Nature Notes (city dwellers look away now)
What’s going on with wood pigeons? Why do they make suck a racket? I’m talking about the sudden, explosive noise from their wings, by the way, not the gentle cooing for which they get so much good press. Just after you startle them by doing something really scary like walking down the lane parallel to the first wood (one wood is never enough, don’t you find?), they startle you with the clatter from their wings as they fly away from your highly dangerous walking technique, or whatever it was about your presence that spooked them. I mean, are they blind or something? I do not be carrying a gun when out for my constitutionals in the countryside, so I pose no threat to my wingéd cohabitors of the demense (that fada back there is for pronunciation purposes: I am looking for two syllables, not one). In fact, the last time I carried a gun in the dark … [I’ll stop you there: Legal have been on the phone and they advise against any such admissions in print – Ed.]
I have never really trusted wood pigeons anyway, and find it difficult to eat more than twelve. The way they bolt away from their hiding place safe in a tree always makes me suspicious of them. And they fly off in an embarrassed manner, sort of half-looking over their shoulders at you as if whatever it was they were up to in the tree is something they are ashamed of and want to get as far away as possible from in case you find any incriminating evidence. Of course I realise that there may be an inherited reflex at play here with the wood pigeons, fear of humans being imprinted now in their DNA as a result of bitter experience of culchies out for walks suddenly whipping out shotguns and shooting their ancestors for dinner. But that is just stupid: before the Kerfuffle, there was no such a thing as culchies ‘out for walks’; any culchie on foot was a hunter, and their ancestors should have frucked away off up into the sky as soon as they saw a culchie come out his back door (they never use their front doors) not wrapped in a tractor. And I am not a culchie, as is obvious from my good dental health and my ability to write. So, pay more attention, wood pigeons, is my message, or else just stop doing whatever it is you do be doing [are you going to persist with this non-standard use of the continuous present? – Ed] in the trees that makes you feel so ashamed.
In the field next to the field next to part of my back garden, I witnessed an amazing sight last night. Two bullocks (look up the definition of bullock yourselves; I’m too busy writing this to provide a link), both at least 13 months old by the look of them, and by the names of them or else they would have been calves, gambolled – and I use the verb advisedly – from near the stonewall side of their enclosure over towards the white strip that will give them an electric shock if they try to go past it. Electric shocks, I know! The Nazis wouldn’t be in it with some of the tortures these farmers devise for their livestock. Now I realise the bullocks were excited having recently been released from their overlong captivity in the shed over the Winter (more on that later), but have they been given the wrong manual re animal behaviour for reading material during their incarceration? Gambolling is, or should be, an exclusively sheep-based activity. (Unlike gambling, which is for humans who are sheep.) But there was no other word to describe the way they were kicking up their heels and frolicking about – practically skipping hand in hand – from one side of the field to the other. Traditionally, bullocks should spend their time head-butting each other and acting the hard men, when they are not trying to pretend to try to ride each other, just as lads, like. What next? Waddling rabbits? Hopping foxes? Lord preserve us from lumbering foxes (and if you got a bestiality joke there it is your own fault; I am referring to a side-to-side walking gait, not Belfast slang for kissing).
But if you have noticed that your steaks taste a bit shit recently, I am about to let you into the reason for that. Nowadays, farmers keep their beef cattle locked up in sheds for stupendously overlong periods of time. This is due to the overriding characteristic that unites all farmers, namely, greed. In the good old days when I was interrupting work on half-relatives’ farms in Greater Tyrone, silage was a new-fangled idea and most farmers still stuck with making hay out of grass. Making hay is a complicated business in Ireland as it requires a degree of certainty about a prolonged period of dry weather, and good luck with that in this country where the weather changes about as often as a woman’s mind, and with about the same degree of logic. As a result, it was the fortunate farmer indeed who got even a chance at the mythical ‘second cut’ to produce more hay bales to feed the cattle with during the Winter. But now, with silage being the sine qua non of even non-Latin-speaking farmers, even a third cut is not beyond the greed of most of them, with the result that they end up with far too much silage for the Winter. So the poor cattle are kept locked up in their sheds for anything up to six months, or until they have eaten the stupid amount of silage the farmer produced the previous Summer. The cows will still be in the sheds eating silage (stale grass) while the stuff they should be eating (fresh grass) is growing again in the fields. While in the sheds, they produce copious amounts of shit, which the farmer, being greedy, sees as free manure. So, instead of paying for the cattle shed to be connected to the municipal sewerage works, he collects the cows’ shit in a big cess pool, calls it slurry and, if he does not manage to kill himself rescuing a pet dog that gets stuck in the slurry pit, spends a few weeks spreading this stale cowshit on his fields to make the grass grow. Wee hint here, farmers; the grass is growing anyway and needs no help from your foul-smelling mixture born of greed.
Have you got the cycle in your head yet? The farmer spreads cowshit on his fields in which the grass grows, then he eventually releases his cattle to eat this shit-flavoured grass for the brief period of what passes for Summer here, also cuts this shit-flavoured grass when the cows are in a different field and turns it into wet, shit-flavoured grass called silage which he then feeds to the cows when he bangs them up again in the shed for six months. Meanwhile the cows shit for six months and the farmer collects this and spreads it on the fields again in preparation for the cows’ release. So, when he eventually gets around to killing the cow for meat, it is probably approximately 83.7% shit at that stage. Is it any wonder then that you, in your fancy restaurant, are less than enamoured with the aroma and bouquet [same thing – Ed.] of the over-priced filet mignon you have just ordered, and have a vague idea that steaks used to taste better when cows used to eat grass and hay?
I’m here all week; try the chicken.