My brother Rob was visiting, and we had twenty minutes to pass before we could meet my daughter from her train. Rob proposed a nostalgic wander around Rickmansworth, our local shopping town when we were kids. We saw where our beloved Strawberry Fields record shop used to be (now a two storey car park), where WH Smith was and still is, and the previous site of the Cafe Suisse in Church Street – which we had often frequented in our youth – which was now the Lemongrass restaurant. We had imagined that the Cafe Suisse might have been the “small cafe in Rickmansworth” which Douglas Adams was referring to in the opening passage of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Sadly Adams didn’t specify which cafe, although there were few in Rickmansworth in 1978 when he wrote the story. Perhaps he just picked a curious sounding place from the outer reaches of the tube map. Anyway, there was nothing on the front of the Tamarind Thai to claim the glory.
Rob asked whether I went to Rickmansworth much these days. Yes, sometimes, I replied. When I’m pressed into service for the Waitrose shop…if I ever need an actual bank branch…if we want to get a picture framed…if we need a jewellers…
“Jewellers? Do you often go the the jewellers?”
“Sometimes. I went there last year to get my wedding ring resized.”
“Why did you get your wedding ring resized?”
“Because of a rhea related incident.”
I can be ruthless, and I decided he deserved the full story.
It was Thursday 8th June 2017. I know that, because it was General Election day. My wife and I walked to the local hall which serves as a polling station to cast our votes. It was a beautiful day, so we opted for a longer walk and carried on across the fields and through the place we call No-Dragon Wood.
We emerged from the woods and walked on a footpath following the edge of a field close to farm buildings. We were strolling along and chatting when I looked up and saw a rhea charging towards us, wings extended, looking angry. It must have escaped from the adjoining field where the rest of the flock were kept, separated from the public footpath.
You may not know much about rheas. I certainly didn’t. They are large flightless birds, in this case over five feet tall. And apparently we had encountered this one at a bad time, because according to Wikipedia: “While caring for the young, the males will charge at any perceived threat that approaches the chicks including female rheas and humans.”
We tried to stand our ground but he was having none of it, and made aggressive pecking motions at us. Soon it came after me – these fellows can run at 40 miles per hour – and in my effort to get away I stumbled on the uneven ground, landing awkwardly, and was on the ground as the thing approached me.
Amusing, no? Well, no, let’s hear from a “bird expert” quoted in the press:
“They look nice but they are so strong it’s unbelievable. They aren’t listed as a dangerous animal but can kill you with one strike of their feet because their claws are six inches long. They will also go for your eyes with their beak.”
I managed to stand up again before he was upon me, and together my wife and I scrambled an undignified exit from the field, moving briskly but not running, keeping our body language passive (which we found easy) and our heads turned to keep him in view.
I gratefully closed the gate behind us and we tried to regain our composure. It was only then that I realised my left hand was hurting slightly from where I had landed on it. Over the next few hours the modest pain subsided and had soon gone altogether. But there was one lasting effect: the proximal interphalangeal joint on the third finger of my left hand was fractionally thicker, and my wedding ring could now be removed only with great difficulty.
As you will know, Jeremy Corbyn that day delighted his supporters by losing only narrowly to Theresa May.
I waited for a few weeks in the hope that my finger joint would revert to its previous size, but it showed no such inclination, so I made the trip to the jewellers which you have read about.
The next time we received our voter registration Household Enquiry Form, we both ticked the box to vote by post in future. Voting in person, we decided, was too exciting for us. And we’ve never since entered a polling booth.
Postscript 30 March 2020. In the first few days of the Coronavirus lockdown, my resized wedding ring has three times fallen off my finger, with no more encouragement than a coldish day, assistance from gravity, and perhaps lightly brushing against something. I conclude that after nearly three years, my proximal interphalangeal has reverted to its previous size and shape. To avoid dropping the ring down the u-bend or elsewhere, I have removed it, and will return to the jewellers in Rickmansworth for re-resizing when normal life resumes. And afterwards I will stay well away from that damned rhea.