Tim Key: 'We'd acquired the reindeer head from a Finnish military man called Snoopy'


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The Independent Online

I'm sat in my flat waiting for the paint to dry on the wooden hippopotamus's head I recovered from beside the road yesterday while we were driving back from a Salisbury-based taxidermist who had agreed to clean the maggots off the reindeer's head we imported from Lapland six weeks ago.

When you are asked to do a column by some lady at The Independent and you say yes, one consequence is that you then actually have to do it. For that to happen, it's really important that each week either (a) something happens to you or (b) you think of something. From there, it's then just a case of writing it down until your page is full up and emailing it to the contact you've been given.

So when my idiot-friend Jelson asked me to drive to Wiltshire so a man called Shaun could power-hose a reindeer's head to the bone, it was actually a massive relief. He picked me up from a roundabout and for two hours we drove, ate Jelly Babies and discussed how many bags the reindeer's head was in. The problem was that because it had decomposed so much, it wasn't particularly messing about smell-wise. Jelson initially said he had double-bagged it, but because I was shouting at him and my face was going green, he later said he had quadruple-bagged it to assuage me. I knew it was a lie and we pressed on. It was good to be out of London.

We'd acquired the head from a Finnish military man called Snoopy in March while shooting a short film about man's relationship with nature in Luosto, Lapland. We charmed it through customs and Jelson "half-buried" it in his back garden as a stopgap while he worked out what to do next. This was a problem because Jelson lives with his parents (he is a cross between a man and a little baby) and anyone who's ever done this in their thirties will know that half-burying a reindeer's head is exactly the sort of thing parents are talking about when they say, "You know you're welcome here but don't take the piss". So he'd googled taxidermists and found one near Stonehenge.

Shaun's reaction to the head once we'd taken both bags off was enigmatic enough. He was an experienced taxidermist who kept ferrets and had once done a lion. But even he sneered at the maggots. He started pulling the fur away from the skull and slicing the leather away with a scalpel while almost inaudibly telling us most taxidermists would tell us to sling our hook. Jelson knew that, having explained the situation to several London-based taxidermists. That's why we were in Salisbury.

Shaun fed his ferrets some bits of the head and did things involving boiling and acid to our reindeer and trotted out an anecdote about some sod who'd shot a jay, and then he triple-bagged the rotten flesh and maggots and wiped his hands down on his jeans and we shook hands and left. We had a quick snoop around Stonehenge (which is impressive when you remember it pre-dates cranes), stopped to watch some posh people training for a polo match (each posho uses four horses per game) and headed home. And it was as we came through Shepherd's Bush that we spied a wooden hippopotamus's head, discarded by the side of the road. We pocketed it, bought paint from Homebase and Jelson dropped me home. Big high-five.

The first thing you have to do, when you acquire a wooden hippopotamus's head, is to wipe it down and then fill any gaps there might be with caulk. Then you let this set before applying brilliant-white undercoat. Then you wait, while cycling through your photos of a thick-set man lowering a reindeer's head into an industrial boiler by its antler. Only once it is dry can you add a coat of bright-pink satin and work out how you're going to fix it to your wall so you have an off-beat nod to big-game hunting in your flat.

I'm in that inbetween moment now. Drinking Ribena and writing my column for The Independent. I think I needed a day out of London to clear my head. It worked. I feel like I've completely demaggoted it and painted it brilliant white.