Chickens with Beef

It’s complicated

Despite the title, this is as far as possible from a recipe. The only beef is the rivalry between chickens

This is a drama, an epic love story, a ‘Game of Thrones’-type saga (I’ve actually never watched it, but I am told it has all the same basic ingredients. Power, love, loyalties and betrayal, chickens. Except the chickens, that is). I was prompted to write this after recent events, and I hope you’ll pardon me for yet another chicken-flavoured post

Original all-female cast:

Babs and Floella – two Polish chickens, with feathery hats like ladies at Ascot

Phoebe – a Lavender Arucana

Audrey Henburn – a Cream Legbar. Quite short and squat. Margaret Thatcher looky-likey

Gertrude Rose – a Cream Legbar. Tall and necky. A bit scary (can’t stand white feathers)

Lola – a Frizzle (covered in fluffy white feathers, not much bigger than a pigeon and very bouncy)

Coco – a very pretty Chocolate Orpington

In June 2013 we became the proud owners of seven chickens, having pre-constructed a fox-proof run at some considerable cost and effort

Baz had found a ‘reliable chicken lady’ in Dorset so we collected them on the way back from a  weekend away. Seven point of lay (PoL) chickens travelled home in cardboard boxes – all girls, as specified, so as not to disturb the neighbours too much. The car smelt pretty funky for a few days after

They were all around sixteen weeks old and already they were showing character traits. Audrey was definitely in charge, and Gertrude was a strongly nurturing little thing, always the last to go into the coop when everyone else was safe

It became apparent fairly soon that the two Polish ‘girls’ were actually transvestites. The crowing after a few weeks kind of gave it away. Our neighbours didn’t mind, but we still had a problem…

In a small flock such as ours, the boys are incredibly competitive and Babs, the smaller of the two, quickly became power-crazed and dominant, while Flo was all gooey and enamoured with the very beautiful and elemental Phoebe. He would not go anywhere out of sight of Phoebe and spent his entire time courting and dancing around her, like a lovesick fool. Phoebe for her part enjoyed his attention, and the two of them would settle together on a perch or feed close together. They were ‘mated,’ though in chicken politics she was still Babs’ girl. Phoebe was a worldly older sister to the others and the first to lay an egg, the most incredible shade of blue

Babs, certainly regarded Phoebe as part of his harem and he insisted on mating with her often, though this distressed Flo into a state of insane jealousy. He would desperately try to head Babs off from her, but Babs became maniacally aggressive, regularly attacking Flo – who struggled to see him coming though his increasingly-droopy hairdo – and even knocked him completely unconscious. We feared for his life and tried to keep them apart

We called the woman who had sold the boys to us as girls. What were our options? we asked

She offered to take either one of or both boys back and replace them with girls, but intimated that they’d be culled. We were very bonded with them both anyway by this time, and getting rid of them was out of the question, so she suggested instead that she could give us two more girls and that this might help redress the balance

Of course, we came home with three more girls

Enter:

Tilly and Fudge – (the gingers) Blacktails, almost identical, though chalk and cheese

Rochelle/ ‘Rocky’/ ‘Rock chick’ (and any number of other derivatives) – a Rhode Rock

Tilly was immediately a terrifying psychopath, a true warrior with a cruel glint in her eye. She loved to peck the others, to draw blood. And she wanted Audrey’s job, though she never dared actually attack her. Punished so many times with the water pistol, I soon only had to move towards it for her to scuttle off and hide, because she was the only one who ever got squirted. Her sibling, Fudge, was in contrast the gentlest of chickens, easy to handle. Fudge got on with everyone

Rocky was skinny and a bit pathetic. Her neck was scrawny, her feathers were sparse and she was bullied by everyone. I used to lure her away from the others so that she could have some treats in peace. The others were onto me, but I protected her. There was something very special about the way she looked at us. It melted us all

Now, where was I?

