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16 July 2003

One of the things I love about Newcastle, I walk out of my door and across the road and I'm in a park: trees and greenery, bandstand and clock tower and narrow winding paths, the whole works. A couple of minutes later, I'm on open moorland where cattle graze. Still in the heart of the city, you understand, but this is common land and the developers can't touch it.

Those cattle, though... A couple of weeks ago I was talking to the novelist Patrick Gale, who lives on a meat-and-two-veg farm in the west country, and he says that acting as an unpaid farmhand has taught him that he has no fear. I am deeply envious of this, as I have lots. Large, unintelligent, unpredictable animals I am very wary of. Years of living in Newcastle, though, have taught me that actually herds of bullocks are more nervous than I am, and will shy away if I get too close. For a long time now I've been quite comfortable walking by them, even walking through them when they're packed close around the gates.

But a few weeks back I was cutting across the moor, and the cattle were down the far end, and as I got halfway over I heard this faint rumble; and looked round to see them bearing down on me in a mild stampede. I walked faster, they kept coming, I walked faster, they kept coming. I was determined not to run, but I was practically sprint-walking before I reached the gate. And nipped through, and turned to see them wheel away at the last minute and go frisking off; and I don't suppose they would really have trampled me underfoot, but it was strange and it did seem deliberate - all the wide moor to play in and they came straight for me, and kept coming all the way to the gate, that was not happenstance - and I was kind of spooked after. Not enough to stop me crossing the moor, just enough to prey a little on my mind.

And then yesterday I was crossing the moor and the cattle were fairly close to the gate, and I walked by; and most of them ignored me, and one or two edged away, and one of them lifted his head and watched me - and followed me as I passed, and came fairly quickly up behind me and there I was doing the speed-walking again. And I got to the gate and nipped through, and found a woman standing there, watching; and she said she didn't fancy him at all, this bullock, and did I think he'd be okay if she went through? And we looked at him across the gate, and he looked back, and I said yes, I thought probably he would, but I'd stay around to distract him if he got frisky with her. And she said she thought it was probably me he was interested in anyway, because at least she wasn't wearing anything red. And I blinked down at myself and of course she was right, I was in summer plumage, my crushed-raspberry shirt; and she went through the gate and the bullock ignored her entirely and went on watching me. Maybe he was just a fashion critic, because he was himself all in pure black, as I normally am; and while I hate to be intimidated - and while I have always believed that whole red-rag-to-a-bull thing was entirely nonsense, indeed I was told as a kid that they were colour-blind and I hold to that, I want it to be true - nevertheless I'm back into black again tomorrow, and hereafter.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.