Two Degrees of Separation

Back in May I tried to describe the emerging characteristics of my newly arrived hens.  I spoke of Rita as the great explorer and described her determination to grub up as many treats from the garden as she could find, while Sylvia and Dr Sattler – or as I used to call them, the flappers – spent more time bumping into each other as they panicked at every sound and movement.  At the time Rita was the first to produce an egg and I derided the chaos twins for being too nervy and unproductive, just like me, I said.  I must now take back this scandalous libel.  

As in life, so it is with chickens.

Rita, who eschews the gold standard but conventional chicken feed I supply in favour of the garden buffet, has become a rather erratic egg producer, sometimes massive triple-yokers, sometimes nothing.  On one memorable occasion she deposited a perfectly formed but shell-less egg on the paving slab just inside the gate.  For the last week she has produced nothing at all.

Sylia and Doc, on the other hand, regularly return to the run to partake of their conventional repast, despite the glories of the garden lying before them.  And they daily produce beautiful and delicious eggs.

How is this like life?  Well, I too was in an incautious hurry to get out into the world, dumping out of school and rushing headlong into marriage and children.  Later, as a single parent, I returned to education to gain a First Class Bachelor of Arts or, as I now like to think of it, an enormous triple-yoker.  After the glory of graduation day this produced few material effects.  What exactly is a career anyway?

About three jobs later began my headless chicken years, flapping this way and that across continents, scratching around in variously-coloured dirt.  There were a few highlights, the occasional perfect egg, but probably far too many shell-less blobs and long expanses of total egg drought.

I recently graduated again, this time with a 2:1 Bachelor of Science.  Oh and let’s not forget my post-grad qualification.  Have I put all this expensive education to good use?  You bet I have.  I now have a glittering career as……………..a part-time administrator.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I am like Rita after all. I can’t be doing with the boring chicken feed.  I have little tolerance for being confined and told what to do (I do this to myself enough as it is!).  I want to scrabble about and find my own delicious morsels.  The price is a failure to find comfort in the routine of work, an inability to rise up any organisational ladder, and an inconsistent supply of eggs.  Oh but when they come they are glorious!

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My Feathered Lens is Cracked

Recent events have exposed a crack in my feathered, filtering lens.  Hours spent in the garden watching the interaction of my hens with the world around them, have helped me to view the wider world with a more rational perspective.  Even the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, though horrifically tragic, do sort of fit into the randomness of nature.  We can never prevent every delusional extremist from causing harm to others.  Even if we scored a massive own goal and removed all the freedoms that they rail against, in a bid to attain absolute security, we would wind up enacting similar atrocities against ourselves.  See any totalitarian state for evidence of this.  Acts of terror perpetrated against the public, though planned by the madmen who commit them, are random in the victims they horrifically affect.  We are still far more likely to die in a road traffic accident than a terrorist attack.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy in London is not random.  The Grenfell Tower tragedy was wholly preventable.  The Grenfell Tower tragedy was caused by the toxic soup of incompetence, austerity, and de-regulation of the building industry in the pursuit of profit in a free market economy.

Yes I’ve made jokes about my greedy hens, but their greed is based in hunger, in survival, as is all of nature.  Dominance is pursued for the continuance of genes.  Nature stops when it is satiated and its survival is assured.  Only humans feel the need to continue amassing obscene wealth at the expense of others.  What exactly is the purpose of the trillions of dollars held in offshore, tax-avoiding accounts?

The residents of Grenfell Tower suffered and died in the cruellest of all circumstances.  Helplessly trapped and waiting to burn alive.  Desperately throwing children out of windows.  Following advice and waiting in their flats for the emergency services who, through no fault of their own, never arrived.  None of it needed to happen.  This tragedy happened because poor people do not have a voice.  Because if you want to be heard in this country you have to have money.  The property management company in this, the richest of all boroughs in the UK, did not listen to the concerns of their tenants.  Their eyes were on spending the minimum amount possible.  It makes me immeasurably sad and angry.  There can be no rationalising of this disaster.

This is not to say that the great chicken therapy experiment has failed, far from it.  Perhaps there is no crack in the feathered lens.  Perhaps the lens is working perfectly.  The crack is in the flawed, greedy nature of our current economic policy that drives such ignorant and careless treatment of real people, real families.

On the evening on that awful day I spent a couple of hours in my garden with the chickens.  As I weeded down the hedge line they fussed and fluttered about me, weaving in out under my outstretched arms as I pulled at nettles and sticky goosegrass.  I felt so incredibly lucky to be alive in this beautiful glen with my beautiful girls, knowing that all the people I love are somewhere safe.

Magic and Mayhem

What a strange, fascinating, anxiety-inducing, often hilarious and sometimes exhilarating week it has been.  If I feel a bit battered after all this action, and by staying up all night to watch the general election unfold, this is nothing to how tender Theresa May, our desperately hanging-on prime minister, must be feeling right now.  There’s nothing like an accidentally self-inflicted wound for making you feel angry and ridiculous.  And as for the rest of the Tory party, well I can’t help but see the similarities with my own dear brood of hens.  Let me tell you why.

