How To Be a Successful Rooster. Or Not. By Marlon Fandango, King of the Disco Ball

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  • Always peck at shoes – food will fall from the sky if you do.  Purple shoes are the best.
  • When outside in the garden, look up to the sky at regular intervals whilst shaking the feathers on your head.  Spin round in circles and flap your wings.  Don’t worry that this makes you stagger round the garden like a drunk at closing time; it’s called swag.  All the best cockerels have it.
Marlon and Barbara nesting together (2)

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  • If one of your hens lays an egg, go and sit on it immediately.  It then becomes your prize possession, your very own butt nugget.
  • In fact, if one of your hens is in the nesting box, go and join her.  In the same nesting box of course.  There’s plenty of space if you sit on top of her. She will certainly appreciate you breathing down her neck as she squeezes out an egg.
  • If one of your hens shouts at you, run and hide.
  • Spend hours perfecting your dance moves round the disco ball.  It will really impress your hens.

Marlon proudly helped me to write these guidelines, long before I had any idea of the ludicrous events to come.

You see, one morning I was summoned down to the chicken coop by the loudest cacophony of squawks I had ever heard.  It sounded like a drunken brass band on speed, and then some.  Down at the coop, the thick chickens appeared to be participating in a somewhat uncoordinated tribal dance, with Marlon Fandango leading the way.

Hoping to keep neighbourly complaints to a minimum, I opened the door and walked into the coop, to try and calm things down a little.  Instead I found myself at the centre of the celebrations as Marlon proceeded to do his best Scottish reel, twirling in ever decreasing circles whilst shouting loudly.  Then events took a decidedly stranger turn – Marlon began to barge into the hens, rubbing his head and neck against each of them in turn.  I was hit with a sudden moment of dread: was I caught in the middle of a chicken gang bang??  Feeling desperate to make my escape I tried to move towards the door, but Marlon blocked my way.  He let out an almighty holler, then squatted on the ground in front of me.  When he stood up I couldn’t believe my eyes… for there on the ground was an egg.  An actual egg.  Laid by my rooster.  My… rooster??  I’m not sure who was more surprised – me or Marlon.  The coop fell silent.  I looked at Marlon, he looked at me.  The hens looked at each other as if to say, “Well, this is awkward.”

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Then, being chickens, they got on with the serious business of foraging and kicking dirt about, leaving me in a state of bewilderment amongst the dust.  So Marlon is now a hen?  This rooster who grew bigger than his sisters, grew hackles on his neck, long saddle feathers on his tail and a magnificent crest on his head, who had spent 2 years crowing in a morning… this is actually a HEN?  (We can ignore the fact that he’d grown a beautiful beard – Joyce the Voice had grown an impressive one too, and she’s 100% hen!) But Marlon had certainly laid an egg – I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it before my eyes.  And no, I hadn’t been drinking that morning!

IMG_6369Suffice to say that in the weeks to follow, Marlon continued to lay eggs: not every day, but regularly enough to prove that it wasn’t a one-off event.  He laid them on the floor of the coop and if I didn’t pick them up early enough, he would play football with them.  He’d also lay eggs in the garden.  It was almost like a party trick – “Hey listen to me crow, now watch me lay an egg!  Go me!”  The hens were getting a little fed up of the entire debacle by now.  The chuffin cat gave him an even wider berth than usual.  Nobody likes a show-off.

IMG_4361Upon seeking advice, it seems that Marlon probably had an excess of male hormones for the first 2 years of his life; these levels have now dropped for some reason and his ‘true form’ has finally revealed itself.  As you go down to the coop nowadays, you are never sure who you will find down there – “Marlon Fandango, King of the Disco Ball”… or (in a deep voice) “call me Marlene, anytime…”  We’ve even had a crow in a morning followed by an egg laid at lunchtime and a touch of flamenco dancing at dusk.  It could only happen in my household.  But we still call him Marlon – that’s a hard habit to break and he seems to prefer it.

Of course, to Gloria a bird is a bird.  Be it male, female or confused, it would still taste good on a plate with a side of tuna for good measure.  And yes, I do still shout, “Friend, not food!” as she eagerly hotfoots it down to the bottom of the garden to spend the day hobnobbing with the various inhabitants of the chicken coop.

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All Change!

