DAY 37: Sun 19 April

Chicken crisis, a tragedy and an intoxicating evening

Woken by coordinated squawks this morning, but I muttered “You’ll have to wait girls, I’ve decided to have a lie in.” When I did get down to them I found they had run out of water!  I really must listen to my inner chicken (did I really write that?)

Decided to give Marr a miss today (not keen to hear how he gets around the Sunday Times shocker about  Johnson and the government’s unpreparedness for the pandemic). I also forewent the pleasure of peaking into my old mate Shyama Pereira’s kitchen despite her Twitter invitation to join her there for a review of the newspapers. Instead my gaze switched from the mess that is my living room to the sweet sunshine outside.

The garden won, of course, but first I have to weave a netting shield from fragments of broken nets to protect my runner beans from the scavenging chickens.

My travails are interrupted by a message from my son’s partner to say he is on his way over with grandson No. 3 on his ‘bike-cercise’. They take a break outside my garden gate and the little one is able to have a safe little run around in the Back Lane. We are able to have a civilised interaction at a safe distance without breaking the rules. Seeing people in the flesh and having a chin-wag (and even a cup of coffee) is not only a delight but also a relief from anxiety. 

Back to the garden and lunch of a cheese salad sandwich and a glass of kombucha. The chickens are out and decide that they deserve lunch with me. The Light Sussex, in line with her bid to become the new dominatrix, has the temerity to leap onto my naked knee to join in, while the Chalkhill Blue pecks at my elbow. I toss them the remnants of my crusts and get a laugh from them trying to extricate the crumbs from the tangle of netting still spread across the lawn. It will lear prevent them from consuming my crops.  But there is something odd about the scene. Harridan Hen, the Mother of the brood is usually the quickest and most insistent when there is food about, but she is nowhere to be seen. I decide she must have gone back to the coop to lay an egg and think no more of it, though she has been known to abandon egg laying at the very hint of fresh victuals in the coop.

My son’s visit in the morning gives me the idea of fixing a wooden garden bench to the hefty planters I installed years ago outside the house to prevent cars from parking or turning on the unadopted Back Lane. It is much used by school children, pensioners and shoppers as a short cut to shops, schools and the health centre. I manage to fix up the bench more easily than I imagined and a passer-by, commenting about “What a nice spot you’ve got here” inquires about the possibility of stopping for a beer. Now there’s a thought. 

At TV producer cousin gets in touch to say her contract has been extended to cover a series about Nostradamus who allegedly predicted a virus attack around now. His predictions are a bit like the nonsense pumped out by the astrologers given space by some publications. You can put any interpretation on them that takes your fancy. I bet he was a pain to live with, always saying ”I told you so.” 

I once knew a surrealist artist who went to live with his mates in a commune on the west coast of Chile. They claimed the great seer had predicted an imminent cataclysmic (for which read nuclear) conflagration in the centre of Europe about that time (early 1970s). They calculated that the last place fallout would reach on the prevailing winds would be on the far side of the Andes. As Chile had just elected Marxist President, it was the ‘go to’ destination! I never heard of them again. Not sure if Nostradamus was very up on Latin American  coups. US backed Pinochet and his thugs took over from Allende shortly afterwards, in September 1973.

I had just got round to planting out the runner beans in the now netted  enclosure when I get a call to say my son is on his way back. He has had to take grandchild No. 4  out for a ride in the car to get her off to sleep as her brother is making it impossible at home. I do not envy any couple with very young children to look after and keep entertained under lockdown. Do they ever get any rest themselves? Some hilarious videos are circulating which illustrate the dilemma they face, but it can’t always be fun and games. 

My son’s return at least this provides me with an opportunity to off load some frozen food I have been keeping in my freezer for his household, as well as a bag of dried chicken droppings to fertilise their garden.  

While chatting I notice that one set of neighbours has upped sticks and taken beer and camping stools to visit friends up the road. One set is sitting on the pavement while the others lounge in the safety of their front garden. Meanwhile their kids happily scoot up and down the empty cul-de-sac for exercise. Good to see people finding imaginative ways around their restrictions, and the inevitable ennui of being stuck in oh, too familiar surroundings. 

News reaches me that a neighbour has been rushed to hospital having taking to drinking hand sanitiser in the absence of any other form of alcohol. Another sad, shocking and entirely unpredicted consequence of the lock down.

Later I will receive a message from the local Neighbourhood Watch ‘warden’ (?) suggesting it is time I put back up a list of Helplines on the Back Lane Community Noticeboard that graces my front garden. I had replaced it with the NHS guidance on preventing the spread of the coronavirus.  

Back in the back garden there is still no sign of Mother Hen. There is no sign of her in the adjacent gardens either. There is no evidence that any of the local foxes has paid a daytime visit  (the rest of the brood would have raised the alarm, anyway). I put the other chickens away and find  an entirely new type of egg in the laying area – long, slim and pure white – which means another of the new batch has started laying. That reminds me that Mother Hen has not been laying for a few days. Is she brooding somewhere, or is she sick? Maybe she has gone down one of the entrances to the abandoned badger sett and got stuck?

Armed with a sachet of cat food (one of the chicken’s occasional protein treats that I know she loves) I begin trawling the garden again, clucking in the way I usually way I signal it’s time to go in. Nothing. 

But there under, the overgrown shrub that straddles two entrances to the sett, sits Mother Hen, silent and distainful. When I try to pick her up she shifts further into the undergrowth, and when I persist she stands up stiffly and then, ignoring all offers of food, she moves onto the lawn, then walks very sedately and seriously, looking neither tight nor left, all the way back to the coop. Once there she ignores the food and the other chickens and makes her way across the coop and up the ladder into the hutch. I check inside and she has settled into the straw of the laying area. She lets me stroke her, remaining silent. Perhaps she is broody. or perhaps she is sick. She will find out on the morrow.

Another neighbour visits just as I was about to read to grandson’s 1 & 2, but they are preoccupied it turns out. Now there is strong wine to be shared, at a safe distance, with cheese on freshly made flatbread that my house guest has been baking al fresco out the back. 

He had also been preparing halal beef kebabs and later, accompanied by some beautiful Palestinian music and a pint of Guinness, we enjoy a barbecue under the stars. Glancing up we notice what appear to be stars moving across the sky from west to east. Their progress is steady and they also appear to be equidistant from each other. They cannot be planes and they’re moving far too slowly to be any kind of shooting star. No, we decide, the skies have become so clear that these must be satellites (or even the space station) orbiting the globe.

It is an intriguing and intoxicating thought, speaking of which it is now time for bed, and no time to try and edit today’s entry. That too will have to wait until the morrow. 

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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