My friend Sarah has achieved the countryside dream and bought 3 chickens. I’m incandescent with envy. I long for the fantasy of them clucking around in my garden, issuing soft rasping disapprovals, and laying miraculous eggs. But we could never house them in Nunhead. Our yard is distinctly inhospitable and our roost is ruled by foxes who slink around in the gloaming, screaming hysterics and pulling apart the bins like dietary whistleblowers exposing our addiction to Monley’s chicken wings and tinned tuna.
I used to feed my Granny’s chickens, 3 picture-book standard hens called Mrs Brown (brown) Mrs Black (black) and Mrs Thatcher (brown again? The theme fell down during her naming ceremony). Absolutely classic that Granny had them all married off respectably. I want some for myself, but mine will be a load of single gals. Huns. I could serve them tiny glasses of rosé and get them a Barbie jeep for the weekends. I love the thought of a cloud of neurotic mad birds tottering through the undergrowth and plotting their escape like in that seminal plasticine classic “Chicken Run”.
Sarah’s hens are not giving her anything so far. In spite of them looking incredibly haughty and one even wearing a comedy beige feathered hat like she’s going to Ascot, they are shy and she’s fuming. “They just will not come out of the hutch” she reports.
She bought them from a ‘chicken lady’ whose flesh-peddling demeanour seemed more in line with a chicken Madame selling off her chicks to a grasping client. Chicken Madame’s house was absolutely disgusting, a gigantic filthy human coop. Sarah said it had “channel 5 vibes”.
The concept of social-distancing felt strangely discordant during a chicken transaction and the 2m rule clearly fell by the wayside. “You haven’t got it have you?” Chicken Madame asked hopefully. Luckily, touching anything in that dingey hellscape was the last thing anyone wanted to do.
So far ‘the girls’ stick mostly to their quarters, a hand-built corrugated tin shed, now caked in chicken shit, venturing out only once, in a tight-knit safety formation, to investigate the hazards of the lawn. The bravest of the trio is Ursula who made a break from the pack to execute a seismic attack on the back door, pecking at it madly before galloping off “into the sunset”. A galline knock-down-ginger. Ursula is obviously an absolute piece of work – “she keeps shitting on David Bowie’s head with great gusto and precision”.
Sarah gave me the honour of naming one of the birds. The grey one who has a beautiful mottled coat somewhere between pearls and slate, and a brown headscarf patterned head like The Queen. I want to name her Henela Bonham Carter or Sophia LaHen but we settle on Yolko Ono as she looks like she might drive the others to make a clutch of inferior solo albums.
The luxuriantly plumed hat wearer is, in fact, a rooster and has been crowing incessantly at all hours. Men who wear hats simply cannot help themselves. Anyway, Sarah didn’t “like the colour”, which I love as a reason to send back a chicken. He is going to be exchanged for something sweeter, more productive, more … female.