Monday, 17 August 2009

Dead in tooth and claw

Mortality is everywhere in the countryside. No wonder I find the whole business so fucking depressing.


***


"Look at my feather, Auntie Emma!" says my niece, waving it under my nose. "It's from a dead wood pigeon! We took it straight out of the FLESH".

"Oh? Is that the dead bird out in the barn of doom?" As ever, the barn of doom is staffed with a full compliment of dead creatures and rusting agricultural machinery.

"No! This one is all rotten and its head had come off!"

"Ah. Right".


***


Not to be outdone, eldest son starts fishing around in the drains for toads with a slotted spoon he has taken from the kitchen. He shouts excitedly for me to come and see what he has found. What he has found is a tiny pink and white bloated mouse corpse. Far too exciting for the mere slotted spoon, he is holding it by one pathetically tiny white paw in his hand. Smiling fixedly, I escort him into the house for decontamination.

"Grandad! We found a baby mouse dead!" he says, enunciating carefully in English but with his own brand of Belgo-syntax.

My father rouses himself briefly from sour contemplation of a tiny newt, also discovered swimming in a fetid dead mouse soup in the drain. He is very much hoping will not turn out to be the hideously rare and protected Great Crested variety, which will put paid to any home improvement plans he may have envisaged.

"Oh? What kind of mouse do you think it is?" He reaches for the large guide to native British flora and fauna.

"Hard to say" I tell him bleakly "One at an advanced stage of decomposition".

Revived by dead fauna - we soon establish after close examination of its tiny, pathetic tail that it is probably a field vole, since the parent and its droppings have been sighted in the utility room - the Bearded One takes me aside and whispers gleefully to me the treat he has kept in store for the children when they get bored with poking wasps and contracting tetanus.

"We found a baby dead fox on the lawn a few weeks ago and I dumped it in the forest. I thought maybe I could lead an expedition to examine its corpse!"

"Sounds marvellous" I say and go and lie on the bathroom floor until a large earwig crawls over my face.



***



Desperate for light relief after this catalogue of decay and destruction we place all the children in front of an edifying natural history DVD about amphibians. With hindsight, cartoons would have been wiser.

"What is sperm?" asks my nephew.

"It's complicated" says my brother after the briefest of pauses, with the heavy finality of one who has no desire to talk four under 8s through the facts of life today. In the background David Attenborough continues to burble excitedly about the female tree frog's "genital holes". The adults try to avoid each other's eyes.


***


Finally we concede defeat at the hands of nature and head for the Cotswold Farm Park where everything that would be discovered here dead can be seen live and relatively salubrious, petted and fed. It's country lite and it comes with added cake. I am in favour. Of course, we cannot tell my nephew where we are going due to his great distaste for everything farm related so must maintain the fiction that we are going to "a playground". He bravely tolerates the presence of various horrors - small, pungent slotty eyed Soay sheep, tiny chicks and piles of sleepy, warm kune kune piglets, and my new lust object (entirey superceding Number 18, the beach pony from Trouville), a two day old spotty baby donkey called Florence - before collapsing in horror and rage and having to be removed from the premises and bought a giant gleaming black rocket launcher. Thus mollified he stomps around the car park, muttering at the various outrages of the natural world.



On the way home, lightheaded with buttercream poisoning and goat sniffing, I insist we stop off in Tescos for Grazia and a bottle of Tesco's Value gin. Giddy with the possibilities of an actual British supermarket, I spin round the aisles accumulating shitty foodstuffs.

"Auntie Emma?" says my niece piteously "This is all JUNK FOOD".


"Yes, but" I lie "You can't get junk food in Belgium. Your cousins are going to take it back and show it at school". I inhale a KitKat Chunky Caramel while her back is turned and hide the wrapper in my pocket.


On our return as the body snatchers set off for more corpse watching, I sneak away to try, with little hope, to check my email. The internet miraculously, momentarily, sparks into life. It's like a tiny miracle of life, at last.

17 comments:

Sinda said...

My step-mother would like your father. When I was in high school, she'd find dead animals - hawks, owls, goats - and place them or their heads in our freezer. After I opened one in search of food, she started marking them DO NOT OPEN. Not that I needed the warning, any more - I stopped opening the freezer door altogether.

Also, FYI, stay away from nature shows which might depict whales or elephants mating. You really can't avoid the conversation after you've witnessed that.

Provincial Lady said...

