Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

It would be very wrong of me to compare myself with Saint Francis of Assisi - or even with his modern-day equivalent, Rolf Harris - but I feel I've done my bit for the animal kingdom this week, all the same.

First there was the little black lamb. I noticed it in the field next to our house, unable to stand. The rest of the flock had all legged it for some important sheepy reason to the next field up, so this little guy was left all alone, and there was a buzzard circling overhead with what looked like dangerous intent. So, whether or not it needed rescuing, I decided to rescue it.

I clambered over the stile, picked up the lamb, clambered back out of the field and carried it into our kitchen, where the children fussed over it while Jane phoned Roger, the farmer. Shortly afterwards I needed to go to the post office five miles away in Leominster, where I noticed several people in the queue sniffing the air. There was indeed a rather pungent smell, and, while folk in the country are used to ripe aromas, they don't necessarily expect them while they're waiting to buy 20 first-class stamps.

Gradually I became aware that the pungent smell was coming from me, the lamb having defecated fairly copiously on to my trousers. Why it had taken me so long to realise this, I don't know. Nobody at home had pointed it out, even though I don't knowingly make a habit of entering the kitchen stinking to high heaven. Perhaps, in all the excitement over the lamb, it simply wasn't noticed. Whatever, it was the first time in about 41 years that I had been the source of a serious smell in a post-office queue, so in one sense it was an almost Proustian experience.

My next encounter with wildlife was remarkably similar to my first. The very next day, at the bottom of the garden, my older son found a baby bird that had evidently fallen out of the nest. Again I carried it into the house and again I was crapped on; nobody ever tells you that there is a price to pay for saving birds and animals, and that it comes in the form of excrement. St Francis must have been covered in the stuff.

Anyway, we put the bird in a shoebox, following the advice of our neighbour Will, a professional wildlife consultant. He said that because it was nearly dusk, we should keep the creature in overnight and in the morning put it back on the grass, where its mother would find it.

He also loaned us a book called Care of the Wild by WJ Jordan and John Hughes, which advises on first-aid procedures for wild animals and birds. We didn't really need it, but I have been leafing through it, fascinated, ever since. It was first published in 1982 and is written in an exquisitely dry manner. Apparently, if you ever have cause to handle an incapacitated stoat, weasel, polecat or pine marten, "a pair of fairly stout gloves would be distinctly advantageous". Invaluable advice, I'm sure you'll agree.

As for the bird, we kept it in a shoebox in the kitchen and did exactly as Will said the next morning, although not before an unfortunate misunderstanding had narrowly been averted, when our other son asked if this was the shoebox containing the toys he'd been asked to send to earthquake victims in Pakistan. I had horrible visions of small Pakistani children comparing their gifts: a kaleidoscope for you, a rubber ball for you, a dead fledgling for you.

And, speaking of dead birds, I must now admit to my last good deed of the week, which was to wring the neck of a chicken, one of our Warrens, which was manifestly on its last legs.

I rather surprised myself by despatching it quickly and dispassionately, and reflected afterwards that I had obviously come of age as a countryman; when we last had cause to terminate the life of one of our chickens, we had to call in Malcolm from four fields away. That was once I'd rejected Jane's suggestion that I do it in a time-honoured townie way, by running over it in the Volvo.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is now available in paperback, priced £7.99 (Simon & Schuster)

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