Liz Walker: No call to crow over townie’s sleepless night

AND the cock crowed. Two thousand years and cockerels are still causing trouble, with BBC political editor Nick Robinson forced to deny his murderous thoughts in the far from still watches of the night. Driven mad by the ghastly, raw unpredictability of the bird, he revealed his inner townie. As a dweller in the countryside, there is no greater shame.

Liz Walker.

Picking on the townie is one of the few bloodsports left to us country dwellers. How we laugh when they run screaming from a pack of bottlefed lambs, we hold our sides when they venture into a pig pen with a well-meant bucket of apples and no wellies. But we never so much as chuckle in front of them.

We nod politely when they tell us how hellish it is to be miles from the nearest pub, or trapped in by snow or, like our neighbours, forced to shower with us because of a frozen main. Neighbourliness is part of country life. It has to be.

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Complaining about cockerels is not neighbourly. We should draw our skirts away from this escapee from the Great Wen, demand that he go back from whence he came. Except – well – cockerels are a real pain.

Cockadoodledoo it is not. The worst offenders could provide the sound effects in a slasher movie. Starting well before dawn is even thought of, they love a hot night, sending their evil song through open windows like a message from Voldemort himself.

If they could manage a regular crow it would almost be a blessing, but that’s against their creed. Squawk, gargle, a minute of wonderful silence and then gargle, choke, hiccup and the final death rattle. I defy anyone not to bury their head under the pillow and curse.

Looking at my own noisy birds, I can’t help but admire the sheer skill required. Swelling throat, gaping beak, nice high vantage point and a commitment to the task that would do credit to Pavarotti. You can never tell which bird is going to be the worst. As in human life, the best lookers never bother to turn their hands to world domination, they’re too busy admiring themselves in a pond.

No, it’s much more likely to be the smaller, scruffier types, or the wall-eyed victor of a thousand murderous scraps. These are the bouncers of the bird world. “I was trying to help him down the steps m’lud, when he unaccountably tripped.” Crowing is the birdy version of a knuckleduster.

Nick Robinson, when he’s stopped thinking up recipes (and I suggest stewing in a decent red), will be wondering why no one shuts the offender in at night. Darkness and incarceration do work, and even if it doesn’t silence the brute, at least the volume would be reduced.

The reason is quite simple. On a summer night the birds won’t roost much before 11, and we country folk go to bed early. We get up early too, because of the noise, obviously, and then prance around telling lesser folk that the world was much better just after five.

In the past, before the hunting ban, we’d have had to get the hens in, but nowadays foxes are so numerous you have to invest in seven foot high security fencing, preferably topped with electric. This looks appalling and costs a fortune, but at least we can leave the birds out at night.

But the cockerel isn’t really the point. This is about being accepted. Bereavement counsellors talk about the grief journey, and incomers have a journey of their own.

At first, they love everyone and think everyone loves them. A year later, when no one’s so much as offered them a cup of coffee, they decide the natives are a nasty, inbred bunch with psychopathic tendencies.

If they endure and don’t sell up, they get to know people. Raspberries are offered. Apples too.

One good move is rescuing livestock, preferably with much personal discomfort. I would advise fitting this in if at all possible. Wrap a sheep in your smart country jacket, that always goes down well.

After that it’s barbeques, and dreadful Jubilee parties (ours are always wet), and drunken Boxing Days. But really, Nick Robinson has only one path left to him. Get a donkey. Now who’s complaining?

Liz Walker is a mother, writer and smallholder from Penistone.