Monday, 23 May 2011

Driving Over Pheasants

I sometimes walk past a pub which advertises “Live DJs Every Friday!” and, each time, it causes me to speculate as to what a dead DJ would sound like. This type of thinking can become an obsession. For example, the expression “free range eggs” troubles me because it is the hens that range freely – not the eggs. Although I work hard to overcome this pedantic tendency, my forays into the countryside don’t help. Driving around the North Yorkshire Moors recently I spotted so many “free range eggs” signs that I might have suffered an apoplectic fit had it not been for another minor phenomenon which distracted my attention: that of road-kill.

There were hundreds of dead creatures splattered on the minor roads, victims of un-witnessed hit-and-run incidents. There they lay, undisturbed and in varying degrees of decay, with occasional crows picking at them. At first I took a gruesome interest in the corpses, trying to identify the flattened creatures and estimating how long ago they had been squashed – not easy to do when you are driving quickly past. I did however manage to establish that, except for the occasional badger, the victims were mostly game birds. The feathers gave me a clue – that and my realisation that we were in game-shooting country. From what I know of the micro-economy of the region, it does heavily depend on hunting, in which case there are slim pickings ahead for those looking forward to “the glorious twelfth”.

Four of us were driving across The Moors, counting the corpses and musing on this threat to the viability of the local economy. We were en route to the port of Whitby for a touristic experience. “So, what’s Whitby famous for?” asked the ‘northern virgin’ of our party. “Fish and chips” we three replied, “Oh, and Count Dracula” said I. “When he had himself shipped over from Transylvania in a coffin, he was unloaded at Whitby and concealed in the Abbey, a spooky-looking, jagged ruin sitting up on the cliff-top”. “But that was just a story, wasn’t it?” she countered. “Yeah, well – it’s still famous for it” said I, indignant at such southern complacency. In the event our visit was a muted, out-of-season experience. The weather was blustery and cold, the Abbey ruins were closed and none of us really fancied fish and chips so we ate crab salad in a pub instead. The view of the harbour was more appealing seen from indoors and over the top of a pint of Black Sheep ale.

 We drove back via a different route and, although the scenery and the corpse count were much the same as before, we were treated to something a little different. As we approached an obscure hamlet there was a road-side sign warning of ‘Free Range Children!’ “Obviously they mean freely ranging children!” I raged – to no avail, since nobody else had seen it and, in any case, the hamlet was devoid of any (living) thing. The next village advertised the more commonly found ‘Slow Children’ but, by this time, I was looking forward to bed and past caring about punctuation.

A few days later I read about a list that had recently been compiled. Eminent U. K. historians had been asked to evaluate the myriad sites of historical significance to be found in Britain and to rank them according to their perceived importance to the historical development of Britain. I don’t remember numbers 2-10 but, to my mortification there, at number 1, was Whitby Abbey! Count Dracula was not mentioned. The reference (as everyone should know) was to the fact that the Abbey was the site of the AD 664 Synod of Whitby when the Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, Oswy, opted to swap from the Celtic Christian tradition to the Roman one, the long term consequence of which was to bring England into line with the European mainstream. The next time I need to impress a ‘northern virgin’...

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