JACKDAW

A young Jackdaw came along between the haystacks, one broken wing stuck upon its back, tail feathers mostly missing, one leg trailing. It was half starved and in a shocking state – its plumage rough and dirty. I ran and caught it gingerly. I examined its wounds. Believe me that young bird had more than its share of troubles.

I took it into the farmhouse kitchen and gave it bread and milk, which it soon took and ate, with no show of shyness. On the tiled floor it skidded and hopped to the cat’s dish and in a few seconds everything was eaten: never did anything get better so quickly!

In a few hours he was preening his feathers, so I put him on the side of the horse trough outside to drink. He splashed and clowned, not making any effort to fly away. I put him in a ‘loose box’, a building we calved a cow in if in winter or a troublesome birth. It was warm and snug, cat-proof and always clean, with straw boultens tied in bundles ready to be strewn on the floor.

The vet called a few days later, it was during the summer holidays, after he finished his usual job. He took Jack who was tame, fat and well groomed – a different bird altogether, a bit wicked with his nipping beak. The leg was sort of disjointed and was soon put right, he would stand on it for weeks not too long but gradually, as the weeks went by, it was back to normal.

Behold the old vet he was 60-odd years old, he took the displaced wing in his two hands and gently twisted an,d fingers probing and pushing, sort of remoulded the wing.

“I don’t want him to try to use his wing, for a week,” said the vet. “Fetch a small box or cage of some sort, that he will not have to hop, let alone fly.” I found an empty ferret cub (a special outdoor house for ferrets) in the garage and put Jack in it.

“Capital” said the vet. “Be careful with him – don’t throw him up in the air or try to make him fly, he will go in his own time, when he is ready."

For a week poor old Jack was in limbo and he was in a wicked temper: every time I got anywhere near to give him food or water, the old boy had me. I sat on the straw talking to him and times I said,

“That’s it Old Boy... Now then Old Boy .. or “Watch it Old Boy", and in two or three days – he was trying to say old boy. So that what the name he christened himself.

I got up early the eighth day and was soon letting him out,

“Come, Old Boy” I said, opening the door very carefully – keeping my fingers out of reach of the door. I stepped back, what would he do? He took his time chattering:

“Jack, Jack,” a dozen times, then like a drunk he lurched and tottered himself to the door – his wicked little eyes just hoping for my finger to be in pecking distance. I had stood his cup on the floor, a tray two inches deep of water, and a rabbit’s liver and lights – his favourite dinner – on a tin plate. He cocked his head one way and then the other and after a few seconds which seemed minutes to me, he said half a dozen times over and over again

“Jack Old Boy. What’s it, Old Boy? Jack Old Boy.”

Then like a gentleman, he bathed very carefully -not using his wings, just squatting down, putting his beak and head under the water, shooting along the water with a roll this away and that and standing up then flopping down in and repeating it over several times.

He then ate his food, after he’d pulled it around the floor for minutes working on it and shaking it. ‘Good job it wasn’t my finger,’ I thought.

His tail and feathers grew and thickened – although, it took two years for it become passable. It was never his crowning glory as it always was a bit lopsided but it steered him while his wing got better. I had not messed about with it, believing I would do more harm than good, also maybe causing unnecessary suffering.

For weeks I kept him in the loose box building, popping in to feed and water him, talking to him. After three or four weeks he began to do “flying jumps” to the window on to ‘the browsing’ (the trough we fed the cows in).

One afternoon it came a shower of rain stopping the harvest work. As there was a few minutes spare before milking, I popped into have a chat with Old Boy. I had no sooner opened the door and took two or three steps inside, when he just made straight for me. I thrust my hands in my pockets out of his beak’s way., I crouched and half turned away. But straight up and top of my head he flew. I would have rather him been on my shoulder, but I had a thick mop of hair and though it was painful, he was not too bad. I slowly straightened up. What could I do? I dare not put my hand up, as he loved little boys’ fingers? I was six or seven years old. I thought I would turn and go outside, sooner or later he would have to go, so out we went as Old Boy stuck his toes in to balance.

At that very moment, a big farm cat came by: Old Boy nearly took my scalp off – he squawked and chattered and then he took off with half of my hair in his claws. I thought he would have a go at the cat, but with his hurt wing he’d had no chance. I need not have worried, he was too wily and cunning for that. He flew across the yard to the big horse trough, he had a whale of a time washing, bathing and general acrobatics. He was a tease every minute, he clowned with head on one side, he looked and chattered in the most ridiculous, cheeky way.

To the farm cat, going quietly along the yard wall, minding the birds of the garden, he was fair game one second, bathing the next. He was swooping up there. She swung a right paw an inch from his beak. With a lot of scolding Old Boy returned wobbly and landed on the trough, teetering back and forth. He was a wicked bird, my hands were sore from his vicious snips. Even as I fed him, he would clown and mimic the cat.

I took Old Boy down in the meadow as he grew stronger: My, how he pounced on water rats! Bang! He was an excellent killer of all vermin, mice and rats like a terrier dog, he tore in and shook, never letting go.

He was mischievous – anything that shone or glittered, if the windows were open he was in the house like a flash and out with key, pins and brooches, all in a second to hide in a store, Sometimes he would have two or three store places, weeks would pass by before I could return the stolen articles. I tried to train him to ride on my shoulders but it was too painful for me. The wicked scamp would, in temper or excitement, take a piece out of my ear!

For two years or more Old Boy was always rat hunting along the banks of streams. One very windy and gusty day he flew bang into the drawbridge and knocked himself in the canal where he flapped and floundered in a dazed sort of way. I found a long stick and after a struggle got him onto the bank, almost falling in myself in the process. The Old Boy had the stuffing knocked out of him and just didn’t try to do any of his tricks, nasty or otherwise. I put him in my shirt, wet as he was and ran home with him. We popped him in the warm kitchen oven in a slipper to warm him with a tot of Dad’s elderberry wine, a little at a time.

But he just lost the will to live. Old Boy faded away slowly and two days later I found him tucked in my old slipper as if asleep. I buried him still in the slipper in a corner of the garden in the front of Chisnell House facing west, so that he caught the last of the sun rays on his resting place, with a little forked stick to mark the spot with a bit of cardboard on it in very small boys writing there was:

“Old Boy Fast asleep.”

I put him there to rest in that spot because I loved to see him sat in the sun preening his feathers. The sun brought out the lovely bluey grey colours of his plumage and that was how I thought he would like to be remembered as the sun went down.