Saturday 14th January 2017 – £85 each (discounts available)
Joined by Conal Deeney
“Mum, what should I get Conal for his 30th?”
“He’s been asking for FIFA.”
For a brother with imagination, Eagle Heights is a birthday present ne plus ultra. Hiding in darkest Kent, we had to catch three trains and walk two miles to get there. Snow covered the ground. We were hungover. My phone was on 1%. It was hell.
We were presented with a strange, modern building that looked like extension built on extension built on extension and, indeed, it was extensions all the way down. We sat with a cup of tea and waited for our “experience” to start, reading leaflets of other, warmer places we could be visiting in the South East of England. We were given a Health and Safety brochure that didn’t mention what to do if one’s eyes were gouged out by an owl, which was encouraging.
Our guide, brought us outside and went through the basics. Owls are birds of prey. Astonishing stuff. Then, she released Apu, an Asian brown wood owl with dazzling plumage and no love in his black eyes. And he was a noisy
bastard, to boot. This wasn’t the haunting “toowhit-toowhoo” of nursery rhyme, but the piercing “squeerk, squeerk, motherfucking squeerk” of Brexit Britain. I was the first up to handle with my fetching leather gauntlet that made me feel like that fella from Knightmare. As Apu flapped the frigid, vortexless air, our guide made a sound like a lisped librarian admonishing the noisy whilst placing a tragic scrap of infant chicken carcass on said glove. In a snap, Apu right-angled Joe-wards and pounced in a weightless swoop. It was a poetic, atavistic sensation that was at once catharsis and exhilaration.
Our guide made something of an issue regarding people’s “over-sensitivity” with an Asian brown owl being named after the Asian shop keeper in The Simpsons, with a notable “it’s PC gone MAD!” tone. Though, if they’d named a Yorkshire brown owl after the daftest and indeed only Tyke character from, I don’t know, The Flintstones, I’d be annoyed.
Next up were the barn owl sisters that circled and cried and mounted the glove two abreast for a sensory overload. Our guide talked about their differing personalities that, if heard on telly, would make me scoff at that typical One Show projective bollocks, but I was a hopeless disciple to this wisdom when being ignored by one and having the other scream in my face.
We then went inside to Winston… Ah! Winston. Winston instilled in me feelings I’ve never before harboured for a male. A little owl who wasn’t keen on flying but instead hopped along the floor and pounced on his food like he was fooling us into thinking him a predator. He was also the only one that liked to be stroked, nay! insisted on it. I’ve looked into owning little owls as pets. You can’t. I hate the world.
That was the end of the “experience” and an experience it was. It was an expensive do, even with a substantial discount, but I never once felt short changed. It also entitled us to a free cup of tea whilst we waited for the owner’s son to give a display of the birds in flight. We had an African Eagle, Apu again, a mesmerizing bald eagle, and just about the funniest vulture you’d ever see. Then there was Rex, a bird straight from Greek mythology with a beak like a corvo and a wingspan that put all Kent in the shade. He was a steller’s sea eagle and every bit a murderer.
One gets a true sense that the birds there are looked after and share a close relationship with their handlers. This sometimes manifests itself with unfortunately human responses to the birds’ nature. “She’s being horrible to me”, “birds of prey are lazy”, “Winston got in a sulk”. Woah woah woah! You shut your dirty mouth and leave Winston alone! He’s an animal, not your unemployed boyfriend. Still, I’d rather the handlers erred on the side of too close than too distant, so it wasn’t a big deal.
My brother’s a cynical chap, as is his older brother, but that day was the best birthday present a boy ever got and the best birthday present this boy ever gave. I can’t really recommend the experience enough; incredible birds, beautiful countryside, educational, interactive, ethical, platitude, platitude, platitude. Eagle Heights reminded me why I write this blog and why owls are 100% fantastic.