Death By Chocolate

  

Tuesday 9th June

My birthday comes with many surprises: I find Ollie cleaning the loo for the first time; Daisy asks me for dating advice ‘on behalf of a friend‘; and I recieve a book in the post from my father-in-law. Turns out it’s ‘my’ book. He has complied extracts of this blog and got them published in hardback. I’m gobsmacked and very touched that someone would spend all that time cutting and pasting my ramblings.

From Tom I receive one of my life’s ambitions: my own chickens. Next on the list is my own caravan. Nothing fancy, just a ’70s style thing that we can tow behind the car and go off at the drop of a hat. After that I’d like a small sailing boat to recreate Swallows and Amazons; we only live a stone’s throw from the Norfolk Broads, for goodness’ sake. I’ve tried to get Daisy into the series but she’s more preoccupied with why Ship Mate Susan always has to stay at base camp and cook and clean, and why Peggy is too timid to go on the adventures whilst the boys have all the fun. I, on the otherhand, struggle not to titter at Able Seaman Titty’s name. How did I not find that funny as a child?

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Today is all about the chickens. We are due to pick up the girls at 4.30pm, but first we have the task of getting the hen house (kindly donated by a friend) from the drive to the back garden. It is too wide to get down the side of the house, so Tom dismantles it and we take it though in bits. Daisy is at school so misses an afternoon of scrubbing and painting and reassembling. 

   
  

Predictably, the chicken house is only half reconstructed by the time we go to pick up the chicks from a farm that breeds the unusual combination of hens and alpacas (not together). It is a baptism of fire.

We are greeted by a fifteen or sixteen year old boy who has just returned from a chemistry exam. I want to ask where his parents are, but am relieved I don’t as it turns out that he runs both businesses. 

  
We follow him obediently to a field where he brandishes a big stick and shouts, 

“Get back Zephaniah! Do not come any closer!” This is aimed at an alpaca as tall as him. Zephaniah has been put into quarantine with the chickens because he was biting the other alpacas. The boy’s stick is also needed to keep the aggressive cockerels at bay and to prevent the two Jack Russells from killing any chicks. It’s like walking into the lion’s den. 

  
Once in the field, we all stick to the boy like glue. He is the only one with a stick and the alpaca does not look enamoured to see us. We walk over to the first run. Chicks are racing around inside. The corpse of a chick lies amongst them, continually being trampled over by the others. It looks like it’s been there for a couple of days. 

“Oh dear. That one didn’t make it,” says the boy causally before lobbing it into a nearby bin. I don’t think I’m cut out for country living. If that’d been our house, the chick would’ve been dignified with a full burial and memorial service. 

Catching our four specific hens (four different rare breeds) proves very difficult. The boy has to hand over stick duty to Tom because he can’t do two things at once. At some point in the proceedings, Daisy returns to the car (under the armed protection of Tom, leaving the rest of us vulnerable to attack), and arrives back wearing two of Tom’s high-vis tops. I am unsure whether this is to make her more visible to the poor-sighted alpaca, or because she’s cold and has yet again lost her school cardigan. 

  
We leave an hour later, bewildered and hungry, with a cardboard box of 6-8 week old chickens which we place between the children. 

  

Once at home we have no where to put them; the hen house is less than ready, and we can’t resume construction until we’ve refuelled with a fish and chip supper. 

I temporarily home the girls in the garden Wendy house. I think I’m being clever by laying down newspaper (mess prevention), and I put water and food in bowls for them. By the time we’ve finished dinner though, the Wendy house looks more like the scene of a massacre than a place where children would want to play. The water bowl has been tipped over flooding the place, the newspaper scratched to pieces and there’s chicken poo everywhere, including in their food. Betty’s beady eyes keep appearing at the window. She is my chicken, we’ve chosen one each, and she’s worked out how to jump onto the child’s chair in there and look around for an escape route. 

Finally, at 9pm the hen house is ready for the newcomers. Yes, the children are still up and yes it is a school night. We send them around to call for our neighbour, Jenny. She’s practically family and we don’t  feel she should miss out on such a momentous occasion. We disturb her watching something on telly, but she comes over obligingly and we have tea in the garden and everyone sings Happy Birthday (but not as well as Jenny who’s is in a choir), and Tom brings out this glorious gluten and dairy-free Death by Chocolate cake that he made with his own fair hands (yes, he has earned mega points), and it all seems like a well-deserved end to a pretty hardworking birthday. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cake-Angels-Amazing-gluten-wheat/dp/0007439296  http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/647695    

The next day, Tom, the man who took two years of persuasing re: chicken-ownership, calls three times from work to enquire how ‘the girls’ are getting on. It is like his first day back after paternity leave. 

  

That evening, the kids have their fishfinger sandwich supper in the chicken pen, closely followed by mine and Tom’s evening cup of tea and catch up. The chicken run quickly becomes our communal area for regrouping. Sitting watching the birds peck away or scratch at the earth is surprisingly therapeutic. I find myself sitting in there in the early morning and not making packed lunches or breakfasts or all the things I should be doing.

  

So without further ado I really should be introducing our four new additions to the family, who will no doubt be featuring heavily in the blog (individual photos to follow): 

Pearl: Daisy’s Silver-laced Orpington

Ruby: Ollie’s Rhode Island Red

Betty: My Welsummer

Black Maria: Tom’s Norfolk Grey (original name for the breed, Black Marias, after the German WW1 guns which produced a lot of black smoke. Unsurprisingly, the name didn’t take off and was changed to Norfolk Greys). 

 

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