Oh God that sounds truly horrendous! What are they doing to you, I can only be thankful for the delights of kune kune piglets (did you know they've bred them to fit in a teacup when they're born down here in the West country?) and English junk food to preserve and succour our favourite, city-bred Waffle. So much for nature programs, do they not realise you are a niche-environment creature that doesn't thrive outside it's natural habitat? Come back to the internets in one piece!

Helena Halme said...

We once found a baby deer curled up, dead, on our doorstep of a school morning. (We live in the sticks.) 'Bambi', my daughter screamed.

My offspring are obviously not as tough as yours, would a trip to Belgium save them at this late stage? (Ages 22 & 18)

Thank goodness you have an internet connection, my day is saved.

The City Road said...

Sounds like a Home Counties version of The Wasp Factory. Terrifying.

hairyfarmerfamily said...

Countryside lite?!
AWESOME!

Insomniac Mummy said...

I'm sooooo looking forward to such a gruesome phase in my children's lives.

It may involve therapy.

;)

screamish said...

there's no supermarkets like supermarkets from HOME. even if the food is inedible. we went to a 24 hour Tesco in Cambridge a couple of years ago on a trip to the UK, blew my mind. i bought such CRAP. Plus my step-mother-in-law demanded organic so we spent like 2000 euros on a trolley.

I need to know more about SINDA's step-mother, though (first commenter)

personally though ive always found monkeys/gorilla mating footage to be the most disturbing to watch with family, it's like accidentally putting your neighbours' racy VHS home video in the machine instead of Sleepless In Seattle. Vaguely arousing but deeply embarrassing...(or am i sharing too much here?)

Completely Alienne said...

Possibly it is a boy thing; my girls didn't like squishy dead stuff. Their dad did though - he used to bury things and then dig them up later for the skeletons. He was miffed for years because he waited too long for a fish skeleton and by the time he dug it up everything had gone.

Is Prog Rock depressed? His reading list made me feel depressed.

Iheartfashion said...

My children would enjoy the country as much as yours; they can never get enough dead things. We stopped to examine closely a flattened turtle in the road recently. It was the highlight of their day.

Stacy said...

Oh, lordy.
Poor you. Anytime there is even animal demise mentioned I, too, have to grab one of the living ones and self-soothe.
This one young lady was describing the demise of a young raccoon in her backyard last night. I ended up clutching the goddamn giant freak greyhound in my lap.

Stacy said...

Helena, that's just beyond terrible.
I would likely commit public seppaku after that sight.

Grit said...

come and spend some time in the company of the fringe elements that meet in english fields, dear jaywalker. i have met there people who eat only road kill.

Chantal said...

Oh God, I think you deserve Grazia AND Heat AND Gordon's to deal with all the dead animal grotesquerie. Blech. At least Fingers and Lashes aren't freaked out about it? We tried to keep a baby hedghog alive in my neighbour's garage when I was about ten, it died after it climbed out of the bucket it was in and drank spilled oil. THE HORROR.

The internet is always here for you xx

P.S. Caramel Kit Kat, you say? WANT.

Layla said...

When did they start making Caramel KitKats?

Why did nobody tell me?

Elsie said...

Summer at Cold Comfort Farm (2009)

Jaywalker said...

Sinda - my children have an eye for mating and will identify almost any form of animal behaviour as "sexage". Sadly.

Provincial Lady - teacup sized kune kune piglets? WHERE.

Helena - ha, I snorted at that. My dad would have found it a nice place to rot.

City Road - entirely terrifying. There is now a coffee machine in Shipston on Stour but noone knows how to use it. Terrible terrible place.

HFF - I kept trying to break for freedom to come and see you but noone would let me go. Bastards.

Insomniac Mummy - ah, you have it all to look forward to.

Screamish - no, not at all. I read an article in Elle this month about the fact that apparently women find visual images of monkey sex MORE stimulating than men do. Fact of the day.

CA - no, I don't think he's depressed. He is just Thinking Deeply. I must ask him for an update.

Iheart - wow, a flattened turtle. The CFO would be devastated.

Stacy - ooh, a giant greyhound for soothing purposes sound lovely - though bony.

Grit - is this supposed to entice me? IS IT???

Chantal - oh yes. I remember somthing similar with a very very nearly dead baby rabbit that 'disappeared' overnight. I suspect my dad took it out and banged it on the head with a rock during the night.

Layla - it's one of those limited edition thingies. Shall I save one for you?

Elsie - something nasty in the woodshed indeed...

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