Tuesday 18 March 2008

Chicken Rescue

At this time of year my hearing becomes finely tuned, enabling me to pinpoint individual sounds wherever they occur all over the farm – well at least my four acres of it.
With uncanny accuracy I can home in the faintest cheep in the furthest reaches of the dusty barn attic, I can seek out the peeping of any individual even at night.
For at this time of year the chicks start to hatch and from now until September I will be on my guard night and day to save them from themselves and in some cases from the negligence of their mothers.
I don’t know why it is but as soon as I hear that first high pitched peep I can never rest until I know all are safe. I believe I can now differentiate between peepings and cheepings and know which are distress calls and which just exuberance.
Usually the first cheep I will hear will be from a hatchling stuck down the side of a bale or perhaps a pile of wood and after locating it I will endeavour to get it back with the rightful parent and the rest of its siblings.
My chickens, you see, have a tendency to lay in a variety of hidey-holes and some have an exceedingly idiotic survival mechanism, which forces them to lay in the most dangerous of places. Stupid lays her eggs in the barn attic necessitating a 12ft drop for her hatchlings and not all of them have that kamikaze-like attitude to life, which she obviously takes for granted. When you’re only 4 inches high 12ft is an incredibly long way to fall…
Others have been known to lay at the bottom of the grain pit, which is 6ft deep with smooth concrete walls - if you can’t fly your time on this earth is going to be severely limited.
As much as I try to locate my broodies, I inevitably miss a few. However, once a brood is found to be in trouble or requiring help, the machine, which is Chicken Rescue, swings into action.
This means I locate the problem, assess it and then scout around for suitable assistance depending on the severity of the mission. If it requires climbing then I haul J or any of the builders usually to be found lurking in the vicinity. Wise builders know that as soon as they hear the chicks it is evacuation time but some just can’t help themselves and allow curiosity to get the better of them. I am merciless and no matter how much they plead a fear of heights or feathers there is no escape.
If I know it is an aggressive hen then I normally huff and puff and do the job myself while bitterly complaining about how wimpish men are…
I know each hen and I know how good or bad they are as mothers. The best need only the occasional hand - for instance when a chick gets separated on the wrong side of the fence - while the new ones or those I know that are quite hopeless are given more support in the form of the Nursery coop.
Here I can keep a very beady eye on everyone until I feel it’s time to enjoy the big wide world.
Despite all my efforts, which have had me running around in the dark in only my nightie and a pair of gumboots in an effort to track down a solitary cheeper and reunite with its family, I will lose far too many to count. I will have to kill some that are too weak to survive or that have injured themselves and I hate that: but to see the ones I rescue scampering about in the sunshine fighting over bits of worm almost as long as themselves and to watch them grow warms my heart and makes all the effort worthwhile.

