Me, before ‘The year of the cockerel’ when I looked neat and tidy and also kept a tidy rick of turf.
During the years I lived in the west of Ireland many animals came my way.
Hen’s, goats, horses, ponies and dogs and I learnt something from them all.
Most lived out their natural life with me, but a few didn’t.
One such a beast was a large and colorful cockerel of brilliant hue and savage temperament.
He first arrived in the innocent guise of a helpless fluffy chick and thus fooled me completely.
Being the only male in a clutch of females, his mother spoiled him and though this saved him in his youth (the fox that got his mother and the rest of his siblings probably didn’t dare tackle him) it was the undoing of him later.
Initially he grew up like any unruly teenager but I should’ve guessed by his arrogant gait and half strangled sounding crow as he strutted around the front garden that he spelt trouble.
Unfortunately I didn’t recognise the signs.
The cottage I was living in at the time, was up a long narrow lane well away from the village. It was the typical three roomed cottage of the area though it had an add on bathroom and kitchen out the back.
The original thatch was long gone and a corrugated roof stood in its place.
At the front, a small lawn, dotted here and there with apple trees, (the very ones the goats in my previous tale attempted to climb) lay and beyond that a stand of conifers whose purpose was to act as a shelter belt.
It was on the top of the tallest of these trees that ‘the bucko’ would roost, crowing at an unearthly hour and viewing his domain with a mean eye.
To the right of the cottage was an open turf shed in which lay a heap of neatly stacked turf (my work) and an untidy pile of wood, some already chopped for kindling, some still awaiting the blow of the large axe which stood at the ready embedded in a block of timber.
A clothesline, strung from one end of the shed to the other, was handy for hanging washing on on rainy days.
Back towards the lane, another strip of grass with a second washing line, strung between two tall scots pines, ran. These tree’s with their tall red colored trunks were quite ancient and stately and I had placed a chair under one of them making it my favorite place to sit.
For the first while, I lived a peaceful existence there. The only sounds were the odd maaaa of the goats, the bird song, the wind in the tree’s and the early morning call of the cockerel whose crow, I noted, grew louder and more raucous as he grew larger.
Being new to the area and not knowing many people other than my sister, who lived a couple of miles away, I had few visitors and I spent my days happily reading, painting, writing, working to clear the garden and gathering herbage for the goats.
It was a halcion life.
But not for long.
One fine sunny day while stretching up to peg washing on the line, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.
It was probably my new ‘peripheral vision and extra sensitivity to sudden movement technique’ I had learned from keeping goats, that saved me and I ducked just as the cockerel launched himself, spurs extended, at my head.
As I did, I picked up the long stick that acted as the line prop and gave him an almighty thwack before abandoning my washing and running for the house.
I heard him gather himself with a flurry of ruffled feathers as he prepared for a second attack but I had made it through the door just in time.
Looking back I felt that if I had stood my ground at that first attack he would have learnt who was the boss and we could have continued to live together in harmony.
But instead I caught my breath and looked out the window to see him disdainfully picking up my underwear in his beak, tossing it into the air and trampling it in the grass.
Then he strutted away fluffing and shaking out his colorful feathers before flying back up into the conifers.
It was obviously his way of declaring war and I had already lost the first battle.
From that moment on whenever I went outside, I carried a broom to defend myself.
And while his method was to lie low and wait until my guard was down before attacking, mine was purely of defence.
As the days passed every tree and shrub became an object of potential danger. (I never knew what he would be hiding behind) my beautiful scots pine was no longer a place to sit and relax under.
My once favorite chair now lay desolate on its side (the result of a particularly fierce battle one afternoon) the grass growing up through its arms.
I even kept my bicycle inside as it became one of his choice places to launch an attack from.
He had cleverly recognised its strategic importance. After all without my bicycle I couldn’t cycle for more rations to keep my strength up.
I still worked in the garden though as I always had a tool at hand.
The sight of a hoe or rake or spade, prevented him from trying anything. Instead he would just perch on the gate, glaring at me, every now and then emitting an ear piercing crow which, like the baying of the hounds of the baskervilles, instilled cold fear into my soul and sent shivers down my spine.
My garden began to suffer. Vegetables planted with stressed quaking hands do not flourish well.
By now I was rapidly losing ground. (His domain from apple tree outward was expanding whilst mine was ever retreating towards the house.)
He began playing with me mentally. There would be a day or two of no attacks, of no crowing from the height of the conifer as though a ceasefire had been declared but as I was always on edge during these silences, his ominous non appearance was psychologically worse than his attacks
Sometimes he chose to do battle in the open.
Like a duel, with pistols at dawn, we would face each other. He armed with his beak and spurs , me with my broom.
With glorious rainbow colored hackles raised and one wing spread wide, he would advance in a sideward movement, the spread wing sweeping the ground, dragging pieces of gravel with it, making a rattling machine gun like sound, while his small, mean, calculating eye remained fixed on mine.
And I would stand, holding the handle of the broom firmly in both hands, taking the the stance of a samurai warrior and we would glare at each other for some time, neither of us breaking eye contact as the minutes ticking by.
Other times he circled, forcing me to spin around which made so dizzy that when he did attack I could only flail my implement in windmill fashion giving the appearance of one being attacked by a swarm of bees.
When the battle was starting into its third week my sister came to call.
Pulling up at the door, she preceded to hop out of her little brown morris minor.
‘Watch out!’ I shouted. But too late!
Himself had been lying in wait.
‘What the?…’ my sister shouted as he launched himself at her over the open car door.
I pulled her inside to safety just in time.
As we clutched each other catching our breaths she looked at me in horror.
‘What ever happened to YOU? you look a fright!’
I glanced at myself in the mirror behind her.
My cheeks were streaked with grime, my eyes red and wild, my hair looked as though I had been scrambling through a briar patch (I probably had).
Sitting her down with a cup of tea I told her my story.
‘What ridiculous nonsense!’ she said as I finished my tale.
‘Imprisoned in your own home by a BIRD! I was wondering why I hadn’t seen you for so long. You haven’t cycled over for two weeks. I was getting worried.’
Two weeks! I couldn’t believe it. My days and nights had blended into one long nightmare. I had no idea of the passing of time.
I hung my head in shame admitting that it was indeed ridiculous but she was no longer listening to me.
Instead she leapt up off her chair, marched out the door and headed confidently towards the turf shed.
There, she kicked aside a few clods of turf (my turf rick was no longer tidy as I often had to use the sods as hand ammunition) and pulling the axe out of its timber block, swung it over her head in one hand as she approached the cockerel, who was now lurking in an not so brazen manner behind the scots pine.
I watched the evolving scene through the window, heart in mouth, fearing for her safety. But I needn’t have worried! He, sensing that he had met his match, took flight and half running, half flying, cleared the barbwire fence and took off across the fields, my sister after him.
And that was last I ever saw of him.
But the picture of their silhouettes against the evening sky, disappearing over the brow of the far off hill, himself with his neck stretched, wings flapping madly, my sister with the axe aloft, gaining ground, will be forever imprinted on my mind.
‘The Bucko’ in his heyday.