Mac’s still with us.
Your free-range chicken is a messy beast. In the Fall in particular he
presents a danger to shoes; one never knows, but can easily intimate, what may
be hidden under leaves. The wise urban farmer keeps boots beside the door, for
outside use only. I swept the concrete patio, then took the brush through the
house to tackle the steps. (Really we ought to keep a brush on each side.) I
managed all the sweeping uninterrupted, which puzzled me. Usually the girls
come running up with chatter and demands. Eventually one of them heard me
clearing my throat—season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is also the season
of the post-nasal drip—and along from the compost pile they came running.
Cheddar brought up the rear. I’d brought a bowl of squash seeds and the
previous evening’s peelings. They crowded round my feet. I let all fall.
“What’s this then?”
“Can’t eat that muck.”
“Not right, that isn’t.”
Cheddar circled the group and then plunged into the center. Gobble, gobble,
gobble, swallow. She ran off with a big bit of squash flesh. The others
reacted immediately. Maybe they’d missed something? After a speculative peck
or two they stopped. Cheddar came back for more. “Lovely,” she said, her
“Bloody Buddhists,” Rocky muttered, walking away, not wanting to be associated
with such wanton joy. “Get excited about anything."
Mimo decided it was time for a chat. “It’s not been a good week.”
It’s something of a moral dilemma: do chickens need to know anything about
bombings and shootings and deans and so on? I think ignorance is generally the
right policy--let them continue in Edenic circumstance—but one wonders.
Appenzeller broke through my reverie, “I think we’ve all been pretty stoic,
considering. Well, except her.” Cheddar ignored the slight.
Peccorino made a slightly different point, “Bloomin’ weather.”
I agreed that November was living up to its reputation hereabouts: cold and
dark and wet.
“Makes a chicken sad,” said Rocky.
They’re pretty light-senstitive, chickens, going to bed when it’s dark and
turning off their ovaries in response to some similar signal.
Mimo changed the subject, “Why arene’t you still doing that thing you do?”
This seemed to me to be just a touch ambiguous, but the girls knew exactly what
she meant. Pecorino tried, “Hiding behind those big white screens and walking
up and down?”
After a quick mental review of which of my activities the chickens can see
through windows, I realized what they had in mind. “Painting? Studios’
unheated and I’ve been busy, so I’ve given it up. For the nonce.”
Cheddar stopped eating to ask, “Who's Nonce?”
“*The* Nonce,” Mimo corrected. “Like *the* King. Must be in a position of
Rocky fluffed her feathers, “Like me."
I said, “There’s no one called Nonce."
I suppose anthropomorphizing may push my audience towards thinking chickens to
be binocular. I behooves me therefore to remind you that the funny thing about
ours is the way the girls give you a good hard look and then turn to see if
their other eye’s getting the same information. I believe their brains are
saying, “That can’t be right. No one sounds or look quite as strange as that?
Peccorino put present doubts into words, “Why would you stop doing something
you like just to favor a god who doesn’t exist? Nonce?”
Mimo wasn’t sure, “Maybe he doesn’t actually like painting? Maybe it’s a duty.”
Rocky, “Noblesse oblige."
Cheddar wasn’t having that, “Noblesse my foot. I bet he likes painting.
Wensleydale said we had to take responsibility for our own actions. She said
there was no point observing rules…and hierarchies…and so on.”
Rocky pointed out the obvious, “We have agreed a pecking order. Take but
degree away, untune that string and hark what dischord follows. Besides,
Cheddar, “Not necessarily.”
Pecorino, “Is too.”
“Look,” said Cheddar, "I’ll concede that Wensleydale has been gone quite some
time, but we shouldn’t give up hope. She may simply have missed her way home.”
I thought I could be helpful, “We could agree that she's gone, ‘for the nonce’?”
I was wrong.
Before tennis this week I was talking with a grandparent, fresh from his kid’s
“How’d he do?”
“Lost six to one.”
I thought, “Crikey. I bet it was cold on the touchline.”
That’s not what I said.
I think my mother came to one or two games when I was young, but I can’t be
sure. I was in something called the “Second eleven” which was a primary school
team. We were told it was an honor and we must do nothing to “let the school
down.” In those days the ball weighed about a hundred tons. The furthest
anyone could kick it was about eight feet. As a right back, my job was to
stand near the penalty area and not move much. Certainly I should never cross
the halfway line. “If in doubt, kick it out,” was the idea. When a tyke from
the opposing side kicked the ball ahead, I was instructed to come running and
attempt to wallop the ball off the pitch. Several kicks may be necessary. Six
feet at a time. (I was the smallest and youngest). When reinforcements arrived,
I was to run back to the penalty area and prepare for the next assault. In my
mind it an hour and a half of Western Front experience, no man’s land being the
churned-up mud near the centre circle. I know comparison to World War One,
particularly at this time of year, is hyperbole and possibly not fitting, but
my memories of youth are all mixed up with films I saw on television,
particularly, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” At halftime we got a slice of
orange. After the game we were warned there might be wood splinters in the old
pavilions, where sometimes the hosts gave us tea. To be sporting we had formal
cheers, “Hurrah for the opposition, hip, hip…” Elsewhere in the world hippies
were being invented, but not on the playing fields of England.
This week I saw what I thought was a near-perfect comedy sketch on a re-run of
“Saturday Night Live.” Eric Idle sang a madrigal with Bill Murray, Jane Curtin
and Gilda Radnor. “The ship…fah-la-la-la…it sailed…fah-la-la-la-lah…and it did
something else…fah-la-la-la-lah…And it sank.” Perfect. I hate madrigals. If
there is such a thing as reincarnation, let me not be dropped anywhere Early
Music is sung. Or jazz scatting. Or…
Once they’ve got the self-driving car sorted, you do know how deaths’ going to
be? Pretty much like cleaning a jet, with quick turnaround absolutely key.
Around we go in our pods, with sensors reporting. Suddenly, we pop off…croak.
GPS directs the vehicle to the nearest available disposal center, where quick
removal of detritus—us— will be accompanied by a pre-selected stream of words
and music. Highlights will be appended to an e mail notice of inheritance
which is sent to next of kin. Hubbah, hubbah, hubbah…done.
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