Friday 7 March 2008

A day in the life of…

There is something delicious in waking up early knowing you don’t have to get up, you can snuggle back down and sleep for a few more precious minutes until eventually your conscience or your children get the better of you.
For me this is normality. A constant battle with what I would like to do and what I have to do. Mostly I am awake by 5.30 usually because that’s when my husband gets up and showers to get ready for work and our shower is, like me, not a lark. And so it complains bitterly waking The Littlest, who protests loudly at this daily intrusion on his dreams.
I note that when my husband is away the morning programme doesn’t really kick off until 6.30 by a request from The Boy that he would like to go to the loo (actually he’s more specific than that but I won’t go into details). I suggest that he doesn’t really need to share the minutiae of his daily bowel movements with me first thing in the morning and I pull the pillow back over my head dampening out the dawn chorus that is my household.
The pillow has been over my head since 5.30 when I shut out the sound of The Littlest – he understands that unless it is a real emergency he won’t get his mother’s attention until at least ten past seven.
Roughly fifteen minutes before the Alarm is due to go off, The Boy will say he’s hungry and five minutes later he will inform me that he needs help with his train set and a few minutes after that he’ll ask me whether it’s time to get up. From these constant interruptions I gather he has yet to comprehend the meaning of the grunts emanating from the depths of the duvet on my bed.
The Alarm springs into action with The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 but I cannot make out what they are saying over the incessant peeping that overshadows it. The peeping is part of the Alarm mechanism and something I know I cannot ignore. With the responsibility of children and getting them to school on time, it is a godsend. Many were the times, especially in my college years, that I was able to turn my Alarm off without even waking myself up.
I pride myself that I can get up, get washed, get dressed, get my children up washed and dressed, get my dogs out and fed, the cats fed, beds made, breakfast eaten and then cleared and put away, and in the car in 50 minutes - when seriously organised all this, which I believe to be a feat of extraordinary proportions, can even be done in 45 minutes but it takes an awful lot of effort and to be frank I am really not up to it at that time in the morning. Nor is the Whippet who I have to shout at from the bottom of the stairs just before I make my move…she is a lazy little cuss – no idea where she has got such a shocking habit!
However much I fine tune it though we always start off late because a fit of the ‘guilts’ will strike me just as I have successfully managed to squeeze The Littlest’s flailing limbs into his car seat.
The cause of the guilt is the sight of a group of expectant ducks looking at me from the top bank of the moat like a gaggle of star struck teenyboppers, occasionally bobbing their heads with suppressed excitement.
A quick glance at my watch, which is always five minutes fast, and I have just enough time if I don’t dawdle.
I run to the big metal bin and the ducks explode into flight laughing in excitement landing splish, splosh in the water, the noise of which alerts the girls who start to cackle and jostle within the hen hut. Ollie or one of the other cockerels will crow urging me to get a move on.
The feed bin is flung open and I dive to the bottom mentally cursing myself for not moving the grain over, if I had done so I wouldn’t now be teetering on the edge, scraping the bottom and I wouldn’t have a horrid black greasy line in the middle of my lovely clean cream jumper. I know I’ll have to go back inside and get my ubiquitous black gillet to hide the stain from the approbation of the impeccably turned out Yummies at school.
I throw the grain out in great scoopfuls before opening up the coop. I play a game with myself as I count the girls out checking them at the same time. What number will Blue be today? She’s the oldest of the flock and is meant to be an Old English Game but she looks nothing like them. She’s a sort of grey blue colour, each feather fringed with a dark line and her neck feathers are the colour of black treacle and marmalade. She has hard golden eyes and a predatory look. She brooks no nonsense.
Once they are all out my attention turns to the nursery, Splodge is flustered and arcs her wings protectively around her babies. I am not in the least bit impressed she’s just too soft but it’s sweet of her to try to be aggressive. Nothing like Mrs Brown who frankly scares the bejeebers out of me. Mrs Brown has drawn blood and I am very respectful - that or I wear big leather gloves.
I double-check everyone is out and knowing I have to go back into the house I collect the eggs as well. I always thank the girls as I trot past on my way inside, a clutch of blue and pale brown eggs gingerly held - I pray I’ll get to the door before dropping them.
I finally get a move on and start up our faithful Dora Disco Land Rover and we swing out the drive, late. The Boy demanding I put ‘Harry Potter’ on while I peer left and right over the head of Tigger, our car dog. He likes to know where he is going but it is tricky driving in a straight line with a hairy Jack Russel on your lap and his feet on the steering wheel.
We career through the village and out onto the open road playing eye spy over the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry and the comings and goings at Hogwarts. Crossing fingers I veer right down a back road in Stowmarket and I am in luck there is no train to hold me up – much to the chagrin of The Littlest.
I focus on the job at hand and realise that we will make it before the bell rings at school. Our journey is about half and hour and soon eye spy begins to wane. For a while there is only Stephen Fry.
Nearing the school the boys demand their daily game of Animal Noises. I ask each of them in turn to make the noise of a particular animal. It is the only game where The Littlest can join in. He loves it. And beams with delight when we cheer his interpretations. I always save the best one to last timing it so that we are all – including the dog - howling like wolves as we race up the long drive to the school steps.
Safely depositing The Boy it is then a race to Stowmarket to get The Littlest to Nursery on time and then flogging it back to the homestead before the Builders arrive. My life in the house would mean nothing without builders…
