And now, the riveting continuation of Sweettenorbull’s account of a jam his poor car got into; alas, the trusty vehicle is tangled up in blue, so to speak, and her driver and a certain bereft bird feeling a trifle–shall we say–unpleasant. . .
The Curse of the Pheasant
It might upset you to learn that the protagonist of my last post, the Citroën C3 I call Baby Blue, has blood on her hands – or strictly speaking on her wheels; or very strictly and completely literally speaking, since the blood (and feathers) on her wheels have long since come off, she is responsible (or very, very strictly speaking, since she is non-sentient, and I was at the wheel at the time, I am responsible) for the death of an innocent creature.
It happened in a low valley in the very west of Northumberland near the border with Cumbria, on a stretch of the A69 just west of Haltwhistle – the one time Scottish, now English town supposed (not without controversy) to be at the geographical centre of Britain. We were on our way home from a trip to Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. The A69 is, for most of the route, only one lane each way, so when a pheasant wanders into the path of your car, you must slow down and hope for the best, as you can’t veer out of the way – and, if there’s someone behind you, an emergency stop is not a great idea either. So when a pheasant, a big green-faced, russet-coloured male wandered into my path and started zig-zagging across the road in panic, and since there was a car coming the other way, all I could do was slow down. It evaded my car with yards to spare and – miraculously – escaped the wheels of the oncoming car on the other side by the feathers of its tail; so caught up was I in the survival of the pheasant cock, however, that I failed to notice the duller, smaller, beige brown pheasant hen that had followed her partner onto the road. Needless to say, thud!
Let us ponder for a moment the tragic scene left behind as the cars departed, leaving a distressed, but living green-faced pheasant on one side of the road, looking at a feathery lump of former pheasant hen on the other. One can’t help but anthropomorphise somewhat. The pheasant had lost his partner, and, because he had led her to her doom, must have felt a portion of blame for her demise; but alongside this self-reproach, and the harrowing sense of loss, must have burned hatred, a bitter hatred of the sky blue car that had flattened his paramour. The rattling squawk the pheasant emits signifies one wish above all others – revenge.
I ended my last post here with the shocking cliff-hanger ‘Baby Blue is sick’. (Yes, I quite knowingly used an Americanism just because it sounded snappier: apologies to those British, Irish and Commonwealth readers who would insist on ‘Baby Blue is ill’.) It is to the collision described above that my car’s declining health can be traced.
Of course, the idea of a person – or car – being cursed for having killed a pheasant is patently ridiculous; after all, pheasants are one of the most regularly slaughtered birds in the United Kingdom. For a start, there is their notoriously poor road sense. Pheasants could fly away from oncoming cars, but their instinct, for some unknown reason, is to run. They’re fine runners too, much faster than you’d expect – that’s not the problem. The problem is they don’t know where to run: seeming to expect a chase, instead of running out of the way they just run away, often in a straight line up the road. But road deaths are only half the story. As Simon Barnes in ‘A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion’ explains, ‘Pheasants prosper in an alien land because people love to kill them. Never can a creature have survived so well because of its ability to die.’ Pheasants were brought to this island hundreds of years ago because they were easy huntin’. When the British upper classes want a good work out, they jump on horses and hunt a fox to tear to pieces with a pack of baying hound (or they did, before it was banned), but if they only want a bit of light exercise, they’ll tootle outdoors with a shotgun and blow the brains out of a few dozen pheasants. If I’m cursed then so are about a million other Britons, and the upper classes en masse.
But come to think of it, a lot of aristocrats have lost their fortunes since the early 20th Century, with their country piles being turned into museums and their Chelsea town houses bought up by oil rich Arabs and Russians; they no longer receive the deference once automatically due to them from the lower orders and are roundly mocked in popular culture; their political party has been taken over by metropolitan neo-liberals, and their church by evangelists and social liberals; they’ve lost their pre-eminent role in British life, and the country they once ruled has lost its power and prestige in world affairs. Considering all that, maybe they really are cursed, and maybe Baby Blue is too.
It could be that the location of the death was significant. It occurred at the very centre of our ancient island, at a point, Celtic druids and drug-addled hippies claim, the ley-lines of Britain meet, magnifying the sin and strengthening the curse.
Because my car has never quite been the same since. A week or two later it had broken down halfway up a hill, and I was waiting for a rescue van to come and tow it. I sat on the grass under a tree, contemplating the inevitable blow to my bank balance.
And somewhere in the misty valleys of the Cumbria-Northumberland border a russet coloured pheasant squawked.
It still squawks today.