Oh yes,

We knew Auds was not herself at the first New Year, and we drove miles to get treatment for her. The lady vet told us that Audrey was basically a bit of a runt, her reproductive system wouldn’t produce eggs, her heart was weak and we should expect her not to live very long

We didn’t tell Audrey, who was still a true force of nature, and the heart and soul of our flock. While Auds was ‘resting’ indoors for a few days Tilly seized the opportunity to become the new chief, but as soon as Audrey went back to the coop she attacked Tilly and returned to her rightful place as top girl. She would remain on top of the coop until after the others had all gone to bed, and Baz would go out and shove her in through the coop door late every night. This was a barometer of her health, as she could not manage to get up there if she was off-colour. She lived another 18 months and remained in charge throughout

In summer of 2014 Flo had accepted his low status (though he and Phoebe remained inseparable) until Babs started having ‘episodes’ where he would walk around in circles, and look very dazed. The balance of power quickly shifted, and his larger brother, Flo, capitalised on this. It’s not mean, it’s just what chickens do. Flo was by now very strong and Babs stayed out of his way. Except when he thought he could grab a girl, sometimes even daring to jump Phoebe

But Babs’ behaviour was becoming more strange. His circles became tighter and more frequent. He would run them instead of walking, then fall over in an exhausted dizzy heap. It stopped being funny to watch and the vet – himself a chicken keeper – was mystified. Babs was also now terrified, quite rightly, of Flo and we had to stand guard whenever they were free-ranging, to prevent Flo from pinning Babs down and finishing him off

Our solution: to build an entirely new fox-proof kingdom, right next to Flo’s, and separated by a wire fence. Baz put a huge amount of physical work and money into this and we were against the clock

We divided the girls. My little Rock Chick and the lovely Lola (‘Lolly’) moved into the new ‘Camp Babs’ so that he had female company and they had a bit of peace from the bigger girls, but the others stayed with Flo, who loved his newly-acquired top boy status and right to crow, though he used to lose his voice and we transferred to mentholated bedding for his asthma

Yes. I said asthma

Unfortunately, just a few months after moving into his safe new world, Babs suddenly lost the use of his legs. The vet again confirmed that there was no injury and no contagion, but said that he had some ‘faulty wiring’ somewhere. He offered to euthanize but we refused and took him home. He lived quite contentedly in a washing basket in the living room for the rest of his days – about six weeks – where he was cuddled and fussed, and had periods of lucidity when he would chatter to us, though he never recovered from the paralysis. He finally didn’t wake up on Remembrance Sunday and we buried him, all in floods of tears

Meanwhile, all the ‘big girls’ who lived with Flo would roost on top of their coop at night. We think it was on one of those nights that Coco fell and broke her leg. Despite lengthy and difficult treatment she finally succumbed after weeks of indoor care, just before Christmas

We questioned if we should ever have started this. Perhaps we were doing something wrong? There was just too much drama and loss

Enter:

Rachel and Monica (two tiny sister Sulmtalers)

Rachel and Monica AKA ‘the pigeons’ came to keep Lola and Rocky company. Following their arrival Rocky became head girl in their run and she blossomed completely

What we hadn’t realised about Rocky was exactly how much she liked eating. She was a wonderful prefect to her small group and a fantastic best friend to Lola. We called the two of them ‘Hinge and Bracket’ and the two of them would snuggle up in the coop, but what she really loved even more than Lolly was food

Rocky became a chubby little girl. Incredibly heavy to pick up, but absolutely enchanting, her coy expression also charmed the neighbours and won her extra treats. She was my fine little beauty, immaculately preened right up until she passed, just a few weeks ago from sour crop, and I marked her by planting a fabulous peony in full bloom

We tried to join the two groups together, but it became clear that Gertrude had developed an intense dislike for Lolly, probably fuelled by the fact that she is pure white (Gertrude would not tolerate a single white feather on Flo and would systematically peck them out of his head). When cornered, Lola stands up defiantly to Gerty, fluffing herself up in an effort to look big even though Gerty is three times her size and could take her anytime

Phoebe, Tilly and Fudge all went within the first few months of 2016. Chicken-keeping is not for the faint-hearted. You either distance yourself or you cope with losses. They all hurt