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It must be said: there is nothing more alarming than being woken by the sound of a cockerel crowing. In your lounge. Particularly when said cockerel is actually a 6 week old hen. Or so you thought.

Gloria and Daphne

“Is that a cat I see?” “Nope.”

Yes, the female dominance in our household was never destined to last. It appears that we have not one but two cockerels amongst our little flock of chickens. Beryl’s crowing took everyone by surprise. It was 6.45am on a Thursday morning when the serene silence was shattered by the most excruciating sound that could only be described as like fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. Bedroom doors flew open and we all congregated, bleary-eyed, round the chicken cage.  Again we heard the dreadful noise that seemed to emanate from Beryl, albeit through her closed beak. To be honest, she looked quite shocked herself as she squirted out a runny turd. The rest of the chickens remained motionless, almost as if to say, “Well, this is awkward…”

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Is anyone awake yet?

Over the following few days, Beryl’s crowing increased with alarming intensity. She could be heard randomly from as early as 5.35am *groan* to as late as 8pm at night. Yet with night time temperatures falling to near zero, and the fact that the chucks were only a few weeks old, we had no choice but to keep them in the cage in the lounge. Even the chuffin cat’s initial interest turned to disgust and irritation. A couple of weeks previously, we had changed the brooder lamp bulb from a bright white to an infra-red variety. This had frustrated the chuffin cat, who realised that her chance of a quick poultry snack had now been replaced with ‘slow roast’ chicken – she never was that good with patience. Now her beauty sleep was being interrupted; after all, who wants their afternoon siesta ruined by a noisy pumped-up pile of feathers?

An Instagram follower kindly suggested that we cover the cage at night to keep it dark, which has worked brilliantly so far. Morning routines, of course, have had to be altered accordingly if anybody wants a lie in. It comes to something when you find yourself creeping round the lounge with the stealth of a ninja, just to avoid a slumbering cockerel. In fact, one morning I even resorted to shutting myself in a cupboard just to use the hairdryer. Yes, really. It was like a mini sauna in there by the time I’d finished.

With all this commotion, we realised that Beryl would need a more appropriate name. Beryl is indicative of a small, plump, pottering hen, not a loud, proud, crowing rooster. The name Clive was picked by son no 1, and agreed upon by all.

“Crapping Clive!” shouted son no 3 with glee.

You see, Clive has quite a party trick: he has mastered the art of the projectile turd, to such a degree that he can hit an object over 3 foot away! It might not impress many people, but the boys in our household regard that as a pretty impressive feat.

Hence Beryl has now become known as Crapping Clive, Sir Crapalot, or to give him his full title: Clive Von Craphousen. Clive is quite pleased with his new moniker and will happily come running when you call his name. Then again, he also comes to you when you call “Chicken Pie!”

So I mentioned 2 cockerels. Mavis has undergone something of a transformation: her looks changed very quickly from Justin Bieber to Crusty the Clown.

 

With a magnificent crest on her head and long powerful thighs, we could no longer deny the fact that Mavis was now to be called Marlon. A most flamboyant boy, he loves to dance around a small disco ball that I decided to hang in the cage as a boredom buster. This has earned him the title Marlon Fandango. It certainly suits him.

Marlon and Clive having a chat with Gloria

Marlon Fandango and Clive Von Craphousen hobnobbing with Gloria Chufflepuff

In other news, Joyce the Voice has been busy growing a beard. Daphne Dapplebum still likes to stare at the wall, not that she can see much through the profusion of feathers on her head. And Barbara is quickly becoming known as the brains of the flock – she was the first one to work out that flies make a tasty protein snack. Or maybe she was just copying the chuffin cat.

Yowzers!

Slow roast chicken?! Yowzers!

Here Come the Girls!

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Yes, you read that right. Our male-dominated household just had a big injection of female company, in the name of five frenzied, fuzzy-headed little chicks!  To be honest I only wanted 3 hens, but in view of the fact that none of the chicks could be sexed at a week old, I was advised to get a couple extra and then rehome any that grew into cockerels at a later date.

Fast forward 6 months, and I can see myself with a coop containing 5 cockerels. No, scrap that. It will be 5 separate coops, each containing one cockerel.  Well I do tend to live my life according to the Law of Sod.

