Sunday, 29 November 2009

Boycott, Oedipus and the Wing Commander

Every now and then, as hens do if you give them any kind of freedom, and if you don't keep a constant eye on them, our Scottish hens took it in turns to disappear into a hedge or a remote corner of their ramshackle hen-house. We would find them sitting, defiantly content, on clutches of up to a dozen eggs. (Part 1 of this saga came out a couple of posts ago.)


After they'd hatched it was pleasant enough in a sentimental kind of way, especially - we supposed - for the children, to see the mother hen surrounded by a cheeping following of yellow fluffs, but in due course they grew up into pullets. We kept the hens gratefully, but as we already had a cockerel called Boycott (Yorks. C.C.C. and England) and as cockerels fight dreadfully we had to get rid of them. We were far too tender-hearted to wring their necks, pluck, draw (always with a scoop of salt handy for a better grip on the entrails), truss and roast our own poultry, so another solution had to be found.

I took the coward's way out. After all, simple abandonment was sanctioned in Greek legend: wasn't the infant Oedipus just left out on a hillside? (Having consulted Wikipedia to confirm this, I notice that the fourth entry is The story of OEDIPUS, in 8 minutes, performed by vegetables. H'm.) So late one night I collected all the redundant cockerels off their perch, put them in a sack, where they lay very still and quiet, and drove them several miles away to a little farm I knew where they kept poultry. Lurking in some nearby roadside trees I let them out, knowing that in the morning they would find their own kind, and maybe the kindly hand of the farmer's wife scattering grain, or maybe not . . .

. . . to this day, whenever I'm in that part of Scotland, I can't pass that farm without a sense of guilt that maybe Oedipus knew.

Later we moved elsewhere and took with us the remnant of hens - and Boycott - that had survived the collapse of their hen-house. In time the same problem arose. My heart was no less tender than before. Fearful of my exalted position as a pillar of the community being compromised through being discovered wishing immature cockerels on to innocent and hard-working hill-farmers, I sought other means.

I'd made the acquaintance of a RAF Wing Commander, a local wildfowler, someone who presumably had the twist-and-pull-and snap technique of giving birds their quietus honed to perfection. I submitted my problem to him. Only too happy to help, he turned up one evening shortly after roost, ready to pitch in. I suggested that if I went into the hen-house - a new one that I'd built, incidentally - and handed the victims out to him, he could do the deed in such an experienced and immediate way as to minimize the troubling of soft hearts. No feathers flew on Death Row: the condemned cockerels were perched peaceably, some with heads tucked underneath their wings, as though to avert the eye of the Grim Reaper. I passed the first victim out to the Wing Commander, and returned for the second.

Outside there was a whirring sound I couldn't place, a combination of wind in the trees and a distant helicopter. I came back out with the second, and discovered the Horrid Truth: far from a simple and humane quick twist and sharp pull of the bird's neck, the Wing Commander had grasped the bird by the head and had whirled it round like a football rattle until it came off.

I expect he's Marshal of the Royal Air Force by now.

16 comments:

Dave said...

It's tender stories like this that make my heart go all gooey (sp?).

Vicus Scurra said...

Dave! don't go soft on him - he'll have you executed.

I read stuff like this and it is enough to make me consider vegetarianism.

Christopher said...

Writing seriously for once, I don't expect I'm alone in being ashamed of being prepared, even eager, to eat meat that someone else has killed for me, knowing that I couldn't possibly bring myself to kill. I've often thought about vegetarianism, not out of dietary considerations - quite the reverse; I enjoy all meat except lamb - but so that I could hold my head high and clear of this troublesome hypocrisy. But as long as the abattoir remains out of sight and meat comes sanitized on the supermarket shelves I expect I shall weakly compromise with my instincts. Am I alone?

Sarah said...

Try this: http://www.ascott-dairy.co.uk/acatalog/The-Dispatcher-PY17.html

It beats having them rushing about headless!

Christopher said...

Brilliant, Sarah, thank you. If only I'd known - but I think I would still have had to pass the implement to the Wing Commander to do the horrid deed.

I don't think he intended the head to come off. He did better dispatching the others. He got a bottle of whisky for helping out. Maybe he should have had a cup of tea and a curly-whirly, as Über-Grumpy's been commenting about on
http://geoffstellyblog.blogspot.com/

Vicus Scurra said...

Uber-grumpy. Most apposite.

I, Like The View said...

I was going to tell you all about the chickens I encountered this weekend, but now I'm humming the theme tune to Chicken Run

Christopher said...

But they're not mutually exclusive, are they? You're a gifted girl, surely you can hum and tell at the same time? Or are you one of these people who finds certain multi-tasking actions impossible, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously?

Vicus Scurra said...

Like the rest of us, ILTV is having conversations simultaneously on 4 blogs. I think that we are multi-twatting.

I, Like The View said...

*gasp*

everyone knows that women can multitask!!

I spared you my rambling/s as I thought you might have work to do. . .

(I'd add "cock" to that, in a similar vein to you adding "hen" the other day, but someone might get the wrong idea!)

I, Like The View said...

(Vicus it's more than four. . . but you don't read the others)

Christopher said...

Vicus, may I put you on hold for a moment? Meanwhile you can listen to I,LTV humming.

I, Like The View said...

I've segued into Grieg now

(St Andrew's Day, and all that)

Christopher said...

A clear hint of Peer Gynt?


(But why St Andrew's Day? I understand E.Grieg's had family connections with Aberdeen, but otherwise what am I missing?)

I, Like The View said...

you're not missing anything, that was it

and now I come to think of it, I was humming Sibelius (symp # 5)

Christopher said...

Aha. The hammer of Thor clanging in the forge of eternity.