In December 2016 DEFRA announced that all birds were to be kept under cover to ensure that bird flu was not spread by migrating wild birds. They were in their small runs for several months, and the day we let them out to free range again was a joy

Sunday morning two weeks after the loss of Rocky was sadly Flo’s finale

Losing Flo was the close of a chapter for us. He had been a gentle giant, and had never aggressed any of the girls. He liked sweet soft fruits and early nights, always giving his blackberries away and tucked up in bed before anyone else. The intense heat of that Sunday morning took him very rapidly, no doubt due to the asthma, leaving only Lolly, Gertrude and the two pigeons

So, the politics were once again very complicated. The two pigeons and Lolly are in their area, while Gertrude remained alone in hers. Chickens hate to be alone – even the marauding Gerty – so in a perfect world they would just agree to an amnesty and we could let them all live together, but Gerty has demonstrated that she will not settle for anything but full annexation, so instead they sat near each other through the fence and discussed their sworn self-imposed animosities (chickens swear a lot, I find)

Chickens are stubborn. We needed a new besty for Lola and some new victims for Gerts to bully

Whatever you think – and many people assume that chickens are stupid – they are brave and feisty creatures with a complicated set of politics and an impressive sense of survival

Yesterday we came home with six new chickens of 21 – 22 weeks old, already the size of Gerty:

Mabel (a friendly barred Leghorn, who immediately came over to meet us through the fence and was destined to come home with us)

Rhubarb (‘Ruby’) and Custard, two Bluebells

Betty, a fine pure black amazon Rhode Rock

Cleopatra (brunette) and Racquel (redhead), two British Blacktails

Our plan was to put Betty in with Lola, but she’s too big and strong for her, so we will look for some bantams soon, I hope. The new characters are all settling in with Gerty, who is loving the company and has explained how things work, that she is boss. We’re just over 24 hours in and Mabel and Gerty have already formed a bond, having been spotted sitting together under the coop – most unexpected

And so our story has too often been punctuated by loss, but a new chapter starts with the introduction of these new arrivals bringing our little flock back to ten chickens

And just in time for blackberry season 🙂

 

 

 

A Plank of Wood and a Glass of Wine

In some places this project would be considered therapy

I’m not really the mental psycho bitch that I am often portrayed as. For example, this weekend Baz came to France with me and helped me put skirting board around our tiny multi-angled bathroom, working around the cast iron bath, sink and loo already in situ. Despite these frustrating obstacles we worked well together, didn’t break anything and didn’t lose our cool in the afternoon heat. By the time we were cleaned up (Baz loved his first ever experiences of cast iron bathing luxury this weekend) and taking aperos we remained very relaxed and still on speaking terms

Always a good start to an evening

Through necessity, the bath is installed in a fairly small space and there is nowhere to put toiletries (the name ‘roll top bath’ sort of gives it away really)

A shelf on the wall next to the bath would look cramped, but my memory strayed back to childhood: we had a hideous broken plastic bath rack across the bath, as I remember

There are some vintage 1920s metal bath racks for sale as well as a few modern ones, but I felt that a metal rack could look very fussy in the small space. In fact, the designers of some of the modern ones have totally lost the plot, adding ugly random sticky-out bits to hold wine glasses, books, tea lights, as well as the necessary shampoos etc

Baz had some interesting ideas for add-ons but I cannot share these here

They’re a bit niche

I went into a very expensive bathroom showroom and said ‘I don’t suppose you get many people asking for bath racks, do you?’
It seems that my instinct was correct. He only had one silly rack which cost more than our entire bathroom

So I consulted my erudite friend, M. Google, who introduced me to the simple wooden racks – rather like chopping boards – that can be bought for not very much, according to M. le Goo

I decided that I would make my own, using a piece of old wood found in the house itself. I had visions of using a patinated oak floorboard, of course

There are none going begging, as far as I can see 🙂

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Before and after some graft

But last night after the plumbers had left I found this unpromising shelf, recently ripped from a (probably late 1800s) walk-in bedroom cupboard to make space for a water heater. I removed a few hooks and nails from the underside, cut a piece off and then scrubbed it with steel wool and white spirit. As you can see, the wood came up nicely and I even left the original uneven unsawn edge. I added toilet seat dampers to protect the bath enamel and to hold the shelf in place, then treated it with an oil-based waterproof finish. Simplicity itself

I could have added a wineglass holder, but no-one tells this psycho bitch where to put her wine glass I don’t think I need one

It could almost double up as a cheese board!

