Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Pheasant and the Hypocrite

Feathers of a black pheasant

I have a confession to make.

I am a hypocrite and that's all there is to it.
Not even a reformed hypocrite. A continuing one, a confirmed one, dyed in the wool. Or in the feathers.
I daresay the Catholic Church has phrase to sum that up in one neat word, but not being a Catholic, I don't know what it is. Sinner probably.
I put it down to being a Gemini. There are constantly two of me - usually at odds with each other, and always, always arguing.

I'd better explain.

As you may have gathered from my meandering scribbles, I am first and foremost an animal person - the term 'animal' to include all things furred, feathered or wooled.

Charlotte and her lambs in years gone by

I wouldn't be madly into the creatures of the deep, although I do have goldfish in my pond, (and actually that is quite deep. Relatively speaking.) Or insects. And DEFINITELY not arachnids.

Dogs, cats, chickens, wild birds, sheep and donkeys would be at the top of my list, and I have often wished I lived near enough to a wildlife rescue centres to volunteer. Perhaps that's why my husband bundled me into a car and drove me as far west as he could - to the verge of the Atlantic - no animal rescue centres within sight on this edge of the world.

(Other than our own personal one, of course. Not always wild, the life here. We are currently babysitting Henri, a massive and totally adorable cat whose family have gone to Morocco on holiday. Well, for 3 months actually.

'Appy 'Enri aka the King of Siam reclining on his daybed

 They told me that although he loved being petted, he wasn't a lap cat. Ho ho. I have had to re-learn the art of typing to incorporate a bushel-load of fur and purr draped across my lap, keyboard, desk and arms.)

However, as usual, I digress.

It's pheasant that are occupying my mind at present.


I love pheasants - that rush of miraculous plumage as the males burst out of the undergrowth right beside you in the woods, their cackle of laughter as they speed away across the river. The delicate gold filigree of the hen's breast feathers. What a celebration of a bird the pheasant is!
And actually, there aren't many of them round here.

I often hear one in the orchard early on winter mornings, and last year, when the whole world was lost under snow and ice for what felt like months, I fed four of them every day. They are shy creatures and three of them never came near the house, so I put hen-food on an old board on top of the snow amongst the apple trees, and when they were sure I had gone away, they would come and feast.

Dressed to kill

The fourth one, a female in her delicate gold and black lace, came to the wild-bird table in the front drive, the one my hens treat as their local greasy-spoon, the cheeky toads.

.The hen pheasant became so friendly with Henrietta, my feisty little Silkie (see Run, Chicken, Run!) that I ended up writing a children's story about them.

Henrietta hen

A positive wealth of pheasants here, but not many at large, so I felt very privileged.
Until the shoot up in the woods. I never saw them again after that.
Maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe they were away in the fields that day, and made a run for it.
Got clean away and made a new home for themselves in someone else's orchard down the coast.
Or maybe they ended up on someone's dinner table.
I tried not to think about it too much. They are pheasant after all.
The trouble with me is, I could never, ever shoot a pheasant. I could never shoot anything.
I'd be a complete dead-loss on Kirsty's Desert Island, unless there were A LOT of coconuts.

Which brings me back to guilt and hypocrisy.

The gamekeeper from the woods - the woods that I love and live and breathe, the woods that I am so lucky to walk in every day, the woods that my dogs think they OWN, the woods where the herons eye me, and tolerate me and ask 'Don't you have a home to go to?', the woods where the pheasant surge up out of the undergrowth like colourful missiles on their trajectory over the river - the gamekeeper from those woods has just given me a brace of pheasant.

And that's the problem.
I love pheasant. It is delicious roasted with crispy parsnips and bread sauce.
It is scrumptious braised in cider and cream.
It is delectable cold, with redcurrant jelly, in a sandwich.
I would be hard pressed to say which of those three options I prefer.

And how kind of the gamekeeper to give them to me!

Pathetic, isn't it.
And the hypocrisy!

It's high time I had another brief fling with Hugh F-W..
He taught me a lot in our momentary encounter!
I shall focus my mind on all the lovely apples these birds have eaten in my orchard. On the beauty of the woods they were able to call home. On the freely available hen food they could feast on when times were lean. On the fact that although their lives may have been short, they were glorious, utterly glorious.

But I shall definitely eat them.


  1. My mother told me many years ago "life is full of compromise". Guess this is one. I have been given a brace of woodcock. Couldn't ever shoot them but, as I have never eaten them before, I can't wait to taste them.

  2. Mmmm, deffo eat them, husband shoots them, even supplys a veggi friend who makes an exception for a thing that lived wild and free.
    I don't like to tell her about the protholactic antibiotics that is in their feed.

  3. I have the same dilemma. I love animals and tried to be vegetarian once. My hubby saw me eating ribs and said that there is no way I could be a vegetarian. Many Tibetan Buddhists eat meat despite their religion, even the Dalai Lama.


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