A paon in the arse
Laurie Taylor ruffles a few feathers
My first really big word was “isomorphism”. I still remember asking my Uncle Harry to spell it for me so that I could write it in big letters on the back page of my fifth-form exercise book. And I knew exactly what it meant because Harry had told me it was the perfect word to describe the way that Dad treated our dog, Spot.
What Harry had noticed on one of his rare visits to our house was that Dad imputed motives to Spot. He would come into the kitchen and find Spot sprawled out on the mat in front of the all-night burning Sofono fire and start complaining about how “the damned dog” was not only eating us out of house and home but was beginning to take his life of luxury for granted.
“Who the hell do you think you are, Spot?” he’d enquire of the bemused dog in the manner of a headmaster dealing with a recalcitrant pupil. “Lord Muck? Well, here’s a lesson for you.” And with that he’d boot the dog in the ribs and send him whimpering and scurrying back to his cold cardboard box in the corner of the scullery.
Harry told me that Spot really didn’t entertain such ideas above his station. It was his instincts rather than any wish to annoy father with his presumption that sent him rushing to the mat when the room was empty.
I’d like to believe that I took Harry’s word and the lesson it embodied to heart. And indeed I think that I might have been totally free of all such forms of inappropriate isomorphism had it not been for peacocks.
Ever since I clapped eyes on my very first peacock in Chester Zoo when I was about six years old I’ve heartily disliked the entire species. But more to the point, over all those many years since my first sighting I’ve been almost incapable of resisting the thoroughly unreconstructed isomorphic thought that peacocks have got it in for me.
A couple of incidents will help to make my case. Take the time I enjoyed a grace and favour university flat on the second floor of Kings’ Manor in York. It was an idyllic residence until the night I came home rather late and emotional and had the back luck to fall uncomfortably as I reached the landing outside my door. As I began to pull myself to my feet I realised I was staring into a face, the horrible constantly shaking serpent face of a peacock. And even as I stared back at its evil shaped head, the beast emitted the foulest scream I have ever heard, a wild one-note yowl that would have done justice to a fully-fledged banshee.
It was a howl that said “got you”. A howl that paid me off for all the times I’d ignored it as I’d crossed the lawn, a howl that sought to pay me back for my constant refusal to ever go down on one knee like all the other punters and beg the arrogant stupid uneatable bird to show me its feathers.
Since then I’ve had a number of other run-ins with peacocks. Quite enough to know they’re still after me. But it was only last week at a farmhouse in France when one of the misshapen monsters was able to work any real damage. I’d deliberately ignored the bird when I arrived for my one night’s bed and breakfast, even though the owner had proudly insisted on pointing it out and the peacock itself had desperately tried to attract my attention with a boring little show of its overweight vulgar feathers.
Of course, it got its revenge. A peacock may only be a mere paon in France but despite any translation difficulties this one had no difficulty picking up my English hostility. At precisely four o’clock in the morning it positioned itself directly outside my downstairs bedroom window and started its one-note yowling, its banshee wailing, its end-of-the world screams.
I ran out in my T-shirt and gave chase. Made it scamper away on its ugly feet which it tries to keep hidden by refusing to fly, made it retreat to some bushes beside the road, where I could still spot its malevolent head. A token victory, maybe, but the next morning when I was leaving, it refused to catch my eye.
What would I do if I’d caught my peacock? Only recently I read a report from San Francisco about a man who attacked a peacock that had wandered into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. Apparently he seized the bird by the neck, hurled it to the ground and starting kicking and stomping the creature. Asked what he was doing, the attacker explained, “I’m killing a vampire.”
I know just how that attacker feels. Those peacocks are after me. There’s no such thing as paranoia as far as peacocks and me are concerned. Whatever Uncle Harry might have told me.