Gerry Farrell: Tale of lives lived on a wing and a prayer

Some of you probably have a wee budgie in a cage at home. You'll be able to coax it into taking a few seeds from your hand. You might even let it fly round your living room. Now imagine if it had an eight foot wingspan and claws that could tear through your belly and rip out your guts. That should give you some idea of what it might be like to own a golden eagle.

Wednesday, 28th December 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:23 pm
Aishoplan dreams of being an eagle hunter like her father

The eagles nest high in the Altai Mountains in Mongolia. They hunt foxes and other prey, swooping down from their eyries, covering a quarter of a mile in five seconds. It’s impossible to say who it was first thought of taking one from the nest as a chick and rearing it to hunt foxes on their behalf. In the freezing cold of a Mongolian winter when the temperature can plummet to -40C it was probably sheer cold and hunger that drove primitive man to take a chick and train it to do the hard work of providing meat to eat and fur to wear. Now, for generations, Mongolian men have been eagle hunters. The emphasis is on the word “men”. Never before has a female dared to take on the challenge. Until now.

We wouldn’t know much about this, living in our centrally-heated homes, fridges and freezers rammed full of convenience food. But a bold documentary team learned about a little girl who dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps and training a wild eagle to hunt. The result is a magnificent piece of film-making that’s showing now in Cineworld at Fountainbridge. It won’t be a box office smash because it’s competing with Pixar, Disney and the usual slew of kiss kiss bang bang action movies that pass for adventurous cinema these days. But that’s good because you won’t have to fight for a seat and you’ll see one of the most enthralling action movies set in a stunning landscape, one that might even make Sir David Attenborough a wee bit jealous.

The Eagle Huntress is in a different league. It’s one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever see, telling the tale of two deep bonds: between a daughter and her father and the girl and her eagle. Aishoplan is only 13 years old. She helps her dad with the livestock and she is expected to become a traditional Mongolian wife and stay at home, keeping house, raising the children and preparing the meals. But Aishoplan has other ideas. She wants to be like her dad. She’s determined to become the world’s first eagle huntress.

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Now there’s only one way to get your hands on an eagle chick. You have to climb down to its nest on a rocky ledge and steal it, risking attack from mummy and daddy eagle or a bone-splintering fall to earth, hundreds of feet below. But this girl’s made of tougher stuff than most men.

Her dad puts a rope round her waist and lowers her down to the nest where two hostile eagle chicks do their best to avoid being trapped under the blanket Aishoplan carries with her. She slips at one point but her dad holds on tight and she manages to wrap the struggling chick.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you. Just to say that Aishoplan raises her chick to a full-grown eagle and enters the annual eagle-hunters’ contest, scandalising the old men of the steppes who don’t like their traditions being overturned by a female. Does she win the contest? Does she go on to become a successful hunter of wild foxes? You’ll need to go and see the film to find out.

Who’s going to be the fall guy in this joke?

My dad told me this joke years ago. Stay with it because the punchline’s a belter.

This guy walks into a bar for a quick pint just before closing time. On the bar stool next to him is another guy who’s had a lot to drink. When the barman starts telling everyone to drink up, the drunk guy gets off his bar stool to go home but as soon as his feet touch the ground he collapses and crumples to the floor.

Our guy lifts him to his feet dusts him off and says “Are you alright?” “Aye pal I’m fine.” But as soon as he takes his hands from under the drunk guy’s armpits, whumph, the drunk guy’s knees go and he’s on the floor again. Our man says “Look, I’ll just help you to the door, ok.” “Aw thanks pal.” He half-carries him to the door, kicks it open with his foot and takes the guy out into the rain-sodden night. “Right, are you ok this time?” “Aye pal, thanks, I’ll be fine.”

Our man turns to go his own way when there’s a groan and a splash. The drunk guy’s fallen into a puddle.” “Look mate, I’ll just take you to the end of your street, alright?” “Aw thanks, pal, very kind of you.” Off they go, together, the drunk guy leaning most of his weight on his new friend’s shoulder, his feet dragging along the concrete. “This is my street pal, ye can let me go now, I’ll be fine.” Our man lets him go. Badoof. The drunk guy’s on the concrete again.

“Look, I’ll take you to your door pal.” “Aw that’s very kind of you, thanks very much.” So our fella half carries, half drags him to his front door and leans him against the wall. “Alright mate, I’ve got to get home, will you make it up the stair?” “Aye, dinny worry, I’ll be fine, off ye go.” Our man turns to go and immediately, wallop, the drunk guy collapses on the doorstep.” “Listen, you’ve had one too many, I’ll get ye up the stair, okay?” “Aw thanks buddy, very kind of you.”

Panting like an elephant in labour, our man heaves the drunk up three flights of stairs, fishes his keys out his pocket for him and gets him in the door. Taking no chances, he helps him down the hall to his bedroom and lays him on the bed next to his sleeping wife and off he goes to his own bed.

The drunk guy wakes up next morning with a throbbing head. His wife turns to him, her face like thunder. “You were absolutely plastered last night,” she says.

“I got home, didn’t I?” he says. “Aye,” she says, “but you left your effing wheelchair in the pub.”

Stalking filler

My youngest son Ally works for a rival paper, The Sun. He’s a senior showbiz reporter. He basically stalks celebs and tries to find out interesting stuff we haven’t already heard about them. So for his Christmas this year I got him a drone. Now he can do some aerial stalking too.