Do you remember when nodding dogs on the back shelf of many cars were all the rage? writes Elizabeth Wright.
During the 70s and 80s Dockie and Peter Deane, who, for many years, ran dog boarding kennels at Langney, Eastbourne, went one better. They had what appeared to be a large chicken in fancy dress sitting in their Citroën.
But this game bird was very much alive and for 20 years kept the town’s visitors and residents entertained as she peered out of the back window. One of the amusing comments Dockie heard was from a little boy who pointed to the bird and said,” Look mum, there’s a chicken in that car.” The mother replied, “If you tell any more fibs, I won’t get you an ice-cream.” “But mum, there is.”
This was Brook, a glamorous silver pheasant who was totally convinced she was human. By rights she should never have made it into the world as nature conspired to try and finish her off when a hungry fox raided her parent birds’ nest, killing her father and traumatising her mother so much that when she laid two eggs a day or so later, she refused to sit on them. One of the Deane’s broody Silkie Bantams took over the job, but as the chicks began to hatch, she abandoned them, leaving one dead and the other weak and cold.
Dockie said, “I couldn’t see the tiny thing die so I put it in a box and brought it indoors in the warm.”
Lovingly reared on hard-boiled eggs and chick crumbs, the little silver pheasant thrived, but having been brought up by people, she became humanised and refused to return to her peers in the garden. She originally slept in a little box in the kitchen, but when this room was being decorated, she was temporarily moved into the bedroom, still in her box. But she jumped onto the end of the bed, settled down, and from then on insisted that was where she was going to sleep.
Although she ate pheasant food, her diet could best be described as cosmopolitan. She liked assorted insects and worms, salad with French dressing, Hovis bread with blackcurrant jam, Smarties and Jelly-Tots, bacon and eggs and adored American ice-cream. She always had a birthday cake decorated with candles.
She never liked being separated from “her family”, a point she clearly made early in life. When the Deanes went out one evening, leaving, as they thought, one tired little bird fast asleep, they returned to find Brook had trashed all she could lay her beak on. In furious temper she had knocked china ornaments and scent bottles on the floor and ripped a box of paper hankies into confetti. After that, a family friend, Mary, was needed as a bird-sitter.
To Brook, it was perfectly normal to ride in a car, watch TV or snooze in an armchair.
She was also an excellent guard bird, standing by the door to vet all callers. Not everyone passed her test. Two spaniels belonging to visiting relatives were terrified of her because she used to round them up, chase them onto the settee and nip their toes as they tried to escape. She was equally selective with car passengers. One friend, who unsuspectingly opened the car door, was chased down the road by an angry Brook pecking furiously at his ankles. Another time Dockie returned to the car and found blood spattered around; the bird was uninjured. It appeared someone had tried to break in and paid a painful price.
An amorous wild pheasant once turned up in the garden, and as a result of the liaison Brook laid some 48 eggs. But motherhood didn’t seem to have much appeal; she laid most of them on the large mantelpiece where they rolled off and broke. Towards the end of her life, with hormonal changes, Brook’s speckled brown plumage turned into the splendid colours of navy and silver. As an old lady her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, but her spirit remained undaunted. She died at the ripe old age of 20 and was buried in her favourite patch of garden under a rose bush.
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