Stranger Than Fiction: Some Men Are Better off Living Alone, as Bodmin Moor's Eccentrics Prove
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
Wonderland: the Man Who Eats Badgers
What do you keep in your freezer? The contents of mine are as follows: frozen peas (one packet), frozen chicken stock (one large tub), ice cream (four flavours). On Bodmin Moor, at the home of Arthur, a retired civil servant from Watford (23 January, 9.50pm), the contents of the family freezer were rather more outre--and, no, I don't mean he'd made the mistake of buying a job lot of canapes from Iceland Foods.
"Here's badger legs," he said, wielding the first of a series of leaden packages. "Hedgehog, fox, squirrel, dog ..." Next, he pondered over a rigid pelt of grey fur, like a housewife who is wondering exactly how old some square of leftover lasagna is. "This is an otter," he said. Finally, he grabbed hold of ... Oh, no. Look away, children. In his hands was a white barn owl (no discreet plastic wrapping, this time), stiff and cold, like a giant ice lolly, only with, er, feathers. "Very nutritious," said Arthur. He was practically smacking his lips at the prospect.
Many people mistakenly thought that the genius of The League of Gentlemen lay in its supreme weirdness; in fact, its brilliance was largely down to its unnerving closeness to a certain kind of real life, as I always claimed, despite the sneers of my metropolitan friends. But I bet they believe me now, eh? Royston Vasey lives!
Wonderland: the Man Who Eats Badgers was pure Royston Vasey, from the clandestine activities of the meat-obsessive Arthur (cf: Mr Briss the butcher) to the tuneless hymn-singing of Peter, an ageing farmer and lay preacher (even his teeth were not dissimilar to those of Bernice Woodall, Royston Vasey's hellfire-and-damnation Welsh vicar). The documentary was part of a series filmed on Bodmin Moor, which is admittedly not very northern, but the desolation was the same: battered caravans, fallen pylons, hunkered-down stone chapels. As the camera panned across the landscape, the grey sky roiling like the sea, it was as if a giant had recently passed by and kicked the place to pieces.
Clifford was on the run from ex-wives and--more chillingly--"ex-children". He spent his days on the moor, looking for its mysterious Beast. "Bodies," he said, "can disappear on Bodmin Moor any time." Was this a hint? I thought of Arthur's freezer. …