Hen Height Hiatus #9





An Extraordinary Discovery

An extraordinary thing has come to pass.

(Bear with me, this is a slightly longer tale than usual but may give some people hope.)

The last few of months have been troubled ones as we trawled along the seabed of my past, hauling everything to the surface for a good old look.  There are a lot of unsightly and, frankly, best forgotten things lurking back there. The last tattered remnants of the imagined atmospheric version of my childhood have been exposed. Coupled with a forced move to a new job in a toxic environment, it has been an uncomfortable few weeks. Unable to cope with the world of humans I resigned my Community Council Post and withdrew from society.  My girls, bless their little scaly feet, have kept me at least engaged with the great outdoors.  A trip out into the garden to tend to them often leads to a desire to go for a walk.

At my last appointment, I asked the psychologist for help in coping with the world of work, and office politics in particular. This has become an increasing problem for me and I wanted to prevent myself from leaving another job.  We talked about dealing with people who will at best embellish the truth and at worst outright lie in order to protect their own job rather than carry out the work we’re supposed to be doing.  As I have always worked in a kind of social work setting this has been difficult, actually impossible, for me to go along with. And it seems to be increasingly common. The psychologist told me my problem was that I couldn’t marry up my ideals with the reality of the restricted framework in which these jobs are carried out.

I went home feeling completely wretched that day, and barely slept that night.

But here’s the exciting bit.

The following morning I had an epiphany.  I saw myself clearly for the first time since I was raped.  Anyone who has lost their grasp on their own identity will know how extraordinary this is.

I suddenly saw myself as the person who won’t go along with lying to further my own needs at a cost to the public purse.  I’m the annoying person who challenges poor practice.  I’m the annoying person who wants to keep honest records and change things that are not giving vulnerable people the best support we can offer, even if that means we have to own up to our own mistakes.

I’m that person.  The one that people roll their eyes at.  The idealist.  That’s me.  That’s why I don’t fit in.  The problem is not with me it’s with the workplaces I’ve recently been choosing to work in.

I saw myself clearly for the first time in over a decade because I saw clearly who I am not.  I do not want to be the person who lies to protect my job or chase promotion and, this is the important bit, I cannot hide my distaste when I see others doing it.

What has been lacking is the courage of my own convictions.  I have actually fitted in more than I realised and it’s the fitting in that has bothered me.  It’s my own silence in the face of these self-serving office tyrants that has caused me so much anguish.  It’s my voice I need to find.

‘To thy own self be true.’

This epiphany has led to an amazing lift in my mood and an extraordinary creative outpouring that has shifted my focus from spending leisure time brooding to absorbing myself in art, my own and other people’s.  My world view is transformed.  Interacting with humans has become much easier now that I know who I am.

I’m not saying I’m some amazing public campaigner or a great artist.  I’m just an ordinary extraordinary person, as we all are.  The difference is that I think I now know which kind of ordinary extraordinary person I am. And I like that person.  She’s not as bad as I thought she was.

To grasp the slippery concept of your current self is to marry up mind and body.  I know myself, and now I may know others.

The Nights are Drawing in and it’s Cold Outside

Yesterday morning I had to crack the ice on the water feeder.  This led me to think about the adaptability of chickens.  They originally come from Asian countries where they were jungle fowl in places that are usually a good deal warmer than here.  There’s is another story of involuntary migration.  No one asked if they wanted to become egg slaves to the people of the frozen north.  But here they are, doing their best in all kinds of circumstances which, for the most part, are out of their control.  What a debt we owe them.

Despite they’re apparent lack of consent, in purely evolutionary terms they are a biological success story.  There are more chickens than people in the world.  They are so adaptable that they can be found pretty much everywhere.  Of course, this could also be considered their downfall.  That and that they taste so good (sorry vegans).  Imagine western societies with no chicken on the menu.  What would replace it?  Where would we be without eggs?

Do we thank them for their services?  No.  In time-honoured fashion we take the useful and voiceless and exploit them all the more.  Please never buy cheap chicken.

Not only do chickens adapt to the cold they also adapt to the light.  It must be disruptive for them to go from daylight for pretty much 20 hours a day to it suddenly getting dark about half past four.  I feel for them.  My new job (about which I left a bit of a drunken rant last time I was here) has changed my work days to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  A small change you might think, but one which has totally thrown me.  This must be what the girls feel like when the sun takes so long to get up and disappears so quickly.  They can barely get started on the bug hunt before it’s time to head in for cover again.  Are they getting enough protein now?  I don’t know.  Indeed the onset of autumn, with a predicted harsh winter on its tail, has given me quite a few new worries.

But for all this the girls are still giving more than just delicious eggs.  When I wake in the morning getting out of bed is easier knowing they’re waiting to be let out to start their day.  They’re always eager and start their guttural cooing as I gingerly head up the slippery steps to the garden and on up the slope to their coop.  And as I stand in the garden, the chickens busily gobbling up their breakfast next to me, I can see the green hills all around and feel the bite of the morning air.  For those few glorious moments I feel good to be alive.

What happened to the world of work, or how I wish I was a chicken

Today I want to talk about work.  What happened to the world of work?  It’s had its ups and downs for centuries I know, but why, when we live in one of the richer western so-called democracies, is it becoming such a hideous trial for so many?  At what point did we start seeing people as tools again and allow the tick box to become king?

