Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wild Life: Aidan Hartley

Article excerpt


A lion has just mauled and partially eaten a warrior who tried to throw a spear in my guts while trespassing on my farm a few months ago. This man was from the same gang that in April attacked me with rocks and smashed up my left hand so badly the doctors were hours away from amputating two or three of my fingers. Apparently, the spear thrower was up to no good again, on private land some distance from here some nights ago, when a lion slunk out of the darkness and jumped on his back. It then moved to his buttocks, on which it began feasting. It was all up for the lad and you might as well have said, 'Yon lion's 'et Albert -- and 'im in his Sunday clothes, too...' But before he could be gobbled up entirely, the lucky chap's friends, who were nearby, came to his rescue and scared the predator off.

This news only underlines my ardent belief that in the end bullies will get their comeuppance. I'm not happy about the man's suffering; it is quite the opposite. I tremble at the inevitability of retribution, with the passing of time.

There was a moment, once, when I nearly broke under the strain of cattle raiding and invasion, my car riddled with rustlers' bullets, bleeding from the beating they delivered me -- and I discovered an extraordinary document called 'The Great Monition of Cursing'. In 1525 this historic curse, composed by the Archbishop of Glasgow Gavin Dunbar, was delivered from every pulpit in the Scottish Borders against the border reivers, the cattle raiders who brought chaos between the Esk and the Tweed from the reigns of Edward I to James I, who finally smashed it. George MacDonald Fraser's The Steel Bonnets is all about the reivers, for those who are interested, as I am, in tales of rustling and ruffians in general.

In my home parts, cursing is enthusiastically pursued. It seems everybody curses each other and curses are not simply insults; they have the power of spells. Once, a man cursed the dust of my footprints. Who knows, perhaps I can blame any of my misfortunes of the past decade on that. But I reckon whatever misfortunes I've had were due to my own mistakes or misdeeds, rather than to spells or bad luck.

For a while, I read Archbishop Dunbar's curses and pictured myself standing on my northern dry-stone wall, looking out and incanting the words:

'I CURSE thair heid and all the haris of thair heid; I CURSE thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair toung, thair teeth, thair crag . …

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