Walking west out of Gatwick this morning, already pretty muddy from the banks of the rerouted River Mole (it doesn't flood so much as fail to absorb its tributaries, but v pretty - a kingfisher, lots of watervoles), and slipping and sliding over very wet chalk and clay on the bridleway to Charlwood, when I start catching up with a cock pheasant hurrying along the track.
Fifty yards later I'm on its heels, and it ducks through the hedge and starts walking parallel to me, beading me the while. The way is blocked by a semi-submerged, semi-destroyed farm gate, and as I figure out how to get over without drowning or dying of tetanus, the bird rushes out and starts pecking hard at my legs. I back off, it follows, I kick it along the track, it runs back, its eyes bright red, and starts flying round, Hitchcocking my head with beak and claws. I try an impossible karate kick of a type previously attempted on two Bosnian assailants in a place called Enschede. Then: a week off work for me with a bad back, broken legs for one of them when they encored their trick on some nightclub bouncers. Today: me to early mudbath, pheasant in hedge, undamaged and making bloodcurdling broody hen gurgles.
Evidence from the cream of British MSM (Daily Mail, Telegraph) suggests a niche support group may be in order for the victims of pheasant attacks. (The Japanese have more aggressive pheasants - see eg Momotarō - but Asian species are different.) I guess this case was a combination of familiarity with humans and territorial defence, although various evidence suggests that the latter is normally common in spring - so maybe it's all down to global warming. Whatever, I don't imagine this particular bird will last long in a Boxing Day shoot.
I have been attacked by various animals, mainly while cycling, and own a fantasy repertoire of defences, mostly acquired from a Yankee cyclepath (eggcorn: wheeled psychopath), conceived with dogs and cardrivers in mind, and all completely unimplementable for a plump coward like myself. For example: as it closes in, bite snout hard and pull forelegs apart till ribcage cracks, eat heart; grab tongue and pull it out; thrust bike pump hard down throat; etc. Bulls you are meant to punch on the nose, horses and cows do actually respond well to arm-windmills, large herds of bullocks or heifers will trample you to death whatever you do, bears... But I'd never considered the threat posed by the humble pheasant, apart from its spikey little bones when you give it to a drunk with a meat cleaver to butcher and then casserole the remains.
On an entirely different note, the ignorance of country folk re their local topography never ceases to amaze. I was walking today without chart or compass - going west isn't that difficult with a watch on a sunny day - and was a tad confused when I left the pub in Newdigate, a village I'd never heard of. Asked for directions to the easiest station to walk to, both a mother-with-child from the social housing and an elderly bourgeois leaning on his gate nominated not Ockley but Dorking, which is actually roughly twice the distance but probably quicker by car.
And this is of course not just a British disease. Cycling once in Poland, I became nervous when, in a forest with no-one else in sight, a car containing three burly gents overtook, gestured at me to stop, and, when I overtook them with all the nonchalance I could muster, returned the compliment, this time blocking the road:
- Sorry to bother you, but can you tell us the best way to Wroclaw/Breslau?
- How do you expect me to know when I've obviously just crossed the border?
- Foreigners always have maps.
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