Lovable Labradors August 11, 2016 13:50
Baby bro with Duke the Labrador at a pet show. Literally nothing runs like a Deere.
We had a succession of adorable but stupid Labradors when we were little.
First up was Sam, who was already old when we came to know him. Poor old Sam was epileptic and from time to time would have fits out in the yard. He was always very embarrassed about them afterwards and would hang his head sheepishly for the rest of the day and lie listlessly in the shade. He probably felt awful, the poor old boy.
Next came Duke, star of a previous blog post and the most stupid of them all. If Duke was an actor in a film, he’d be an exasperating rogue that the leading lady, despite her better judgement, fell head over heels for in the end. You couldn’t help but love him, with his big brown eyes and endlessly wagging tail which somehow worked independently to his body. He lived in a kennel out in the yard and would chew anything he could get his teeth round: wellies, toys, sticks, school shoes, large rocks… he really didn’t mind. His food bucket was an old, large plastic tub that had once contained something to do with the horses and he would wander aimlessly around with it in his mouth, tail going non-stop, making funny whining noises with his dog biscuits spilling out behind him, like some kind of doggy Hansel and Gretel trail. We spent hours trying to train him to be the good gun dog he was supposed to be, hiding dummy pheasants around the garden for him to find and trying to make him recognise different whistle sounds but it never seemed to have much effect. He just snuffled around chewing stuff and trying to lick us. However, apparently out on the shooting field proper, he would rise to the occasion in front of the other, posher retreivers and didn't let himself down too badly most of the time.
A classic family portrait with Duke and Sam the Labradors. (That pink jumpsuit paired with blue jelly sandals and extra thick plaits is still a favourite go-to fashion choice.)
The last Lab we had was our golden girl Molly. She wasn’t anywhere near as crazy as Duke and didn’t feel the need to chew everything she saw, although she’d have a quick gnaw of your trainers if you left them in her way. Poor old Molly once had a problem with her legs and had to be taken to the vet, who said she needed an operation and would have to stay in for a few days. Pa Pheasant hated to see animals suffering and it upset him to see her in so much pain. However, the operation went well and the vet called a few days later to tell us she could be collected. Pa Pheasant duly set off to get her and bring her home. Molly was in a pretty sorry state – she’d had to have her front legs shaved as part of the operation and was obviously sore and tired. Pa Pheasant gently put her on the backseat of the car with a blanket and began the drive home.
Halfway back to the farm was a village called Blyton where a dairy farmer had diversified into making delicious ice-cream and we often called in for a treat in the summer. Being from a family where food, particularly sweet things, was seen as a tonic for all ills, Pa Pheasant couldn’t resist it and called in, got out and came back with two vanilla cornets, one for himself and one for Molly. Although I wasn’t there to see it myself, I have an enduring image of Pa Pheasant, with Molly next to him in the front seat, enjoying an ice-cream together in the sun and slowly feeling better with the world.
Do you have any photos of you as a child with your pet you want to share with us? Email them to us and we'll send a bag of Pheasant Plucker goodies to any that we feature on the blog.
Lambing season April 25, 2016 21:30
These months of the year irrevocably bring back memories of lambing season – a tense, exciting, tiring, happy time with all the ups and downs you can easily imagine. Our lambing shed was in the main barn, a large, corrugated tin roofed building that smelled of the accumulated cycle of farm years – cattle in the winter and the potatoes and hay they were fed on; a dusty tang from storing barley, wheat and oilseed rape in the summer, dried mud all year round, oil and exhaust fumes from the tractors and the particular wooly, milky, ovine smell of the spring.
The shed had an atmosphere of quiet calm and it was dimly lit, with warm, intermittent spotlights above the newborn pens. I remember watching my first lamb being born and the ewe quietly panting as her stomach began to contract more frequently. Pa Pheasant had a very easy way with animals, years of experience and a natural empathy and kindness towards them paying off as he carefully pulled the lamb by its back legs out into the world. We looked on in fascination, as this tiny, slimy, yellow bundle slipped out onto the straw and Pa cleared its airway before passing it up towards the ewe to clean. A few minutes later, the lamb struggled up on its wobbly, gangly legs to suckle. Some of the lambs, for all sorts of reasons, had to be bottle-fed and we had to hold the bottles tightly as they sucked forcefully on the teat, gulping the milk down and waggling their tails behind them.
Everyone learnt to give Pa a bit of a wide berth during lambing and to choose their moments carefully, as he’d be up at night checking the ewes and feeding the babies himself. He would bed down on the sofa in the hall in between shifts and be bleary eyed and a bit snappy in the mornings (so many things learned on the farm jump back at you when you have your own children).