Gloria supervising the new chicksHaving lost both of our much-loved hens, Cobweb Gladys and Doris DooDah, by the end of last year, I was crying out for some more chickens.  These little downy chicks have brought such fun to the household, especially as they are currently kept under a heat lamp in a wooden brooder in the lounge.  My life is now being conducted to a background of constant <peep> <peep> <peep> noises; even when they’re asleep, they seem to emit some kind of sound.  And I couldn’t be happier!  Neither could Gloria, the chuffin cat, who has named them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. (“Roast chicken? Don’t mind if I do…”)

So *sounds fanfare* please meet:

Daphne 1 wk oldDaphne
One of the quieter chicks
Looks disgruntled with an air of surprise
Hobbies: sleeping, eating, running, leapfrog

 

Mavis 1 week oldMavis
A protector
Most likely to be a boy (Marlon)
Inquisitive but terrified; mad hair
Hobbies: exploring, flying, staring at the wall

 

Joyce the Voice 2 weeks oldJoyce the Voice
The loudest of the chicks
Sounder of intruder/unexpected item alarm
Hobbies: singing, jumping, flapping
Did I mention she sings loudly?

 

Beryl 1 week oldBeryl
Another protector
Calm and inquisitive, likes to eyeball you
Hobbies: falling asleep standing up, exploring, cuddling

 

Barbara 1 week oldBarbara
The baby of the group
Quiet, shy, impossibly cute
Hobbies: sleeping in the foodbowl, washing feet in water bowl

 

Welcome to the family you little bundles of fuzzy chaos.  I predict riotous times ahead.
Marvellous 😀

 

 

How to Introduce a Cat to a Chicken, Part 2

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Have you ever wondered if a highly-strung chicken and a naughty young cat could be friends?  Judging by my ‘Friend not Food’ post earlier, you would assume not.

014Doris has never been the brightest chicken in the coop. Throw her a grape and she often stands motionless, staring at you with her beak open, a vacant look in her eyes. The grape can land on the floor directly in front of her, and she will still be gazing up at you.

“It’s there, you daft ‘apeth!” you can exclaim, pointing to the ground.

Only then will Doris look down and gasp (in a chicken-like manner) “Well I’ll be blowed! How the chuffin ‘ell did it get there??”

“It bounced off your beak and landed there when I threw it to you!”  (She’s not called Dim Doris for nothing).

And the plump little hen will shake her head, give a little chuckle and attack the grape viciously. It’s a shame that she doesn’t show the same attack mode when Gloria Chufflepuff appears.

Being a fluffy ninja, Gloria just wants a sparring partner; someone to ambush and chase and slap.  Yet Doris just wants to eat. Therein lies the problem.

Whereas Doris used to dilly dally about in the garden when I called her to bring her back to the coop (much like an errant child: “Hang on a mo, I’ve just found a worm!”), she now scuttles furtively into the relative safety of her enclosure. However Gloria still persists in trying to play.  021Many a time recently I have been replenishing the chicken food in the coop, when I’ve heard a noise from above. As I’ve looked up, I’ve been showered in dirt and cobwebs (dusting the coop isn’t high on Doris’ list of priorities) – only to find a wide-eyed furry face beaming down at me through the coop roof saying, “Oooh look! A CHIKIN!”

I mean, stalking from above?  That’s a bit out of order. Don’t chickens have a right to privacy?  Imagine being slap bang in the middle of a dust bath and looking up to discover a voyeuristic cat ogling you! Shocking.

Once Gloria had mastered the coop-top spying manoeuvre, she decided to take things a step further. There was I, merrily poo-picking in the coop… well I say merrily… maybe I’ve exaggerated a bit there. 067Doris hopped outside, having found an interesting speck of nothingness to peck.  As I followed her out of the coop, I pulled the door closed behind me… and turned to discover a fluffy face looking back at me. Yes, the cat was sitting inside the chicken coop, and the chicken was gleefully stomping about outside in the garden!  Doris thought this was hilarious, and in an act of blatant bravado she kept waddling up and pecking the outside of the enclosure.  I had never seen Gloria so subdued, her whiskers twitching as she blinked her big, green eyes. It wasn’t easy trying to swap the occupants over, believe me.

