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Why fungus isn't as scary as the bogeyman.

Byline: BILL OLDFIELD

WHILE my friends were getting into punk rock, I discovered the literary character, Fungus the Bogeyman.

Both were founded some time in the mid-70s and, for the uninitiated, one used to scare respectable, normal people using funny haircuts, offensive behaviour, questionable hygiene and shocking words while the other... well the other was exactly the same.

I've always loved live music and it was a really exciting time. If I were to try hard, I could probably remember some pretty wild evenings, crammed into smelly cellar bars whilst being abused by spotty youths who couldn't play their instruments. But I also enjoyed the idea of a children's book that, at the same time being clever with wordplay, was able to appeal to a child's sense of what parents considered rude and made the child laugh. Then again, I was a very young man and probably still laughed uncontrollably at toilet humour. Not until The Simpsons came along was there such naughty children's comedy.

I'm guessing that Fungus's creator, the marvellous Raymond Briggs, chose the name Fungus for his character because it conjures up images of damp and dirt with which The Bogeyman was associated. Mould is a type of fungus and is found in such places. But fungi also include mushrooms and toadstools which are found in nice places such as woodlands and meadows. But, because of the risk of being poisoned, the idea of toadstools is quite scary and, because of that, they've always reminded me of FTB. So for that reason, I recently booked myself onto a fabulously educational fungus foray in Hamsterley Forest. pounds 6.50 spent on two hours of crawling through the undergrowth accompanied by fungi experts was an absolute bargain. And the icing on the cake was that it resulted in food for free.

For a start, there are something like 3,000 species of what are known as large-bodied - big enough to eat - fungi in the UK. Now we all know that some fungi are poisonous but did we know that only around 20 or so of those 3,000 are actually really harmful? Still, odds of one in 150 aren't good enough for me as far as my life is concerned, so I continued listening and learning. Because it's not as easy as being able to recognise a particular tree or flower due to the fact that each nasty toadstool looks like half a dozen other edible ones.

To reinforce this, our lead instructor had a bit of a laugh at my expense when I asked him if one particular pretty variety I'd found was poisonous. He suggested I broke it open and have a little nibble which, much against my better judgement - but egged on by my fellow students, I did. Surprisingly I didn't drop down dead but I did experience a burning sensation on my tongue and lips which told me I shouldn't eat it. "So that's how we establish if a fungi is poisonous?" I asked. "No", I was told, "only in certain circumstances".

The fact is, there's no one clear rule and if you're to collect fungi to eat, you really need to study the subject before dispensing with the services of an expert. But because we had experts with us that day, I was able to return home triumphant with a bag full of chanterelles. And there's nothing better on an autumnal Sunday teatime than a pan of sliced chanterelles, sauted in butter with a little garlic and parsley.

I reckon that I can now identify the two edible types of chanterelle but that's about as far as my knowledge currently goes. To succeed, you need a bit of skill and education. And it's there that the connection between fungus and punk rock parts company.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 4, 2011
Words:630
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