As the lambs got bigger, they were taken outside into the fields and one of my earliest memories is watching them gambol around the paddock outside the kitchen window with Gran. There was a slope with a slight lip at the top of it which they’d race to the top of before jumping off, twisting their little bottoms in mid-air in what seemed to be a general celebration of life.
Lambs’ wool would often get caught in the fence wire and it felt soft and kind of slippery with an oily smell of lanolin. We docked the lambs’ tails painlessly with elastic bands, and they'd drop off in the fields. I didn’t realise at the time but they were also castrated in the same way and I shudder to think what the wool collection that I kept in a glass jar next to my bed really contained.
It always seemed a shame that the lambs lost their sparkle and grew up. I guess if there’s a lesson to be learned it’s to try to be more like the lambs in the fields, experiencing the joy of fresh air and life, rather than just simply turning into a boring old sheep.
Baby Bro's Bunnies March 26, 2016 23:56
When Baby Bro was 16 he appeared home one day with a new pet rabbit. Ma Pheasant isn't the world's biggest animal lover and certainly doesn't like them at close quarters so she wasn't thrilled when he announced his plans to housetrain it and keep it inside. Poor old Ma tried in vain to keep the house in the region of clean when we were all living at home but with a herd of scruffy, clumsy teenagers, it was easier said than done. The thought of a large fluffy bunny added to the mix was probably a step too far but Baby Bro was banking on Ma's easy going nature and she let it slide, on the proviso the rabbit lived outside. Which he did. Sometimes.
The rabbit was named Mayot, which is Lincolnshire for Mate, and whenever Ma Pheasant went out, he was smuggled in for 'housetraining' which entailed him going about his rabbity business and Baby Bro cleaning up after him. He was a friendly little thing and we got used to him hopping about the living room or appearing from underneath a pile of dirty clothes in Baby Bro's stinky bedroom. It was strangely comforting to have him curled up next to us on the sofa, happily dozing away, while we watched tv.
Everything was going well until one day when Baby Bro picked him up to put him back in his hutch outside before Ma got home. Our old cat happened to prowl past at the same time and she glanced in Mayot's direction, licking her lips with possibility. Mayot smelled the whisper of anticipation in the air and, faced with fight or flight, decided to make a run for it. He jumped out of Baby Bro's arms & landed on the floor in a heap, breaking one of his little legs in the process. It was devastating. We took Mayot straight to the vet who said the only way to save his life was to amputate the broken leg, at a cost of over £150 (I'd recently seen a similar operation involving a guinea pig and a pair of scissors on Vets in Practice and so generously offered to do it for half the price but sadly my services were declined). The distant spirit of Pa Pheasant was heard scoffing and humphing loudly in the background at the idea of spending such a lot of money on a rabbit and Baby Bro made the sad decision to have Mayot put to sleep.
One of our aunts heard of Mayot's sad fate and, worried that poor Baby Bro was irreparably heartbroken, bought him another rabbit, this time a little grey doe called Jenny. Alas, Jenny was not the generally chilled out specimen that Mayot was and yearned for wide open spaces and adventure. She made a break for it one morning and was last seen heading for the hills. A few weeks later Baby Bro found out that one of his friends had found a small, pale grey rabbit hopping down the middle of the main road and had stopped to pick her up. She'd taken her home and a few days later, the rabbit had given birth to a litter of kits, half of them pale and fluffy like their mother and half of them brown and wild like their father.
After Jenny, there were no more rabbits. Baby Bro moved onto girls, skateboards and underage boozing but at this time of year with rabbits everywhere, it felt a fitting time to remember Mayot, Jenny and Baby Bro's attempts at housetraining.
Happy Easter everyone xx
Illustration by Hugh Brandon-Cox, from Wandering with the Woodman, 1948
An Ode to Valentine's Days past February 9, 2016 13:17
Growing up on a farm, whilst not without some incredible perks such as unlimited pets, learning to drive before we reached double figures and the freedom and space to tramp over miles of beautiful countryside whenever we felt like it, was not without its drawbacks. This was never more so blatantly obvious than during the awkward teenage years, when it slowly became clear that for some unfathomable reason boys aren’t particularly drawn to girls who can carry a bale of hay under one arm without breaking sweat, who sometimes smell a bit like they've just mucked out a stable and who enjoy scrabbling around in the bottom of hedges. Add this to the fact that you live miles from another house, most of your clothes come from Peacock and Binningtons and the hottest competition for your attentions are two brothers from the local Pony Club called Doggit and Tatty and you begin to get an idea of what we were dealing with.
