I have a good friend that I call the ‘Squire’ – because he shoots small game – like wildfowl and pheasants for the table. He assures me that he is a very good shot but he doesn’t shoot Deer – as he loves them like I do – and welcomes them on his land to graze.
In fact – he tells me that as he gets older – he shoots less and less because he doesn’t have the heart for it anymore. His main sport is freshwater fishing.
Really – we probably ought not get on so well – because he also occasionally shoots the very birds that I love – magpies, rooks – crows – it’s land management apparently. He has other people that come to his land to shoot – it’s his business – it’s just a pity he’s not able to control them like the so called ‘nuisance’ birds! You will understand the meaning of this statement when you read his poem later.
I can’t help but like ‘The Squire’ – because every now and then he gives me something really special from his land. He doesn’t really understand why I get so excited about skulls and bones – he says “But they’re just some old bones!” – but he indulges me nonetheless. Once he gave me a startling white skull in a black box – that had a label attached with a story about how it was that of ‘Jed’ the feral cat that the gamekeeper had accidentally shot! Of course I took one look at it and said – that’s no cat – it’s a fox! But that’s why I like him because he has a fertile imagination – and he is very, very funny. When you live in the country like I do – and work in a small market town like I do – you meet lots of interesting people from all walks of life. I used to have a horse but I’d never go hunting – but it doesn’t mean I don’t like them that do! Another time – he and his wife – gave me a single stuffed Magpie in a beautifully wrapped box for Christmas. They are a generous couple – who give occasional work – and a free lunch – to my younger son in the holidays; casual labour I suppose. Very casual from all accounts! He loves spending a day helping them out on the land – and around the outside of the house.
The Squire bought the Magpie on Ebay – so it had been professionally cured and stuffed! He was unaware of the rhyme – “One for sorrow – two for joy.” despite the fact that he lives in the country! Later mortified by his ‘ignorance’ – he offered to get me another one to make it a lucky pair – but I declined as I don’t really like taxidermy. It looked for all the world like a dead bird I’d found as a child and buried in a shoe-box come back to haunt me! Having said that – I’ve grown very fond of ‘Mercury’ my stuffed magpie – but I make sure I always bid him ‘good day’. I love how he has his beak wide open – he always looks so animated as if he’s telling a secret.
This reminds me – how once I bought an antique book of poems by Emily Bronte – and the seller kindly put a bookmark inside – a peacock’s feather! My house is full of wild feathers that I have collected on my walks but one feather that I’d never bring inside is a peacock’s feather because of superstition that they are unlucky. But because the feather came in by stealth – in a volume of Emily Bronte poems – I’m happy for it to stay – I call it ‘Emily’s feather’ – it’s like an all seeing eye.
Getting back to the ‘Squire’ – his latest gift to me is an Exmoor Red Deer skull complete with eight points – a Spring Stag. He found it on his land knee-deep in a bog. The thing that caught his eye was a white tip of one of the antlers – so I have called him – ‘Tip’. The Squire offered to bleach and mount the head on a wood-shield but that would have involved cutting and screwing the skull – sacrilege in my eyes! He emailed me a picture to show me how it looked not long after it had been lifted from the bog – the underside looks like a face that is almost human.
Of course I ‘screamed’ back at him – “DON’T TOUCH IT – I LOVE IT JUST AS IT IS!” and I hoped he’d heed my words.
The next day – Thursday 11th. August 2016 – just as I was leaving work – The Squire pulled-up in his big green farmer’s truck – and brought with him – ‘Tip’ on the backseat. I was so excited – my manager said he didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone that excited – especially over some bones!
Oh the joy – the colour! ‘Tip’ is absolutely beautiful – golden – no way could anyone ever reproduce his rich depth – in more ways than one. He is completely natural – untouched – preserved – just as the Squire had lifted him from the bog. His antler tip acted like Excalibur – Tip was asking to be lifted from his watery grave. Tip is shown here lying on a woven blanket laid-out on the grass – but normally he lives inside – where he isn’t cold anymore – and where he is deeply loved.
‘Tip’ has been in my ‘red room’ now for over a month – and at first my family were uneasy about his presence because he had died in a bog – my Mother especially voiced her concern. She said that I should return ‘Tip’ to the land because she felt that ‘Tip’ had died a horrible, slow death – and she was worried by me bringing him into my house.
I myself have thought the same thoughts regarding the way in which ‘Tip’ must have struggled so desperately before surrendering to his murky fate – but all I can say is that having had ‘Tip’ home for well-over a month now – I get an overwhelming feeling of peace when I see his noble profile caught in the half-light of my lamp-lit room – suddenly he looks so alive again. Late at night when the rest of the house is sleeping – I find Tip’s presence very powerful – like the crucifix of Christ’s suffering that hangs also on my red wall.
Getting back to the Squire – he followed up ‘Tip’ with a poem he’d written for my ‘birthday’ – which he’d forgotten and later remembered because of our friend – Sallykins! It’s all about the nature of Tip’s sad demise. Original or what – and no money spent either!
Poem for ‘Tip’ – for me. Written by my good friend the Squire.
At your request – I viewed today
The death bog of poor “Tip” the Deer –
My photos show where he passed away
In a swamp with river near.
Who knows the cause of his demise?
I think the answer is near –
A foolish farmer out with his gun
Did not wait, for a killing shot clear.
Poor Tip ran off with lead in his guts
So terrified was he –
Until his blood loss brought him down
As he struggled to get away free.
He sank a little in that cool bog
His breath in urgent gasps –
Until relief did come at last
One last and final rasp.
Oh joy for the fox and badger near,
As his carcass was free for all –
And many a meal from poor old Tip
Was enjoyed by creatures small.
They gnawed and ripped
His tender flesh whilst he was still just warm
And then – by day the insects came
And on it they did swarm.
As time went by poor Tip sank deep
Into that soggy mire –
By now his skin – his flesh – his guts
Were taken as if by fire.
A year or more passed by that scene
And only his bones were left –
Until the day the Squire passed by
And found Tip’s skull at rest.
So from the bog he pulled away
Until Tip’s naked skull came free –
Complete with antlers oh so fine
Especially for – Melanie!
So as you gaze upon this beast
Proudly so displayed –
Think well of me your shooting friend
That life has aimed your way!
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