Simon's Blog - Life in a country castle
This morning I let the chickens out of their Ark and, as I watch them peck at their corn, wonder whether it is perhaps slightly inauspicious to have a head count of thirteen. Granted, technically, there is actually one cockerel, eleven hens and one, as yet undeclared (we know he is there but can not yet distinguish him from his sisters). But the total comes out the same.
This thought occupies me for some thirty seconds before the chores of the day come flooding back into my all too temporarily vacant mind. This is the joy of the chickens for me. They have a hypnotic effect which transports me away from everything else that is going on for just long enough each morning when I let them out, and again each evening at bedtime, to make everything else going on manageable. Perhaps it is the way that they all trot out in an orderly fashion, and invariably even in the same order, to gratefully consume the food I have given them each morning. Or the way they put themselves to bed, waiting only for me to close the door and how they are drowsy enough at night to let me pick them up and give them a cuddle when the rest of the day they won't let me near them.
However, by lunchtime there is no need to fret any longer about the unluckiness of the flock. There are now only twelve as I find one of the chickens dead on the drive in what can only be described as suspicious circumstances. Mavis is lying on the gravel completely intact. No tyre marks, bite marks or any wounds whatsoever. David, our gardener declares her good enough for the pot and we decide this to be the best way to dispose of her. Quickly, lest anyone from DEFRA should get wind of her untimely death and declare an exclusion zone around the castle on suspicion of bird flu, blue beak or claw and feather disease, we take her inside. But there is a big difference between a feathered, whole, recently deceased chicken and an oven ready one.
We skin rather than pluck her. This proves to be the easy bit - experience with several hundred brace of pheasant has equipped us well for the process - but drawing her is less straightforward, no doubt due to the fact that neither of us has any stomach for it.
But we manage it and, having laid out the results on the kitchen table, Emily and Oliver take an unnerving delight in dissecting the entrails and discussing in detail with a dispassion that can come only with youthful innocence, the internal workings of the late Mavis. Meanwhile the rest of her sits in a baking tray looking very unlike anything you'd find in Sainsbury's; rather more like a rabbit and I feel slightly uneasy about eating her. Will she taste of our herbaceous border? Chicken scented with lavender and hollyhock.
Sadly, we never get to savour the flavour of a garden free range chicken but if Holly our Labrador could talků She's nowhere to be seen and has the sense to stay out of sight for the rest of the day, not feeling the need even to return for tea.