The chicken-house complex in mid-winter. Accommodation to the right and maternity unit and sanatorium to the left

Chickens can’t operate cameras very well. That’s the first thing I have to tell you. I also don’t own one either, which is the second thing I should mention (and don’t ask how my thoughts appear on your screen – I have not a clue how that happens either. I ruminate on my perch and things just “happen”), so do not expect photographic proof of my tale below. Take it as gospel instead; chicken gospel perhaps, but still gospel. But I have asked the humans to add some other pictures, though, since a picture is worth 48 words right?  Something like that, anyway. I know some of you humans also just like pictures, too. I do as well. 

It all started 6 weeks ago. We had five wee ones in the small chicken-house in the middle of the garden, and their tiny little domain became a target for vicious little six-legged squatters. You know the sort, about 0.5mm long, that live in crevices in the coop and then appear at night like miniature vampires to crawl up into our feathers and suck us dry of blood. They’re horrible things, they are, bad enough for us big birds but terribly fatal for the wee ones, they can’t take it for long. Drastic remedies needed to be taken and He took the biggest one of all three weeks ago. We were all out in the garden one pleasant peaceful afternoon when there was a loud “WOOF” like a loud dog, and the next minute a cloud of smoke billowed out from under the top sycamore tree. Honestly, when we know there’s a bonfire about to be lit we can be prepared, but a sudden “WOOF” in broad daylight without warning was not called for. Needless to say we all flew five feet in the air and then started running about like headless – oh golly, what’s the next word – I can never  remember…..anyway, when the smoke retreated we saw the remains of the small chicken-house, smouldering on the grass, and He was very happy, prodding the coals with his toes and saying things like “That’ll teach you little buggers,” and so on. 

Whenever there is fire, the small humans cannot resist a play

That night He came down at bedtime and sprayed all sorts of funny-smelling stuff in our coop and then dusted us all off under wings with some white powder of some sort. It made my nose run, I tell you. And it did’t help, either – we’d not had the tiny red squatters down our end of the garden but they soon appeared within days, perhaps refugees that had escaped the house-fire up the other end, and now found their way to us. Anyway, we started to itch too and before you know we downed tails and refused to ‘lay’ as well. It was impossible to be comfortable, not matter how many dust-baths we took. What would YOU do if you itched all over – especially in the most tender areas, and had no fingers to scratch with? We can’t even pick up a twig to get at the places where our beaks cannot reach.

He kept at us with the treatment, but to no avail, and so one weekend He finally got the Big White Leaf Bag to clean out the chicken-house – I’ve used capitals because we are all terrified of the bag when He drags it into our patch and it makes us run around like headless – oh gosh, why can’t I remember the next word?  So strange….. anyway, we get very frightened of the bag, AND of the Wheelbarrow. I do not understand our terror at the Wheelbarrow, perhaps it is similar to what humans feel when they see Spiders; whatever it is, the Wheelbarrow makes a funny noise as it wheels along and we flee everywhere away from it. Bizarre behaviour, I know, but then we provide a vital ingredient in the kitchen so we can do what we like, as far as I am concerned. 

An occasion when the Green Bag did not terrify us

Back to the Big White Bag. All the content of the chicken-house were emptied into the Big White Bag, which was then sat by the Fire area. The wind was in completely the wrong direction and He did not burn it that day. I suspect if He had the smoke would have gone up the garden and over the big green gate into the road and there would have been angry humans and blue flashing lights again like the last time He made that mistake. Instead He came back into the chickenhouse with a blue canister thing which he fiddled with and which then suddenly went “HISS” with a flame and a pop of ignition. Golly, we’d been interested up to that point but we scarpered as fast as our little scaly legs could carry us when it made that “HISS” noise. He went into the chicken-house and started burning out all the cracks and crevices. Returning closer we could hear a running commentary in the coop, and much giggling and the occasional curse. At one point there was a small “Woof” and a pudge of smoke came out of the chicken-house and we heard him stamping on something inside, talking frighteningly loudly. It almost looked as though there was a fire INSIDE there, but I am sure there was not. There couldn’t have been, surely?

