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MEMORIES OF THE TIME I RENTED SOME LEAPING DEER
It was autumn: everything was dying, including me, but the attractive beckoning mists of that season were underway, and I was in a “seize the day” kind of mood so I decided, against the advice of many close acquaintances, to go onto RightMove and rent three leaping deer for £20,000 per calendar month. I embarked on this adventure with my eyes open: the deer were in a quiet and secluded location in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but not one of them was equipped with central heating or fibre optic broadband. After I pointed out these downsides of the deer to the landlord, I was able to negotiate with him and get the rent reduced to just £19,775 per calendar month. I considered this quite the result, especially when I subsequently heard that 48 other potential tenants had been vying alongside me to rent the deer. I am not sure why I was chosen as the anointed one but I did dress up very respectably for the viewing and the landlord seemed impressed when I said I wrote books for a living.
“Are they published?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “I generally just sit on top of salt bins in town centres and bark passages from them at anyone who happens to be walking along the street. If a person particularly enjoys a paragraph or simile sometimes they throw loose change into an old hat that I leave on the ground. You’d be surprised at the way it mounts up.”
“I like you,” he said. “You might well be hearing from me again soon. Also, do not go away from here thinking I didn’t appreciate that bow tie.”
I will be the first to admit that my plan to rent the deer was not one carried out sensibly with the well-being of my future self in mind: my life savings totalled at £13,742, which - when you took into additional consideration the vast security deposit required - meant that I would only be guaranteed of renting the deer for around 13 days before potential eviction. But I figured that there were always ways to make quick money when push came to shove (my car, which I was not especially attached to, was worth over £90) and I was tired of living half in an overanalysed past and half in the nonsense future of a panicked fool. I had been reading a lot of early Buddhist texts recently and learning that true enlightenment comes from existing entirely in the present moment and emptying the self of ego and intellect. I thought renting some deer could only help in my attempt to achieve this state. Being deer, they would not be impressed by status, trophies or bragging. Also, they all appeared to be very stupid. Especially the big one.
At the end of my first week renting the deer, I held a lavish deerwarming party, featuring a large bonfire constructed from the furniture I couldn’t fit in or on the deer. I was amazed at the size of the crowd, which included lots of my friends, plus many people who used to be friends with me a long time ago when I had been more socially useful. Unfortunately the deer quickly became too hot, prompting them to scatter, after which the rest of the gathering quickly dispersed into nearby woods, paddocks and silos, leaving me alone with my thoughts next to the smouldering remains of a 1960s Danish sideboard. By this time I was already down to two deer, since the most skittish of the trio had taken offence and permanently fled very early during the first day when I’d attempted to use its antlers as a coat stand. The following morning, when the other two deer returned, I noticed that one of them was leaking: not a severe or gushing leak, but the kind you’d surely want to know about at the earliest opportunity if you were personally responsible for the maintenance of a deer. “I will certainly get on that, but now is a tricky time for me and I have to hierachise my taskload,” the landlord told me later that day, when I telephoned to tell him about it. In the background, I could hear ebullient Spanish music and what seemed to be the sea.
The nights were drawing in, and, as I huddled as close to the deer as they would allow, I sometimes regretted the impulsive Zen approach that had led me to them: in my excitement at first setting eyes on the deer in their romantic misty habitat, I had neglected to consider practical matters like heating, hygiene and other issues connected to living in some ruminant mammals without a roof or carpets. I allowed my mind to wander, abandoning the simplistic pluses of the Here And Now for a future where I’d put my savings towards some wild animals of my very own that nobody could stop me insulating and redecorating in my way: a future, that with one kneejerk decision, I’d probably rendered forever unreachable. In signing the contract on the deer, I had also neglected to keep in mind that August to December was mating season, which meant they were prone to wander. Here, however, I found an unanticipated bonus clause in my tenancy: because I was the official renter of the deer, I also became the official renter of whatever place the deer’s nomadic horniness took them to. This enabled me to experience a variety of thickets, derelict mills, babbling brooks and pleasure gardens that would normally have been off limits to me as a result of the 1925 Law Of Property Act, and to swagger around them with my chest puffed out, sure in the knowledge that they were legally mine, if only for a very short time.
Overall, I do not regret my phase as the tenant of some leaping deer, however fleeting it might have been. At times I miss the freedom of those days, the mossy sense of separation from society, the way the three of us would drift off to sleep on the damp ground listening to the last of the year’s grasshoppers, but life had not been without its stresses, such as the deer’s tendency to bolt across dual carriageways without looking both ways and all those times I’d had to untangle their legs from some barbed wire (when one of them sustained a cut on its flank the landlord, showing me the pictures the estate agent had taken of the flank in its unblemished state before I moved in, tried to take the damage out of my deposit, just as I’d fucking anticipated). Did I get my money’s worth? Many would argue not. But what is money? What are possessions? It’s all an illusion: clutter and distraction on the grand journey. People say they’ve “bought” two or three deer of their own but in reality they probably just have a mortgage on them, which they will be paying off almost until they are in their grave. Then where do the deer go? To a total stranger, probably. I miss “my” deer but I like to think of them happily roaming around the countryside, unburdened by my photo albums, floor cushions and kitchen utensils. We promised we’d keep in touch, meet up again some time on more of an even footing, but people and deer promise a lot of things then don’t do them. Plus I rent a cheap wolf from a local housing authority now, which would make everything a bit complex. Life has moved on. It always does. There’s just no stopping it, even when you try.
My latest book, Villager, is now out in paperback, and can be purchased here from Blackwells with free worldwide delivery.