Magazine article The Spectator

Fowl Play

Magazine article The Spectator

Fowl Play

Article excerpt

On the Saturday, hungover, we drove from London to Norfolk in dazzling sunshine. The further we drove into East Anglia the more wildlife we saw lying dead beside the road, pheasants particularly. If we'd stopped to pick up every dead pheasant we saw we could have opened a shop. Once, we saw a pheasant killed by a jeep coming in the opposite direction. It hit the jeep's windscreen and exploded into a thousand wind-blown feathers. I also counted three badgers, a rat and one huge light-brown hare dead in or beside the road. The hare looked undamaged. In Norfolk the fields are blue with flowers already.

First stop was my cousin's place for a barn dance. The barn was red brick and the dancing was to a Seventies disco. Those not dancing could keep themselves warm by standing under the gas-fired turkey heaters suspended from the roof. If you were a gent and you wanted to pass water, you followed signs that led ultimately to the exterior wall of a tractor shed. It had been whitewashed to the height of six feet to give you something to aim for in the darkness.

I won the last remaining prize in the raffle - a case of apple-juice. When I went to claim it I found it under an elderly farmer who was using it as a seat. As he gave it up he said, `You don't want that, boy - it'll go straight through you.' There was also a hog-roast. A genial red-faced sweating man energetically sliced off one of its shoulders and presented it to me between the halves of a small bap. The dancing, always vigorous, was frenetic for some of the old favourites. Even those who had been holding back took to the floor for 'YMCA' by Village People. The sight of all those macho country boys shaking a leg to the gay classic was arresting.

I don't remember leaving or going to bed, but the next morning we were woken by trumpeter swans trumpeting just outside the window. With full consciousness came the realisation that the trumpeters were merely the loudest section of a dissonant orchestra of my uncle's ornamental water-fowl collection. Yet another day of dazzling sunshine and a hangover began with a tour of these quacking, cheeping croaking fowl conducted by my uncle.

The last time I was up there my uncle had a rat problem. The rats had become immune to poison and were everywhere. …

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