Animal Encounters

With the soft, warm breeze from a sultry June evening wafting the subtle scents of summer over us from the open window, gently rippling the curtains as it slid refreshingly into the room, we listened to the mystical sound of David Bowie's ‘Starman’ periodically fading in and out from the radio on the windowsill. And I thought I want to dress like him; David Bowie, that mystical, carrot haired alien. So I bought a pair of red boots, knee high boots, not so much red as burning bright scarlet. They looked cool when I saw them in the catalogue, and to this day I don't understand why I failed to read the printed description fully. I really should have done because they turned out not to be the soft leather heeled jobs that would normally bedeck a shapely female leg, but motorcycle boots more suited to bedecking a hairy, beleathered biker. Blazing red and Bowiesque they may have been but they were also very heavy and rather uncomfortable. Undaunted I boldly stomped around in them smug in the knowledge that I was emulating my idol; of course I must have looked a prize pillock, but in the woolly imagination of a 16 year old besotted with the androgynous glam rocker, I was the man. Whilst I immersed myself in worshiping a rock god, my dad was praying to the real one that I would grow up, but his muttered appeals to various deities were in vain. It was my time to rebel and what I wore on Saturday nights was my business. Anyway those boots were, for a while, glued to my feet, calves and shins.

It was whilst we were out on one of our regular tramps across whatever bit of marsh we fancied trespassing across that the idea of bird watching with several pounds of leather and metal strapped to my legs began to unravel. There were sheep in the field. No problem. We knew sheep to be benign woolly creatures that gaze up at you blankly before trotting away to a safe distance, as indeed these were. But there was also a ram in amongst them and he had other ideas. I don't know whether it was the beacons adorning my lower legs that caused him to take exception to me, or whether he was simply doing his duty in guarding his girls, but he decided to charge. Now when a bull charges it is frightening, they are incredibly swift when roused and having a couple of tons of prime beef pelting towards you at 30 mph is to put it mildly stomach churning, heart pumping, adrenaline rushing and bum squeaking. I've seen it, I know. However having a male sheep, 2 feet high at the shoulder, butting you at ankle height isn't quite the same. Nonetheless we ran, or at least my mate did. I instead resorted to a kind of loping lurch and at this point realised why most athletes wear trainers and not motorcycle boots. So there I was clumping across a meadow, a 70s teen with legs looking like a pair of ungainly swan vestas with a demented ram periodically whacking me from behind. Our laughter lasted all the way home and the boots went in the bin.

We always seemed to court trouble with farm animals. Cows were a real problem and we approached fields littered with them and their pungent pats with caution, but dogs were worse. On numerous occasions we would be merrily cycling past a farm when the resident canines would suddenly pelt out of the yard and streak towards us. The little buggers would chase us along the lane nipping at our ankles as we frantically tried to peddle our way to safety. Once these gangs decided their duty discharged they would stop their assault and trot back to the farmyard no doubt sniggering and chatting to each other like something from a Disney cartoon. There they would settle down for a light doze awaiting the next unsuspecting passer-by. It probably seemed a lot worse than it actually was, but to this day I'm wary of dogs running loose along the beach at Cley or indeed anywhere that potentially brings me and them into close contact. And with just cause I think. More than once in recent years I've had little terriers take exception to me whilst they are out with their masters or mistresses along some lonely footpath. I seem to get a sixth sense about which ones are going to cause trouble and I'm not often wrong. It always seems to be small dogs that chance their arm, the larger ones, perhaps more self-assured just sniff my crap encrusted boots and move on. No, I feel comfortable with big's the little sods you have to watch.

Never trust a crustacean, especially one with claws. I learnt this essential life skill the hard way many years ago whilst showing off my wildlife handling skills to my wife to be; crabs are best left alone. I don’t know what made me pick this particular one up, a need to display macho prowess perhaps, but I obviously got it wrong. The affronted multi-limbed creature plucked from the comfort of a rock pool decided to teach me a lesson and nipped my finger. The pain was intense and no matter how much I shook my hand and danced around it wouldn’t let go. The scene must have resembled something from one of those comic seaside postcards, me jigging about getting red in the face, the girlfriend doubled up with hopeless laughter, seagulls smirking from their perch on the pier. Somehow this arthropod had managed to get its vicelike grip just beneath my fingernail, the most vulnerable spot, and crikey it hurt. Eventually I dislodged it by immersing my hand back into the pool where, deciding it could make a quick break for the safety of a large rock, it let go and scuttled away. I don’t pick them up any more.

I guess being savaged by geese, stung by bees, wasps and nettles, bitten by mosquitos, horseflies and midges is part of the lot for a person like me. Losing your shoe in a ditch full of evil smelling effluent, sinking up to your knees in thick gunky mud, toppling off gates and being startled out of your skin whenever a pheasant explodes from the undergrowth beside you is all part of the game. Clinging to a slender bough of a tree swaying in the wind 50 feet above ground, sticking your arm into holes in trees not knowing quite what you’re going to find in the dark depths, jumping across drainage dykes and being shouted at by landowners with guns - ‘git orf moi laand’ - is all part of the adventure. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


At Breydon in 1979 - Nothing much has changed....except my shape.



  1. What we really want to see of course is a photo of you in your red boots! .

  2. Hi Anonymous! I wish I had one I really do, but sadly I don't believe such a picture exists. If one turns up you'll be the first to know.


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