A dairy dispute results in a fowl acquisition in a car parkÉ
The trouble with poking your nose into other people’s romantic affairs is that everyday life so often gets in the way. This week, for instance, I’ll bet you’ve tuned in for the latest news about Clare and Ben, my lovely young colleagues at the charity shop? Has Clare decided to throw in her lot with the mysterious man she met at a wedding, and who has been texting her relentlessly (which is, it seems, the modern way when it comes to romance). Has Ben decided to take up a once-in-a-lifetime bargain offer with the young lady he met at Waitrose?
I was honestly going to mention all this, but instead we had a bit of an
‘empty cupboards’ crisis at home, and so you join us instead in Tesco, where we are in the dairy aisle and arguing about yogurt.
We were just beginning to argue about clotted cream, too, when a disembodied, but oddly familiar voice came drifting over from the direction of the fish counter. ‘Hey, you two!’ it said. ‘Fancy a couple of chickens?’
‘That sounds like Frank,’ said Mr Dear, who is something of an authority on disembodied voices, as Frank, a friend who runs a farm, duly emerged from behind a display.
Farmers are, in my experience, large people with personalities to match. Frank, by contrast, is a large personality housed in the sort of small frame that can easily disappear behind supermarket displays.
‘Both hens,’ he said. ‘They’re not very pretty, but they’ll be good layers.’
It is a well-known fact that men can think of only one thing at a time, and Mr Dear’s great brain was still grappling with the great yogurt controversy – Blueberry vs Greek-Style. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Erm…’
‘We’ll take them,’ I said. ‘Come on, love. The henhouse needs some youngsters. You said as much the other day.’
‘You’ll like these, Tom,’ said Frank. ‘They’re cream legbars – very friendly, and they lay lovely blue eggs.’
‘Well…’ said Mr Dear. He’s not a man who, when offered a couple of chickens in the dairy products aisle, will act on impulse. ‘We’ve got buff Orpingtons.’
It’s fair to say that Mr D is devoted to buff Orpingtons. It dates back to the day we visited a rare-breeds farm, and a buff Orpington cockerel waddled over to introduce himself. He resembled a retired colonel who had long ago lost the eternal struggle between stomach and waistband, who’d just enjoyed a spot of lunch and who was now looking for a companion who might enjoy listening to his favourite stories. Mr D was that companion.
It was while he was lost in thoughts of buff Orpingtons, retired colonels and lunch that Frank and I sealed the deal.
‘No charge,’ he said. ‘They were going to my brother-in-law, but my sister found out and put her foot down. She’s never been one for livestock, which is odd in a farmer’s daughter, wouldn’t you say?’ ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘When shall we pick up?’ ‘I’ve got them in the back of my car,’ said Frank. ‘In a cardboard box.’
And so, in the car park at Tesco, two hens were entrusted to our safekeeping..
This was, I’m afraid, just the beginning of their problems.
I hadn’t realised this before, but snobbery runs very deep in the chicken world. The new arrivals were quickly transferred to our modest but comfortable chicken enclosure, whereupon the existing inhabitants stood snootily to one side and looked down their beaks with expressions of disdain.
Young cream legbars are not pretty birds, and a sort of chicken stand-off took place. Faced with the distinct lack of welcome, the newcomers retreated to the far corner of the fencing and looked at their neighbours as if they were rehearsing for the parts of Barry and Yvonne, the Hi-de-Hi! dancers who thought they were the cocks of the walk at Maplins.
To put the existing residents in a better mood, we put some corn down. They went at it like members of a rugby scrum who’d just been asked if anybody had seen a dropped 50 pound note.
‘The others will soon learn,’ said Mr Dear. He scattered some corn in front of the legbars, who did not look impressed. ‘What are they waiting for?’ said Mr D. ‘Perhaps they’ve already had lunch?’ ‘Yes. they probably ha… Oh, don’t be so daft. Chickens don’t think like that.’
By this time, the buff Orpingtons were making their way over to get at this newly scattered fresh supply of corn. The legbars, quickly seeing which way the wind was blowing, joined in the fray.
It was in this undignified scramble that somebody – no names, no pack drill – pecked Mr Dear on the ankle.
‘Sometimes,’ he said ruefully, ‘I wonder whether it wouldn’t be easier just to get our eggs from the supermarket like everybody else does.’
‘It’s fair to say that Mr D is devoted to buff Orpingtons’