Brian Viner: Country Life

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Here in Docklow, the festive break contained more emphasis on the word "break" than we would have liked. A few days before Christmas, Richard, who lives a couple of fields away, appeared at our kitchen window looking unusually agitated for a man who is normally as calm and resourceful as James Bond.

Jane let him in. He suggested that she might want to go upstairs with him, which is not the sort of offer she gets every day, even from me. He led her across the landing from east to west - it's a big landing - and gingerly opened our bedroom door. It was the gingerliness of a man who did not know what kind of dreadful scene might await him. And as he did so, a large male pheasant popped its head round the door, which gave Jane a considerable start. She doesn't expect to find large, handsomely plumed cocks in our bedroom, more's the pity.

It turned out that there was a shoot going on in the fields and woods around us, and Richard had winged this particular bird, which in panic had flown straight through our (closed) bedroom window.

Richard, whose Bond-like authority had by now returned, said to Jane, "I'll just be a moment", and went in to put the poor wounded pheasant out of its misery. That left us with the lesser, although still substantial, misery of having to clean up the mess, which was unbelievable, as though a bomb had gone off in a chicken factory. There was glass, feathers and blood absolutely everywhere; in fact only yesterday, some three weeks after the event, I found a small shard of glass at the bottom of my sock drawer.

There was also, of course, a pheasant-sized hole where there had previously been a window pane. But the next day Richard, whose deep reservoir of talent includes glazing, very decently returned and replaced the pane for us. When I expressed some surprise that the bird had been flying with sufficient velocity to burst through a window, Richard explained that when you're shooting pheasants, you have to aim well ahead of them, such is the speed at which they fly, especially when they're hurrying away from men with guns. He'd also been told by a former SAS soldier that even a sniper aiming at a man walking at a leisurely pace has to aim a metre or so ahead. This begs several interesting questions, the most disturbing of which is: why should an SAS sniper have occasion to shoot at a man walking at a leisurely pace?

Anyway, I cheerfully waved Richard off and went back to my office, where 10 minutes later I was found by my son Joe, who said that he'd been in the garden with the dogs and seen a smashed upstairs window. I smilingly explained that the smashed window he'd seen had now been repaired. "No, not your bedroom window," he said. "I think this might be a window in the spare bedroom."

My smile froze, and whereas lots of things freeze in my office during the winter, including a cup of tea on one notable occasion, the reason had nothing to do with the temperature. Surely, lightning had not struck twice?

Remarkably, it had. I opened the door of the spare bedroom to find the same scene that had greeted Richard and Jane the day before, with the added bonus of pheasant poo to go with the glass, feathers and blood. This time, happily, the creature, was not injured. It was standing under a chair looking rather proud of itself, but got very excitable when I tried to catch it.

I have learnt quite a lot of new skills since moving to the country, but cornering a pheasant in a bedroom is not one of them, so not very masterfully I phoned Richard and invited him back. He thought I was winding him up when I said that the same thing had happened again, although on reflection Jane and I think that both our house-breakers must have struck at about the same time, and that the pheasant in the spare room had spent the night there, which would explain the droppings.

Whatever, I'm glad to report that it lives, although not, we hope, to strike again another day.

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