Pheasant Plucker

When I was a student in Winchester, we had a pheasant in the grounds of our student accommodation. My friend Harry and I named him ‘Eric’. The name has stuck throughout the years, and my children now call male pheasants Eric, and female pheasants, Edwina. Pheasants have always made me smile – they are beautiful birds that seem ever so slightly dim.

Now to divide the pack.

It’s that time of year when carcasses start to litter the Devon roads as pheasants fly into the path of passing cars. Perhaps this is their vain attempt to flee to a place of safety, or maybe a suicide mission to avoid the worse fate of being winged by shot and left to die slowly in the undergrowth.

You may have guessed I am not a fan of pheasant shooting. I have never understood the pleasure someone can get from blasting these poor birds. It’s not a ‘sport’, it’s a massacre. There’s nothing clever about it. I believe shoots are referred to as ‘driven’ or ‘walked up’. How much more pleasant a ‘walked up’ shoot sounds, but at the end of the day to the terrified birds it doesn’t matter much what it’s called, it’s the ‘shoot’ bit that matters.

I have friends and acquaintances who raise pheasants, host shoots or even go on shoots themselves. I just don’t know what to say to them. Is there anything remotely ethical about this activity?

pheasant-1337901-639x958I’ve read that over 35 million pheasants are released each year in the UK. 35 million. Bewildered, befuddled, beautiful birds that don’t stand a chance. 35 million birds that aren’t, in fact, native to this country. How many of them actually get eaten (which I admit at least offers a reason for killing them)? Not 35 million, that’s for sure.

Who owns the pheasants that escape from the shooting area, and who is responsible for the accidents caused by soft-hearted drivers, like me, swerving to avoid birds in the road? I remember clearly the first occasion that I did this, on my way to Warwick on the A46 in the 1980s. Thank goodness there was no-one behind me as I did a first-class emergency brake. I was told later that I should have just carried on, that the bird’s life was worth less than mine. But it’s hard to fight instinct, and, for me personally, hard to contemplate killing any creature (see ‘Slugs & Snails‘).

I’ve seen on more than one occasion, a female pheasant that has managed to raise pheasant-and-chickschicks in the wild. Like any bird, they are protective of their young. I was walking my collie once, when a bird leapt into the path and made a fearful racket, taking an attacking stance that threw the pooch off entirely. It wasn’t until I got close that I noticed the tiny baby pheasants on the path. Suffice to say we took a wide berth and left the mum to care for her little ones.

But this raises another memory, of a friend whose partner rears pheasants for a local shoot. I remember her saying ‘He’s got to go and check on them, he takes such good care of them.” Really? I don’t call releasing thousands of young pheasants to be blown away by stupid, inept people taking ‘good care’.

Two years ago, I ran over a pheasant for the first time (and I hope, the last). It ran out into the road and straight under the wheels of my car. There was nothing I could do about it, and I was mortified. The only solace I could take was that at least death was instantaneous and the bird would never be blasted by incompetent idiots, possibly wounded and left to die in agony.

Who needs an award anyway?

Trophies

When I was a kid, one hundred or so years ago, awards at school tended to be restricted to those who performed superlatively at sports.

Linda Moger, who could run a long distance race in the time it took me to get woman-jogging-blur-1429021-1599x2132to the fish and chip shop for scraps on a sneaky lunchtime leave of absence from school. (I just Googled Linda and there she is, still in Southampton, still running – now in Race for Life. All power, Linda).

Netball Sonia Richards, who was bustiest blonde netball GA ever in the whole universe. It’s true. Her beautifully poised shots had the whole team frozen in awe, let alone the opponents.

Karen Wilson whose javelin throwing took the school records to new heights (and lengths). I was a poor sequel to Karen when she left for sixth form, although I once achieved second place in Southampton School Athletics, mainly because only one other competitor turned up on the day.

Sports supremoes deserve awards. They are the rightful gods and goddesses of a school, in charge of the honour of the entire school against every other dastardly (and no doubt poor) educational establishment in the local area. Or at least, they were.

Now it seems there are awards for everything. How about the award for being the smiliest student that ever walked the planet? Or the award for being a pain in the arse and getting away with it. The award for managing to get to school every day, rain, snow, floods and scarlet fever notwithstanding. The award for never having missed the school bus. I know someone who was never going to win that one. Eh, daughter?

But of course, it doesn’t matter what the award is for. When the winner of the award is announced, it will be from a particular cohort of children. The shining ones, the blessed. I discovered recently that even the children who win awards have been heard to say “It’s always the same people….”.

Blessed onesI am delighted for the blessed. I know many of them at our local school and they are, without a doubt, deserving.

But the whole culture can create a have/have not scenario. As in those that have an award to pin to their corkboard or place on their bookshelf, and those that don’t. The award winners are the ones that will go on to do well (we know this because we have been told).

Is it just me, or does this not infer that those who never win awards, and there are many, are less likely to amount to anything?  Just me, then.

There may be a tiny chip on my shoulder here for the lack of trophies gained during my own school life. Though I did actually win an award at primary school, I’ll have you know. It was a Platinum Pen award for the best illustration of a poem. And indeed, I won a Platinum Pen (from the cheaper end of the range).

Did this award mean that I went on to do well?

One thing’s for sure, it was not as an illustrator.