Recently I was telephoned out-of-the-blue by a regional manager, who was approximately 4 minutes drive away from me at the time, to tell me my job no longer existed and I must move to an entirely different service immediately.  There was no induction or introduction to staff.  Everyone is grumpy.  All my questions are met with rolling eyes and sighs, like I should have somehow learnt my new role by osmosis and I am now a constant disappointment to everyone.  This is so commonplace in this organisation that when I try to object I am met with confusion and disbelief that I might imagine better treatment.  My new workplace is completely toxic.  I have been with this organisation less than a year and I’ve had seven line managers and not once had any supervision.  This, by the way, is a major player in the UK care industry.  Meanwhile the intranet of this same organisation is now advertising a new initiative for ‘employee of the month’ called ‘Little Acorns’.  The first sentence (which I admit I didn’t get past after laughing too much) reads something along the lines of ‘The most important thing at work is to feel valued’.

This is not the first time I have come across such blatant hypocrisy. Indeed it seems to be increasingly the norm. Where do these layers of bullshit come? When did we again start using people as resources to be manipulated and discarded at will, whilst simultaneously portraying an image of corporate caring.  Everything seems cloaked in a veneer of empathy and understanding but it’s so thin it doesn’t last out the length of the first questioning look.

I increasingly feel that my stubborn adherence to an ideal of truth and purposefulness is completely out of step with the current work place.  These are not ideals to be valued but things to be scorned.  To be able to waffle and boast, and better still outright lie, seem to be the attributes that are most rewarded.

Why have we allowed this to happen?  Do we all have Stockholm Syndrome? Has the pursuit of money and stuff finally melted our brains?

Recently I’ve begun asking myself do my chooks have a better work life than me?  Do they work hard?  Hell yes (you try pushing something the size of your lower leg out of your ass every day).  Do they get bothered by a boss trying to blame them for everything? No.  Are the products of their labour appreciated?  Yes, positively and resoundingly yes.  Do they pretty much get to decide how they go about their business every day?  Yes.  Do they get to hang out with gossipy and amusing friends all day long? Yes.  Are they worried about money?  No.  Do they want anything further than their basic needs fulfilled?  No, I don’t think so.  Except maybe their corn, sunflower and meal worm treats.  Do they rush to get out of bed in the morning? Yes, undoubtedly yes.

Do I sometimes wonder if life might be a whole lot less stressful as a chicken?  Yes I do.

But then I think, why aren’t they stressed by the same things?  It’s because these things don’t matter to them.

And that’s really the secret.

I must stop letting it matter to me.  It’s only work.  It doesn’t matter if people are dishonest, deflective, deceptive, disarming.  It’s just work.  I just need to go there, get some money to pay the bills, come home and forget about it.  I need to enjoy the countless blessings that I do have.

But then I start arguing with myself, am I part of the collective apathy that’s allowing this to continue, to get worse?

Oh to be a chicken………

Gone to Ground

As some people may have noticed I haven’t been showing my head above ground for some weeks.  I’ve been in hiding.  From the world, my neighbours, my family, everyone.  But not the chickens.  Although I may sometimes be annoyed at the chores they generate, especially when the weather is grim (which it often has been just lately), I’m always grateful afterwards that they have dragged me from my stupor and back out into the light and the air.

I’ve not been sleeping well. There are several things that explain this including the state of the world, village relations, my work acting like complete asses, but mostly it’s because I’ve started to see a psychologist to hopefully help me get over this hump.  I have so far had three sessions.  The first one, she said, would be an assessment, only she kept opening other doors with her questions and scribbled sketches of family trees, and three sessions in we have only now finished (I think) the assessment.  Next time she says we’re going to start pulling all this together and plan a way forward.  Which sounds reasonable, I guess.

The problem is that a whole lot of shit got raked up and is now floating around outside of its carefully constructed boxes.  I’m like Sylvia when the buzzards start circling above our yard.  First she freezes, then she starts bekerking for all her worth, then she runs for cover, wings all a flap and little legs pumping like Roadrunner (remember him?).

Even in this though, my girls have been helping out.  As mentioned earlier, autumn has not been kind so far, though thankfully we have not had the full force of nature thrown at us like so many unfortunate souls this year.  But my god it’s been wet.  The chickens’ little run began to turn into a quagmire.  I started to worry they might get trench foot.  And where they’d been merrily digging for bugs for months had turned into little reservoirs.  Drastic action was needed.  Someone needed me.  I had a project. So I went online for a solution.

The genius answer I found involved removing the worse of the poo and then bringing in soil to even up the ground again, sanitising the soil, laying turf protector and topping the whole lot off with a 2 inch layer of play-grade hard wood chips (only the best for these girls).

As I’ve said before, this run is quite small.  The biggest stretch is only two metres long by one metre wide with a sloping roof that’s only one metre high at its highest point.  Now picture the scene.  There’s me, not exactly sylph-like, crawling around in this rather snug space trying to push soil around to make the ground flat.  And there’s all three hens in there with me, digging up every newly flattened patch for all the lovely protein-packed goodies within.  Each time I moved on to a new bit they moved in behind me. Round and round we went, with me laughing more and more.  Then Doc decided that the toggle dangling from the neck of my hooded top was starting to look appetising and she kept lunging for that while Sylvia and Rita undid all my good work behind me.  I must admit to finding something intrinsically amusing about chickens. Which is probably just as well…..

Over £100 and many hours work later they now have a perfectly dry run. We currently enjoy some of the world’s most expensive eggs along with the satisfaction of seeing happy hens.

As for the chicken-keeping experiment, I would have to say that the results are pretty positive so far.  Am I cured? No.  Am I now a self-confident and stable human being?  No (but then who is?).  Do I smile every day?  Yes.

And that is surely a good measure of success.