Thursday, February 07, 2002

The animal du jour is chicken. I had a farm in Africa - well, my parents did, anyway. One of my dad's many, many money-raising big ideas was chicken farming. We had a barn specially built for the purpose, and kitted it out with special chicken heaters and feeders.

Then we added 1,000 one-day-old balls of cheeping yellow fluff. One-thousand cute little pompons. One-thousand terrified, shitting, pecking, timorous wee beasties.

One night, when the birds were a few weeks old, my dad and my older brother went into the barn to count them, to see how many had survived. My job was to keep count as they passed the birds, one at a time, through a hole in a dividing wall. I had got up to 347 when I noticed that my dad had just chucked two birds through instead of one: "Did you just pass through two chickens?"

"Yeah, we've been doing two at a time for ages now."

"Oh, you didn't tell me. I've just been counting one at a time."

"You mean you've got no idea how many bloody chickens we've got? You stupid, useless boy! What was the point of tonight?"

Fathers can be so cruel sometimes. That remark stayed with me all my life. I grew up always thinking I would never amount to much in my dad's eyes, that I'd always be a useless boy. You'll understand then, that I hated those damned chickens. But not enough to enjoy watching them get killed:

When the birds had been fattened up sufficiently, it came time for their execution. And it was done in a very grisly, low-tech fashion. Their heads were guillotined by an axe-wielding farmhand. He'd grab a terrified adult bird, place its head on a log, then decapitate it cleanly with one blow of the axe.

It took a while for the bird to realise it was dead, that its head was no longer connected to its body. The headless body ran round and round in circles, flapping its wings madly, while the head lay there, cheeping in a confused manner, looking around as if to say "where's my body gone?"

My younger brother took great delight in the chaos, laughing his head off [bad choice of phrase, do you think?] as headless chicken after headless chicken careered around the yard. Another thing that gave him great delight was the discarded chickens' feet. He discovered that by pulling the tendons sticking out of the top of the thing, you could make the claws move. He would chase me around the yard with a gnarled yellow claw in his hand. I'd run, screaming. Useless boy.

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