I have had builders here since 2002 and although they disappear for a few months at a time there is always work going on of some sort. This causes me deep anxiety as I have yet to unpack properly since getting married.
This may seem a trifle unusual but I moved from my flat to live with my husband whose house was already kitted out (thus no room for my stuff); then we sold the flat and the house and moved here. But here was not quite prepared for our invasion so we stored everything in boxes - copious and commodious large brown cardboard boxes each with a number that correlated with a page in a Reporters notebook listing everything within the box down to the last fuse. I promptly lost the notebooks.
During the years we have managed to accumulate a vast amount of stuff and I mean vast! The contents of three other households have been added to that which we already owned. We live on the principal that until we sort ourselves out nothing can be thrown away in case we have a use for it or more importantly the part we have in our hands may have a corresponding bit in one of the boxes that will shed light on exactly what we have. We don’t actually know what we do have and this presents problems - a barn full of problems…
We promise ourselves that we will get organised as soon as the house is finished…hence my anxiety – we never seem to be anywhere near finishing!
In the interest of keeping my builders happy and content and thus working very hard on finishing all the work at this time of the day I produce the first batch of teas and coffees – and nab one for myself.
I totter around all the cables and duck under the arc light to see what the chaps are up to. We’ll discuss what they are doing and what they hope to achieve and then before I know it we move on to a more esoteric type of conversation and then just as suddenly we drop into double entendres and innuendo - I usually leave on a high feeling well satisfied with what is going on and trip back into the kitchen to finish my tea.
The dogs need to go out again I duly oblige flicking the door open and letting them stream out amid barks and yaps and a swish of tails. The cats yell at me again and I stare at them in mock incomprehension - they need feeding and Siamese are very vocal.
Finally at about 10 I get to my office and after negotiating a path through the piles of paper and mounds of magazines without making the dust spiral into the air, I make it to the computer switch and start to process work.
Like the majority of those who work from home I am easily distracted: the ‘should of life’ getting in the way of ‘want of dreams’. A bit like this really….
Depending on the severity of deadlines I will either be focussed or not. As usual when I am not, nothing happens and when I am, all hell breaks loose! The interruptions of the day are not all instigated by me I’ll have you know.
Roger, my 65 year old neighbour and former owner of the farm, may come over sometimes to show me a nest he’s found, or to tell me there’s long tailed tits down the other side of the hedge for me to go and have a look at. Perhaps he wants to borrow something and before I know it I am being regaled by a story of the farm from the past, or an anecdote about some character in the Village long forgotten by most. I love these stories and feel very mean if I have to call a halt to them but sometimes you just have to. The problem is there’s nothing Roger likes more than an audience and the audience at his home has heard it all before so I have often found him wandering about the house with the builders but wherever he is there’s always laughter and I like that.
Sometime during the day I will get hungry and scout about the fridge for a delectable treat failing that, as I never have any, I just bung something between two slices of bread and eat it semi-on-the-hoof accompanied by a big mug of tea. Cake and biccies are my biggest weakness and heaven forbid if the boys have been given chocolate – it never lasts and I forever have to replace it.
During the morning I will have been down to replenish the builder’s tea and coffee and will do another round at lunchtime. The next one is just before I collect the Boy from school at 3pm and then one on my return. That’s five rounds in a day and when we had 11 builders in site it was quite a feat of memory as well as washing up.
Once I have collected The Boy my time is devoted to him whether he appreciates it or not. Today was a ‘not’ because I kept saying ‘No’ and he said he hated me to which I replied: “I know!” I couldn’t resist and burst out laughing at his expression to which I was told I was a horrid stinky mother…I quite obviously deserved it. Today we went to fetch some make up so I can turn him into The Hungry Caterpillar for World Book Day on Thursday. I have been given 48 hours notice and have had to draw upon my secret weapon…
I don’t talk about it much but I have a man in my barn.
No part of my day would be complete without talking to J. He’s my best friend and I have no idea why on earth he puts up with us all. Suffice to say we ALL know we’re on to a good thing from The Littlest to Dear Charlie so in an effort to ensure he never leaves we made him a Godparent. Now he’s stuck with us forever…
J as an upholsterer of rare talent can sew and I can’t. Therefore I say to him we need to make a caterpillar costume he raises an eyebrow and says: “WE?”
“Well you actually as you know I can’t sew – it is an emergency!!!!”
By five it’s time for the boys’ tea and the great process of going to bed starts. As quickly as we get up is as quickly as the day draws to a close. Rounded off by a story for each – I’m jealous of the time with them here as no matter how horrid I may have been this is the bit of the day when I can make it up to them. For having to work, for being short tempered, for giving them baked beans yet again.
Then it’s off to work again until Dear Charlie gets home, maybe catch a sly bit of Emmerdale and a glass or wine. Depends on how panicky I feel about the deadlines… I’ve been known to work until 1am in the morning. In fact I was working that late the night before I gave birth to The Littlest. Between the two deadlines there was only five hours!!!! Something I keep mentioning to my publisher in case he thinks I am not as dedicated to the magazine as everyone else.
Dear Charlie pulls in the drive and the dogs go bonkers – a useful early warning system – alerting me to rush and grab a ribbon for my hair put on a frock and to greet him with a great big smile, his whisky and his carpet slippers at the door. I think he’d actually quite like that but we can all dream can’t we?

Go on you know you want to...


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