Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2009
Some years ago I worked in Coventry and was going through a hard time. A colleague who spotted the signs approached me one morning and said, “Do you fancy a break?” “Too right I do” was my reply. “I’ve got a delivery to make” he said, “Yo comin?” (He was a Black Country kid.)
We went down to his (company) car and set off on a mystery tour, I may have lived in Cov. but this was frontier country as far as I was concerned. Strange scratching noises came from the boot of the car that I took to be connected with the ‘delivery’. It was a shortish journey to somewhere on the North side of the city that was well known to my colleague even though he lived elsewhere, until we stopped outside a terraced house. “Wait here” he said “Just got to check its OK”. I watched as he walked up to the door whilst I pondered on those strange sounds coming from the boot of his car. A woman appeared at the door, looked nervously both ways and then pointed up the road. My friend returned.
“Its all clear, we’ll just drop them off over there” he said and motored up to a gate in the back entry to the houses we had just contacted. He entered a code – presumably given by the woman, and we were in.
When we opened the gate it gained entry to a goldmine of bird life – ornamental ducks, pheasants, exotic birds of many varieties and a few spare pens. It all fell into place then, I knew that my mate was a Champion breeder of Brahma chickens and we were obviously delivering some of his latest offspring for a show. I should also point out that the conditions here were excellent – whoever owned this space was clearly devoted to birds and spent much time ensuring their well being. The avian cacophony raised by the residents was loud and discordant. “They’ll go in one of these”, said my mate, pointing to a large empty pen, “ Give us a hand with ‘em”. We returned to his car and he opened the boot. There in a huge cardboard box were two magnificent Black Swans who shook themselves and proudly raised their heads as we opened the lid. “You get the fella and I’ll get his wife – she’s the fighter” he said. I had seen him with animals previously and he was extremely caring & sensitive and seemed to have the knack of calming them so I just had to try it myself.
I was completely over awed by the presence of these powerful animals – I had a mortal fear of them after being attacked as a canoeist but honour with my mate was at stake so I steeled myself and following my mate's instructions I scooped up the bird with surprising success and pinioned its wings & neck into a manageable bundle. I followed him – noting that his charge was rather more resistant than mine – to the empty pen and released his lordship into the space. We both exited quickly as the female charged at us, hissing and jutting her neck in savage disapproval. The male strutted indignantly in the corner but well away from the action.
“Got a temper that one” he said, as we got back in the car and set off on the return journey to work. It was clear that explanations were not appropriate but a few days later my friend happened to mention that he had booked a holiday to Ireland for the family after a recent windfall. I wondered where that had come from?© Keith Ratcliffe
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