As they surely are for everyone, those early adolescent years were a hormonal wilderness but Pa Pheasant, whilst not the most outwardly emotional man to walk this earth, tried to do his bit to make them easier. When he quickly realised his plan to set us up with two neighbouring farm boys*, on the basis that they wore leather patches on their sleeves so were obviously thrifty and good with money, was doomed to failure, he resorted to more subtle tactics to smooth the adolescent transition. Every year without fail, he would send all of us at least three Valentines cards, always anonymous and with mysterious messages inside (such as “to a devil, from a devil, who the devil sent it?” Or the even more cryptic “Now then?”). It was his way of demonstrating to us that he could begin to understand the complexities of youth, and although he always denied sending them, he knew we knew who they were from. If some inner voice shouted “ever so slightly tragic” at the back of our minds, we ignored it long enough to answer honestly at school, when grilled by the Mean Girls, that yes, as unlikely as it may seem, the postman had indeed been kind to us. Of course, we didn't let on who they were really from but they gave us the space to breathe on one of the most awkward days of the school social calendar.
Although no longer here to send us cards, Valentine's Day is synonymous with Pa Pheasant and it always means something more than a cheesy excuse to buy a bottle of cheap champagne and a box of chocolates. So thank you Pa Pheasant - this card is for you.
*It turns out one of those farm boys is now a professional tennis coach in Miami. If only we’d listened to Pa we could be living under palm trees now….
January's Retro Pet January 26, 2016 19:17
Every so often (we aim for monthly but sometimes we forget) we like to showcase a photo of someone with a pet from their childhood and this month we have a corker.
Please meet Kit Maplethorpe from East Barkwith and his black lab Pepper (or is it actually Macaulay Culkin circa 1990? We're not sure. Maybe he was taking a break between Home Alone and Home Alone 2 and decided to vacay in Lincolnshire?). We are particularly loving the Turtles t-shirt and mismatched laces, a look Hoxton hipsters bravely try, but fail, to pull off.
Kit - thanks for sharing your photo - a pack of Pheasant Plucker & Son treats is on its way to you.
Do you have any photos and stories of your childhood pets? Send them to us at email@example.com and every month we'll publish the one we love the most and send the winner a Pheasant Plucker goody bag.
Getting lucky on Boxing Day December 27, 2015 12:45
Pheasant Plucker’s Old Man, Pa Pheasant, loved a bet on the gee-gees and it was his ambition to visit every racecourse in the UK. Rather than being an out and out gambler, although that was definitely an appealing part of it, he loved horses and the glamorous sense of drama he found during a day at the races. I think some of his happiest moments were watching the horses’ leggy, graceful movement, ears pricked in anticipation, as they circled the paddock before a race. He loved hurrying over to the winner’s enclosure afterwards and seeing the victor, sweating and triumphant, three quarters of a ton of power, stamina and strength with its head held high and crackling with adrenaline.
It was inevitable that some of this would rub off on us and Pheasant Plucker’s baby brother’s fate was sealed one Boxing Day when he spotted a horse in the racecard called Master Cornet.
We often went to the races on Boxing Day and Pa Pheasant would always give us £5 – we could keep it or spend it, it was up to us. We were too young to put bets on but if there was a horse we fancied he’d go to the bookies on our behalf and place our 50p stakes.
Baby Bro was about nine or ten at the time and, being greedy like the rest of us, his eye was caught by a name that reminded him of ice-cream. He went uncharacteristically large and put his last £2 on – it was Christmas time after all. They were under starters orders and then they were off, racing round our local racecourse with all the focus and energy of the Gold Cup. Halfway around Master Cornet was third and Baby Bro was pissed off that he hadn’t backed it each way. Three minutes later, none of that mattered as our conquering hero romped home and Pa Pheasant was ushering us over to the Tote where he’d put the bet on. We queued impatiently and I remember standing there while Dad spoke to the woman behind the till. Then there was a slight commotion and the woman went away and came back with someone else – all three of them seemed to be studying the ticket incredibly carefully. Dad looked over at us and we looked back apprehensively – maybe there’d been some mistake, or maybe they knew that he’d put the bet on for a child and we weren’t allowed the winnings. Then Dad mouthed, almost inaudibly, “he’s won £400”. We couldn’t believe our ears – Baby bro had backed a winner at 205 – 1. The woman at the till had to go into the back room to get some more cash as she didn’t have enough, then she counted it out in crisp £20 notes and handed it to Dad. We walked away and Dad passed it over to my brother who stuffed it nonchalantly in his back pocket. £412! We had never seen so much money.
Over twenty years later, Baby Bro has never had such a big win again. Fortunately, he’s a fairly sensible lad and his stakes haven’t increased much since he first got the taste for gambling but every time we go to the races, we remember that little boy who came away with a bundle of cash and think “… maybe this time it’ll happen again.”