I have discovered the magic of mealworms.  I’ve heard meal worms described as chocolate for chickens but this is not correct.  Meal worms are the chicken’s heroin.  Since I first introduced these tasty treats Rita, Sylvia and Doc come running and flapping to the gate every time I emerge from the house.  They line up like drunks outside the off-licence on a Sunday morning.  They can think of nothing else.  They do this despite the fact that I only ever give them their meal worm treat at the end of the day to get them back into the run.  If you’ve never experienced the sight of a brood of chickens running excitedly towards you, you must put this on your list of ‘things to do before I die’.  They come charging down the yard in their wobbly leaning-left, leaning-right gait.  Sometimes they flap their wings and give themselves a head start by skipping several metres of ground, clumsily flying just a foot above it.  No matter which way they travel though, they all seem to arrive at the same time.  Then they start clucking and singing, bobbing their heads up and down, checking me out, checking out the floor, shifting positions round and round each other, desperately hoping to get the tastiest titbit before anyone else. This whole pantomime never ceases to make me laugh.

Back in the world of politics, while their wounded prime minister frantically tries to prop up a hung parliament with her new extremist Irish loyalist friends, I’ve heard people describing the excited circling of Conservative Party members of parliament as ruthless.   There’s talk of knives being out, of a hunt, of sniffing blood. These are all aggressive, violent words suggesting thought-through, Machiavellian intent. But I can’t see it like this.  To me they are all, including the prime minister, ridiculously flapping to get their meal worms of power before anyone else does.

But where is the magic in all of this?  Well my friends, in an earlier post I described the no doubt entertaining spectacle of me chasing chickens round and round the garden to get them all into the run.  No more, my friends, no more.  Now all I do is enter the yard shaking the meal worm packet.  As I walk to the run they circle round my feet like the cute woodland creatures in Disney’s version of Snow White.  Then they dash straight into the run to greedily snap up as many meal worms as they can get before their sisters get to them.  Now if only I can work out a method to control our politicians in a similar way….

Eggs, Monster Eggs and Revolution

Rita, it seems, is an all or nothing kind of a girl.  She seems to be getting into the habit of missing a day and then delivering an enormous double-yoker egg of monster portion size.  They’re well over twice the size of Sylvia’s and Doc’s.  I have no idea why she is doing this.  She is still the best rotavator though, so maybe it’s something to do with the amount of bugs she consumes.  The day before yesterday she found a weakness in our chicken fence and escaped into next door’s yard.  Luckily we saw this quickly and retrieved her before the formal flowerbeds showed signs of her work.  I do enjoy her greedy, determined presence though.

Sylvia continues to lead the revolution in her quiet, understated way.  She is nearly always the first to break new ground then, after enticing the other two to join her, will step back and see what happens.  We’ve had to fence off our slightly scruffy but bee-freindly flowerbed after Sylvia led her gang over the ornamental barrier (some drift wood!) that had previously contained them.  She is the plumpest and prettiest, conveying an air of innocence to the uninitiated.  Her fluffy blue-grey feathers cry out to be stroked.  I think she knows she’s good-looking though.  There’s a kind of haughtiness about her. She delivers regular, smooth eggs, of the size you would expect from such a young bird.

Doc is becoming my favourite.  She’s the smallest and youngest I think, although her comb is now beginning to grow.  She is definitely the talker.  She is always chattering when I approach her or when she approaches me.  She seems perhaps a little more thoughtful and smarter than the other two.  I realise I’m anthropomorphising here but there does seem to be a certain amount of curiosity and questioning going on.  She tests everything.  She was the first to figure out the spiral vegetable feeder and the first to discover the secret of eating snails.  I was beginning to think that the famed use of chickens as snail control was a myth.  I’d thrown loads to them that they excitedly grabbed then almost instantly gave up on.  Their run began to resemble a snail enclosure there were so many gripping the sides trying to get out.  Then I decided to swallow my squeamishness about killing a living beast and crushed one for Doc to eat.  She seemed to immediately get it and began bashing every snail she could find for the tasty protein-packed meal inside.  Doc produces a small but beautifully speckled brown egg on most days.

The rain has descended again in our normally damp part of the world after almost a month of sunshine.  It’s kind of a relief and the garden is certainly grateful.  It gets a little hard on the chickens though.  They didn’t get out of their run all day yesterday.  Although a bit of light rain doesn’t seem to bother them, yesterday’s was relentlessly heavy and I didn’t even give them the opportunity to come out.  They didn’t seem too upset by this but I felt guilty.  There’s something about shutting an animal in that pulls at my conscience and strikes a chord of recognition somewhere deep within me.