After 20 minutes or so, He came out, a little singed around the edges and with one eyebrow missing, but a very happy HE was he. He then brought down the Wheelbarrow which made us all run under the laurel tree (it’s very low and not a lot can get in there to get us, certainly not a He wheeling a Wheelbarrow, anyway). Peering out in a huddle, we saw him re-packing fresh straw into the henhouse and when we went in that night for hot chocolate before bed we found a misty medical smell in the air, tinged with some sort of ashy residue. It was not nice, but there were no little itchy visitors that night at all. We all slept like logs, thankful the nightmare was over. 

IMG_3644 - Version 2
Three of our ancestors, now in that big garden in the sky

But the best part was still to come. All week the wind lay in the wrong direction for the burning of the contents of the Big White Leaf Bag, at least until last Saturday. And after lunch on a bright sunny day he came down the garden with the Red Can and a small box of Matches (which also makes me nervous – there’s a strand of consciousness associated with flames and smoke for me and many chickens, I don’t understand it – maybe in another Age humans ate us chickens, just like they must have been eaten by Spiders?) and dragged the White Bag onto the bonfire area. He also had all the rakes and things for pushing coals about, and the two Green Leaf Bags (don’t even ask, they’re just as frightening) full of twigs to help start the fire. He also brought down the baby chicken carrier-cage (I think He wanted to smoke any lingering squatters out).

First He emptied the Green Bags out, and then the contents of the Big White Bag went on top of the twigs and cuttings. The bag was too heavy to tip over with all the straw and other chicken-y delights inside, and so He did half of it by hand (he was wearing gloves) and then managed to tip the rest out. We were all watching carefully, some of us under the laurel, and some down by the compost heap. I don’t mind fires once they have started, to be honest, and we were all going to be a little more cheerful when He had exterminated all the squatters. Stepping back, He wiped his face and then slopped a pint of petrol onto the lot, and retreating several paces He lit a match and threw it onto the pile. There was the standard “WOOF” and all of us chickens did our little leap in the air and then ran about for several seconds like headless – oh, I nearly had that second word then – it was on the tip of my beak. What IS IT???

Sirius, the current master of the realm

The flames shot up and we watched as He grinned and scratched his ear. It was right then that Sirius, our lord and master cockerel, perched right by me on a log, said quietly, “This’ll be fun, mark my words,” and I wondered what Sirius meant. I looked back at the fire and saw He had stopped grinning and was scratching his nose. He seemed to wipe it, and looked at his fingers, and then scratched the other ear. Sirius chortled beside me, “Oh my, I do think……” and his words trailed off with a squawk of laughter. I looked again at the fire to see He was scratching his hair in a frenzy, gibbering to himself, and then He pulled out his t-shirt in front of him, and even from where I was I could see the mass of thousands of squatters moving slowly on it, a dark moving stain on the white cloth. There was a screech from Him as realisation hit, and with a start He threw the hat from His head and began to run up the garden at a great pace, a pace I have never seen Him run at, EVER. He might even have hurdled the fence and not bothered with the gate, so hasty was His retreat, and as He went, He tore the t-shirt from His back, scattering the dogs and children as He approached the house half-naked, shrieking like a headless human – wait, that’s not right – headless, headless…… close, so close….it’ll come to me. 

The fire, unattended, grew in size (He was having a long shower downstairs I believe), and it was a full ten minutes before in fresh clothes He came back down the garden, His face pockmarked red with the itching, and carrying His infested garments at arms length to be devoured by the flames on order of the Mistress. And therein lies the sad end to the tale, for in His absence the fire had not only burnt the squatters to dust, but had also advanced through the dry leaf litter to devour the rakes and other tools, the Big White Bag, the two Green Bags, and the carrier-cage. Gone too were His hat and gloves, thrown aside in the frenzy of itching, and the box of matches had created a fiery heart of white deep in the fire for an instant, too. Thankfully the Big Red can had been put carefully to one side before ignition and lay unharmed. I believe we all might have actually flown a decent way if that had gone up in the conflagration, it would have been the mother of all WOOFS and we would have danced like headless chickens for days.

OMG!  I remembered the word, I remembered the word!!  

(I’m not sure I understand though. How would we be headless? Surely the Spiders would not have done that to us?)

A pair of Sussex, now sadly departed


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