If IKEA had made it, it would be called ‘BJÖRD’ or ‘BÊAM’

But they didn’t make it, did they?

Because it belongs to this house, a token minimalist item. And it cost nothing

The bath will be an even greater pleasure this evening, I am sure, now that I can enjoy a glass of red wine and listen to a bit of Lana Del Ray…

Cuba – Written On The Streets

Cuba Part 1.
Look up if you dare, but look around

I needed a distraction after a very tough week of nursing and subsequently losing a much-loved chicken, so I thought that some photos – not too much writing – would take my mind off things a bit

So, I thought of last year’s trip to Cuba. Oh, where to begin?

Perhaps I should first explain that Havana is not for those who worry about health and safetyIMG_1005

Indeed, much of Havana in August 2016 was shrouded in wooden scaffolding and/or covered in vibrant and often large-scale graffiti. Some bits that weren’t (held up by lumps of wood) threatened to tumble without notice, and local people shouted warnings as we approached dangers more visible to them than to us:IMG_0908

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Whatever your view of graffiti, it is hard not to be impressed by the quantity and variety in Havana (I have hardly touched the surface here). I honestly did not know where to start with last year’s pictures of Cuba, because it is such a massive resource, so I’ll start with this less obvious subject matterIMG_1675

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I still need to post photos of the buildings, the people, the old cars (Oh, those cars – it’s all true), but for now at least I have finally committed to a series of posts about Cuba

With no legal drinking age in Cuba, C enjoyed a pina colada or two. On the last evening as we were enjoying cocktails, I said, ‘I suppose this is the last of the Mojitos’

But I was wrong

We have just returned for a second trip within a year to this extraordinary place …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Object of Desire

What’s black and white and grows in the bathroom

‘Your bath looks wonderful’ said a friend. ‘It’s as if it grew there’

The bathroom is finally coming together exactly as I had planned, dominated by the roll top bath. I was unreasonably thrilled when the plumber confirmed that I could have my first bath today – nearly two years after buying the house

And yet, as it approached 8pm I realised that I had been finding things to do and putting off filling the tub. I had really stuck my neck out by insisting on a roll top bath and it had caused a lot of effort for everyone. Supposing I didn’t like it? I was even obsessing over the idea that it would not take the weight of the 120kg tub full of water and me, and that it would fall through the floor, leaving me cold, naked and alone in the hallway downstairs

But it looked so inviting, and I was filthy

Yes, I had to improvise a bath mat (today’s dirty T-shirt) and my toiletries were balanced on the taps, but I was so euphoric after finally taking the plunge that I composed an Oscar-type thank you speech in my head as I bathed. ‘Thank you Baz for believing in me when I bought this house and this bath back in 2015, and for allowing me to fritter away war could have been our pension fund. Thank you to the Smiley Plumbers for doing what I asked, even though you thought it was wrong. Yes, you did. And thank you to the bloke on Ebay who was chucking away the bath of my dreams,’ etc …

Afterwards I ran downstairs to check that water was not pouring into the hallway. (Oh, me of little faith!)

I texted people to tell them ‘I’ve had a bath’

I called Baz, still full of enthusiasm. After all these years he still just laughs and says ‘if you’re happy, I’m happy’

The guy’s a saint

This gorgeous bath, including the taps and shower thing, came out of a house three miles from us in the UK, where developers had gone in :(. The site manager just wanted a few notes and collection within 24 hours. Two years on, it has found its homeIMG_4386

Why do people choose acrylic baths over cast iron? Enamelled cast iron looks wonderful. The smoothness of enamel is calming, cosy and warm, like a big cuddle. It’s huge. It cleans down so easily. Oh, someone stop me here! I have spent the last forty-odd years since my childhood dreaming of another cast iron bath while everyone else has moved into the acrylic future

What am I missing?

