This is an uplifting story of survival with which to usher in the New Year. At Stoke Park, my home in Northamptonshire, I went the other day into the West Pavilion, one of two 17th-century buildings that were once connected by colonnades to a country house that burned down in 1896. It is one large room with a single entrance door, originally used as a library, then in the 19th century as a ballroom, and nowadays only for wedding receptions and the like. It is kept locked and protected by a burglar alarm, but inside was a hen pheasant scurrying frantically about.
I wondered how it could possibly have got in there until I looked up and saw a jagged hole in the large Venetian window overlooking the park and splinters of glass all over the floor inside. There had been shooting in the park that day, and the bird, in desperate flight from the guns, had clearly flown into the window at high speed and simply burst through it. But it appeared completely unhurt. I cornered it and tried to catch it, but it gave me the slip and took off again in renewed terror towards a kind of hidden minstrels’ gallery high up above the entrance door, where it crashed into another window, cracking another pane, and fell out of sight on to the gallery’s floor. There was silence and no sign of movement.
I felt that this time there could be no doubt that it had done itself in, though I couldn’t be absolutely sure until I had found a tall ladder and gone up to see for myself, which at my age would have been rather a hazardous enterprise. But I returned an hour or two later to find continued silence and so was confirmed in my conclusion.