I took a life today.
A small life. A young life. A life that was close to ending, a life that didn't matter to anyone other than the liver of that life, but a life nonetheless. The taking of the life was easy. The decision to take the life a little more difficult.
Unusually, I was without either of my faithful hounds while on one of my regular little wanders around the mean streets of Horwich. On a whim I decided to take a path I'd never before trodden, which ultimately turned out to be no more inspiring than my usual route but was more unusual. If there's one thing I enjoy more than others it's all things unusual.
I meandered my lonely way along an overgrown path where I spotted a blackbird feeding on a patch of grass up ahead. At about the same time, I spotted the gunmen. Two gunmen, popping their heads over a concrete wall upon which a local artist had chosen to display his work. Alongside the words "Fuck Da Police" were painted a huge cock and balls.
The artwork lacked any real detail, although the balls were stubbly and the teardrop shaped rendering of the ejaculate did a fine job of adding depth while drawing the eye toward the main body of the work.
Still, it was plainly not the work of Banksy.
The gunmen, or to be more accurate "gunchildren" since neither could have been more than thirteen, took aim. Briefly I thought they were aiming at me, but the squawk and fluttery flurry of feathers that followed the "crack...crack" noise of two air rifles being discharged brought brief relief.
Almost immediately the children did as children armed with air rifles have done throughout the ages once having pulled their triggers. They got on their toes and legged it, leaving the innocent blackbird to writhe around on the floor in agony, it's wounds in themselves not lethal but the predicament the creature found itself in more so.
I'd like to think the children ran because they regretted what they'd done and couldn't face the result of their actions. I realise that's possibly not the case, but who wants to think of kids as cold blooded torturers of small animals?
I've chosen to believe that they cried when they told their mother what they'd done and that they'll now hone their marksman skills on tin cans and CCTV cameras like we did when we were children.
I strode over to the injured bird, stooping to collect a large, heavy stone from the ground. By now the bird had stopped trying to move and was breathing deeply and slowly. One leg twitched and it's shiny, shattered, yellow beak opened and closed silently. The wound in it's back was wider than I'd expected from a pellet. Closer inspection showed it was an exit wound, the pellet having passed clean through.
I puffed on my pipe, raised the stone and heard a noise from behind. Children. Young children in high-vis tabards and two chaperons leading them from the safety of a nursery to the safety of an after school club. Happy, smiling children. Children who would be mortified to see some old bloke executing a bird in a field.
I slipped the stone into my pocket and attempted to look as nonchalant as a man can look while kneeling in a field next to a dying bird and puffing on a pipe with a bulge in his pocket.
I think I pulled it off.
It was at this point one of the children stumbled, having trodden on his own stray lace. The chaperon on point duty, bringing up the rear, stopped and crouched down and I started to feel terribly sorry for the bird lay behind me in such agony. A life led swooping and soaring through the skies, now punctuated with this most pointless and drawn out of full stops. But it wouldn't take long to tie the lace, they'd be on their way soon.
Except she wasn't tying the kids lace. Apparently, this particular child needed to practice tying his bloody laces, and he needed to practice right there and right then.
Eventually, I could wait no longer. Rubbing my hands nervously I sidled over to the other chaperon and whispered...
"Excuse me. I'm sorry to bother you, love, but there's a dying bird over there and I want to kill it."
I'm not sure if it was my blunt choice of words or my attempt at a warm, non-psychotic smile that caused the nervous giggle she allowed to slip from her lips. Maybe it was the enormous, hard lump in my pocket? Who knows? Whatever the reason, the result was the same and the children were spirited away, laces fastened or not.
The bird hadn't moved when I got back. He no longer twitched or silently screamed, though his chest still swelled and shrank with the steady rhythm of his respiration. I felt sorry for him and told him so.
Then thud, and he was gone.
No more swooping, soaring, singing or suffering. Given the choice, I'm sure he'd rather have lived. But he didn't have that choice. Either a fox, cat or pipe smoking passer by was going to have the last say, if the devastating wound didn't first, and the time in between now and that decision being made on his behalf would be one filled with fear and pain.
But if, perhaps, the bird had time to weigh up the pros and cons of his continued existence, given the seriousness of his condition and the pain he was in, maybe he'd have agreed with me, favouring a swift death (made less swift by that kid and his bloody laces) over extended, unnecessary pain and being disgorged by a cat.
A cat who wouldn't even do him the honour of eating his remains since she's got a bowl of Felix waiting for her at home.
Given the choice over whether or not two young scrotes shot him in the first place I'm sure he'd have come down on the "I really don't want that to happen" side. But that choice had already been made without his input.
The campaign to legalise assisted suicide in the U.K. is in the news again. There's to be a vote in the Scottish Parliament regarding a change in the law while, in Switzerland, a British man, Jeffrey Spector, visited the Dignitas clinic where he ended his own life (with the assistance of the clinic) rather than face complete paralysis in the future as the result of the inoperable tumour he carried within him and it's escalating assault on his nervous system.
I've struggled to decide whether or not I think we should follow Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg and the United States down the path of legislating in favour of a person's right to end their own lives when, in their own measured and informed opinion, their lives are no longer worth living.
Mr. Spector fought his condition bravely. When the fight was over and all that remained was to allow the tumour to devastate his body, and with that his quality of life, Mr. Spector thought about the future and decided, rightly or wrongly, that the best thing to do was to live as long as he could as the man that he was and then go. To live what remained of his life to it's fullest extent before waving a fond farewell to his family, his last experience being to recognise the love in the eyes and the touch of those surrounding him and to be allowed to rest the well earned rest he yearned.
That's not quite what he achieved.
He had to travel to Switzerland while he was still healthy enough to do so without assistance, assistance that could leave his loved ones in danger of prosecution. Had he been able to end his days here he would certainly have lived longer, to have spent more time with his family, to have left the deed until the last possible moment. Had he not needed to still be healthy he'd likewise have lived longer. But he couldn't risk not being fit enough to make it there under his own steam. How can it be right that we force a man, in such a dark period of his life, to die before he needs to?
It's a curious paradox that our attempt to prevent people ending their lives early leads to a life being ended earlier.
It seems to me that the term assisted suicide is far too vague. Even if we're not allowing it on our shores, we are allowing it. If it's to take place in a clinic overseas then maybe pushing a wheelchair and sharing a last night together shouldn't be classed as assisting. That would have given Mr. Spector's family more time with him. He was going to do it, he has now done it, but doing it could've been postponed. Maybe for months, maybe just weeks and maybe only for one day.
But even one extra day, if it's to be your last, is worth living.