A Very British Sunburst

I was so sure I would manage all kinds of tasks while Baz was away, but I have been hit by cold-snap apathy over the last few days. Waiting nearly an hour for a cab to work this morning and the ensuing migraine were just the icing on the cake

I think it’s time to reflect on a previous project which I haven’t followed up on properly: the sunburst cabinet

In time for Christmas, it reached its potential as a drinks cabinet. It totally owns the living room at home and will not be going to France, being simply too BritishIMG_3987I have avoided any work to the wood itself. This cabinet is in great nick and I love its patina. Mirrors make it more glamorous, as does a shelf in the lower cupboard IMG_4023I added a cheap bath plug chain to give a stable working space on the fold-down doorIMG_4025I love how the top opens up. It’s very useful and I’m amazed at how many bottles I can stuff into it. The top is for beer and other small bottles, but it’s the bottom where the magic really happensIMG_4026

It’s such a sweet little cupboard and I love that something so basically made has, with very little effort, become such a star

Marriage and Serial Monogamy

‘We’re always away when he gets married’

Baz left for his annual golf trip yesterday. We shared a cab to Slough Station, and along the way we reflected on, among other things, marriage

‘We’re always away when he gets married’ I said. A good friend has married several times, but he has very high expectations of a partner. We have failed so far to attend his weddings. ‘Don’t worry’ said Baz ‘There’s always the next one’

We are lucky to have just enjoyed our 19th wedding anniversary. C unashamedly used her cousin’s ID card at Waitrose to pick up a celebratory bottle of Cremant de Limoux(!), and Baz and I had a gorgeous meal in The Fox and Hounds at Bishopsgate. Our first ever meal there together was a Sunday lunchtime, we hadn’t booked and the restaurant was so full that we had to sit at an outside table. I was chilly in my halter-neck, and the owner at the time – a lovely man with a terrible wig – immediately whipped off his enormous cardigan and draped it over my shoulders

That was 22 years ago and we’d been together just a few days. Back then, we were love’s young dream. I remember the day so clearly

While Baz is gone, there’s plenty of stuff to do in the garden, and things to fiddle with in the shed and the garage, though robin chicks are chirping in the old wardrobe in the garage, so paint stripping has to stop. Work on the aluminium flying saucers will have to wait until the nest is empty

The first of the shades (above right) is ready and Baz asked if I will be taking it with me to France. He thinks that I should tilt it at a jaunty angle and tell Ryanair that it’s a hat

Half Woman, Half Squirrel

Digging up treasure

The image on my phone was captioned: ‘Would you like to explain yourself?’

img_0532I could see his point. At almost a metre across, these four aluminium light shades are ‘statement pieces’. I hadn’t slept well the night after Baz went home back in February, leaving me alone in France, I had been wide awake early the next morning and went on Ebay …

Yes, I’ve used fairly similar excuses before. Several times

The squirrel gene has kicked in. There are plenty of projects to get on with and the longer spring days should allow me to dig them up to work on. I can barely wait to get home from work tonight to get started

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The shades will eventually look great in the kitchen. (Once we have a kitchen, that is)

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These are just some of the little ‘bits’ that came with the shades

This pile of accessories is just the support cast. They have all been scrubbed and will need a lot of elbow grease. The seller found one of the small reflectors left behind and very kindly posted it on at no cost. I worked by hand on the flower light but this time I am using various drill-mounted polishing pads to get a shine. More fun, less strain

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Before and after initial polishing with ‘Mothers’. Pretty convincing, I’d say

The lightshades should be going to France sometime in the summer, but there’s no need yet. More pressing is the cast iron washstand (Very hard work) that needs stripping back before re-painting. Currently it has moved into our hallway at home between working sessions so that it doesn’t rust as soon as I strip it. After the two fireplaces of 2014, I swore no more cast iron

Who was I kidding?