To all plant-based food munchers – please be warned! This article contains meat. And a bit of blood and gore. So you wouldn’t read this to your kids at bedtime – even if you do eat animals.

Getting the chop often has nothing to do with keeping a watchful eye on your chosen tjop on the braai. As we all know, the best cuts always go first, but sometimes that first cut isn’t always the best.

I’m referring to the other kind of getting the chop. Like when you’re fired, dropped from the jukskei team, or receive a ‘Dear John’ text. Worse still though (as the original meaning implies), is having your head separated from your body with an axe.

In the old days, beheadings were reserved for special occasions. Regular criminals were usually just ‘hanged by the neck until dead’. These public executions were treated by the shuffling masses as a festive day out. Temporary food stalls and shebeens were erected, and people got drunk and cheered the executioner after each dangling corpse stopped twitching – sometimes 15 or 20 minutes later. Great entertainment for the whole family.

“C’mon kids – it’s a lovely day to be out in the sunshine. Go and fetch Mom from the pub and tell her we’re going to the festival in town. It’s Execution Day!” (Yaaay! from the kids).

Occasionally, over the years, knots slipped or ropes snapped, and the blindfolded thug would hurtle to the ground. Sustaining nothing more than a snapped shinbone or dislodged pelvis, he’d be dragged back up to the gallows, so the hangman could attempt a ‘take two’.

Anyway, back to beheadings and getting the chop. There’s a case in England where the first ‘chop to go’ was certainly not the best for government executioner, John Ketch (1685).

He was instructed by the recently crowned King James II to behead the Duke of Monmouth, at the time imprisoned in The Tower. Now Monmouth, being the oldest – though illegitimate – son of the previous monarch, King Charles II, claimed succession rights to the crown – and bugger half-brother James.

Seriously un-chuffed, King Jimmy wanted to make an example of this pretender, so he instructed Ketch to use an axe – not the rope. This would make the spectacle of Monmouth’s demise more horrific for the howling, bloodthirsty hordes.

Sadly, our chum Ketch was more of a noose guy than an axe guy. He’d already made a total cock-up of beheading Lord Russell recently, and certainly didn’t need a repeat. The long-handle axe he used on Monmouth was also rather unusual. The deep, triangular blade was slightly concave, designed more for carpentry than dismembering, so swinging it from above the head and striking the exact spot was literally a hit-and-miss affair.

Ketch made his living from killing people legally, and depending on the fee, could create whatever extravaganza the budget allowed. According to the records, James insisted that no gore was to be spared. What happened next must have cheered him up immensely.

While kneeling before the chopping block, Monmouth saw the axe and immediately protested that the blade was too blunt. The arrogant Ketch claimed he was no amateur at murder, so Monmouth just had to grim and wear it.

Well, the first swing missed the neck altogether and glanced off the back of Monmouth’s head. It wasn’t heavy enough to be fatal, and with Monmouth still conscious and yelling “Too blunt!” Ketch took another swing. And another…

After five unsuccessful attempts, he eventually had to use his Swiss Army knife to detach the head completely. It was not his finest hour. Nor was it Monmouth’s, for that matter.

Now, to make things more unpalatable, apart from his wages and bribes, Ketch made a fortune from dismembering and selling off pieces of the deceased – a thigh here, a hand there – and the more famous/notorious the nobleman/villain, the more expensive the off-cuts.

Well, without sticking my neck out, I’m sure some folks will look at braai tjops differently from now on – even a vegan or two.

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