife is not a morn­ing per­son. When I was grow­ing up, I wasn’t even a proper teenager. I used to get up at 5am and go off on ad­ven­tures on my own. I’d leave a lit­tle note on the ta­ble — ‘left home at 5.13am’. Then I’d go off on 15-mile walks, and pick up stray dogs. We lived in the coun­try­side, near Portrush, a coastal town. I used to go across the fields and then walk across the beaches. I’ve al­ways been re­ally com­fort­able on my own.

Now, the alarm is set for 7.15am. In my pre­vi­ous life, I’d be chastis­ing my­self for stay­ing in bed so late. Now I get up and get the breakfast — we have por­ridge. I live with my wife, Ann. I usu­ally get her lunch ready to take to work. She is a le­gal sec­re­tary. I make sure that the dogs are fed. We’ve got two horses, and I go down and give them their hay.

I don’t re­ally have a typ­i­cal work­ing day, but one day a week I do the for­ag­ing and col­lect plants for the Cliff House Ho­tel in Ard­more. The for­ag­ing started 25 years ago. We had one of those lit­tle Ob­server’s books on wild mush­rooms. Ann, who was my girl­friend at the time, said, ‘Let’s go mush­room hunt­ing’, and I said, ‘OK’. So, we went down to the woods be­low. In the Ob­server’s book, on the first page, there was a porcini mush­room, which is the big­gest one you get in the con­ti­nent. And they were there, just be­low our house. And that was me hooked.

We cooked them, but it be­came ter­ri­ble for a while. I was col­lect­ing them all the time, and then I’d ring Ann say­ing, ‘Guess what’s for tea tonight?’ Ev­ery­thing had mush­rooms in it, and she hates them now.

When we found the mush­rooms, I knew that they were re­ally sought-after, but when I went around restau­rants, no­body was in­ter­ested. It wasn’t un­til the Cliff House Ho­tel opened that things changed. That was nine years ago. I met the man­ager, told him that I col­lected wild mush­rooms, and asked if the chef would be in­ter­ested. When I met the chef, Martin, he said, ‘Bril­liant. Bring as many as you can, and bring as many ed­i­ble plants as you can, too’. Back then, I only knew three ed­i­ble plants, in­clud­ing black­ber­ries, and now I know 80. It was a steep learn­ing curve. Also, back when I started out, there was no in­ter­net, so I was learn­ing ev­ery­thing from books. It was very con­fus­ing, but still, I didn’t poi­son any­one.

I sup­pose it’s a unique re­la­tion­ship, a chef having a for­ager who goes out and col­lects things for him, but Martin is in­cred­i­bly cre­ative, and a Miche­lin­star chef. I find it in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing, be­cause I’m learn­ing some­thing new all the time. I love it when I dis­cover new plants. I keep a log book, but even with­out look­ing at it, I prob­a­bly know 150 dif­fer­ent places where you can find cer­tain plants. I’ll know ex­actly where they are. I’m good at re­mem­ber­ing that, but my mem­ory for other things is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Ev­ery week, I will usu­ally phone my wife about three times ask­ing if she has seen my car keys.

When I am out for­ag­ing, my dog, Ocho, comes with me. Apart from the com­pan­ion­ship, she helps me. If she starts sniff­ing at a par­tic­u­lar place, I pay at­ten­tion to this. In the past, I didn’t, and then I made a rookie mis­take. In the car on the way home, I dis­cov­ered that a fox had peed all over the sea­weed I had just col­lected. No won­der she was in­ter­ested in it. I learnt my les­son.

I love what I do be­cause there is no­body over my shoul­der look­ing at me with a time sched­ule. When it’s nice and dry, it’s lovely. I bring a packed lunch with me and stay out all day. Peo­ple are sur­prised at how long the mush­room sea­son lasts. I still col­lect win­ter chanterelle mush­rooms in Fe­bru­ary.

For­ag­ing is in my blood. I sup­pose it’s the old hunter-gath­erer thing, just go­ing out and look­ing for things. It was like when I was a kid. My grand­par­ents lived on the Isle of Wight, and my grand­dad used to go out cock­ling. You dug them up with your toe, be­cause you’d see the lit­tle blue bruise-mark­ing in the sand. That kind of thing grabbed me. I was al­ways go­ing look­ing for things.

As part of my work, I also take peo­ple out on na­ture walks. It’s part of the pack­age with the ho­tel. I show peo­ple plants and we go whale-watch­ing. Win­ter is the best sea­son to see whales. Years ago, I didn’t even know that you could see whales in Ire­land. You see a lot of fin whales in Ire­land. They are the sec­ond largest an­i­mal on the planet. They look grey­ish in the dis­tance, but if you see them in the sun­shine, they have all these amaz­ing mot­tled colours. You can spot a whale from 20 miles away. You spot the blow — they are com­ing up for breath and they are ex­hal­ing. I tell guests that they may not see any­thing.

It takes in­cred­i­ble pa­tience waiting to see a whale, but you find that pa­tience is al­most di­rectly pro­por­tional to what­ever you are in­ter­ested in. Some­times we end up sit­ting on cliff-tops for a cou­ple of hours, and the time just passes. Not seeing any­thing is fine, too. Some guests have come straight from Lon­don, where they are stuck in of­fices, so, for them, sit­ting on a cliff-top, look­ing out at that ex­pan­sive sea, is very re­lax­ing.

When I go home in the evening, I feed our an­i­mals. We have a pet hare and a sheep, who eats a rock bun ev­ery day. We got both of them when they were very small and in­jured. After din­ner, I pur­sue my other interests. I buy old gui­tars, take them apart and put them to­gether again with bits of cop­per cylin­ders. Be­fore I learnt how to play the guitar, I made my own one. I’ve al­ways ques­tioned ev­ery­thing, and I like to see how things work. I com­pose mu­sic, too. The day isn’t long enough for all the things that I want to do. I like read­ing sci­ence fic­tion and de­tec­tive nov­els. I like things that I can solve. I have very vivid dreams. I once told one of my dreams to some­body and he asked me if I did acid. I said, ‘No, but do you think I should?’ He said, ‘No, most def­i­nitely not.’

It’s the hunter-gath­erer thing, go­ing out look­ing for things. I love it. And I don’t have any­one look­ing over my shoul­der

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