Dogs are supposed to take on the character traits of their owners. But what about wild animals?
London’s Richmond Park is the place to answer that question. It was laid out in the 17th century for Charles I to do some deer stalking.
Some 700 red and fallow deer still roam the park, and I’ve been observing them for 32 years. (These days one can look, but one can’t stalk.)
And what do you know? The social interplay between the stags and the does is remarkably, well, English.
Most Englishmen are in no rush to go home to their wives after work. Typically they go ‘down the pub with the lads’, sink a few pints, spend an evening chatting about football or those twats back in the office and then catch the train home, to arrive at 10pm or so.
Women, they often say, are only good for one thing.
Some chaps even insist that ‘wife’ is actually an acronym, standing for ‘washing, ironing, f***ing et cetera’. Yes, it’s jocular banter, but jokes always have a smidgen of reality about them.
Now, I lay no claim to being a present-day Konrad Lorenz, that great observer of animal behaviour. Yet I too can observe, and those stags in Richmond Park are clearly English.
They stick together or wander off on their own, leaving the does to their girlish chatter. In the absence of pubs, the stags go grazing, always making sure there’s plenty of green grass between them and the does.
Where they differ from Englishmen is in the frequency of their use of females for the only thing they are supposed to be good for.
For, contrary to malicious French claims, English libidos demand gratification more often than once a year.
In that sense, those Richmond stags are more English than the English. The only time they go anywhere near the does is during the rutting season in October. The rest of the time they turn their backs on the females and go off to graze together.
What do those stags and does talk about among themselves? One can only guess.
But the guesses don’t have to be uneducated: much can be deduced from the animals’ body language.
All I can say is that, whenever they spot me, their body language isn’t altogether complimentary.