008Several days later, I had an even bigger surprise: having been bent double whilst undertaking the coop cleaning chores, I stood upright to be confronted by Gloria nonchalantly sauntering out of the pop hole of the chicken house. She then sat at the top of the ramp and had a quick wash, before looking at me with an expression that said, “WHAT??”.  Clearly impressed with the sleeping quarters, she had decided to make herself at home.

We have now got to the point where Gloria accompanies me down to the chicken coop every day. I open the door, Doris waddles out and Gloria bounds in.  014017Sometimes they sit together in the coop, pointing and laughing at me as I clean.  At other times, they play leap frog or rugby with Doris’ yellow ball.  Of course outside the coop, on the grass, Gloria reverts back to her ninja training and Doris often has to dive for cover, clucking loudly in annoyance.

 

So there we have it: yes, a thick chicken and a cheeky cat can be friends. But only if they live together as room-mates in the chicken coop.  Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad – with so many cobwebs down there, Gloria could make excellent use of her beloved feather duster!

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Friend not Food!

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Doris DooDah has recently changed her name; not by choice but out of necessity. She is now known as Doris ‘friend not food’ DooDah. The reason? Yep, you guessed it: one over-enthusiastic fluffy gladiator named Gloria Chufflepuff.

052We recently decided it was time for Gloria and Doris to meet. Having seen the way Gloria likes to chew an ornamental chicken that we received as a gift, a series of supervised playdates seemed the safest thing to do. Let me give you the run down so far:

Eye contact!

Playdate 1 – through the patio door.
Aim: to let Doris potter about the garden whilst Gloria watches through the glass.
Result: chicken spied cat and squawked in panic. Cat spied chicken, licked her lips, pounced and headbutted the patio door.
Verdict: worrying.

I smell chicken!

I smell chicken!

Playdate 2 – at the coop.
Aim: to take Gloria down to the coop to see Doris through the safety of the coop wall.
Result: chicken spied cat and crowed continuously in a state of sheer panic. Cat spied chicken, paced the perimeter of the coop in a sly, scheming manner then pounced at the mesh enclosure, tufty paws ready for action.
Verdict: could have gone better.

007Playdate 3 – face to face.
Aim: to let cat and chicken out in the garden together, using a human shield between them.
Result: Cat behaved surprisingly well and spent an eternity stalking the chicken in a protracted game of ‘follow my leader’. Chicken couldn’t believe her luck.
Verdict: just plain odd.

Stalking...Playdate 4 – sharing the garden.
Aim: to let cat and chicken socialise in the garden together, since the last playdate went so well.
Result: cat spied chicken and went into full-on hunt mode* (*wiggling bum, stamping feet, flattened ears) leading to ninja battle cry and ambush. Chicken’s eyes went the size of saucers, accompanied by incessant clucking, squawking and use of various chicken expletives (note to self: must apologise to the neighbours)
Verdict: disaster. Chicken needed a grape to calm down.

Doris DooDah is not amused!Playdate 5 – hired protection
Aim: to escort the chicken safely around the garden, chanting ‘friend not food’ whilst cat watches in a perplexed heap.
Result: sons no 2 and 3, along with me, formed a guard of honour around the chicken, who was escorted safely to a bear chair, where she sat beside me and blew raspberries at the cat. Cat sat in the shade and sulked.
Verdict: labour intensive but stress-free.

Playdate 6 – retaliation.
Aim: for the chicken to ‘man up’ and sort the cat out.
Result: chicken was escorted to bear chair again, using full guard of honour. Cat skedaddled under chair and lurked about, eyeing up the fat chicken above her. Chicken panicked and shot a projectile turd in the cat’s direction – missed the cat, hit a ‘guard’ who promptly resigned. Cat disgusted (and slightly impressed), scurried off to fight a butterfly.
Verdict: success. For a day.

Disgusted...but slightly impressed

Disgusted…but slightly impressed

How to Age 10 Years in 1 Week – Part 1

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Cobweb Gladys - 3 days oldTake one small white chicken: a much-loved little hen who you have raised for the past 6 1/2 years, after adopting her as a 1 day old chick. Go down to the coop one day and find that little hen looking very sorry for herself – her head hung low and her usually pert comb flopping heavily over her left eye. Not so much Pirate Pete, think more along the lines of ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody from Harry Potter.

So you go to the kitchen and you cook up some scrambled egg, adding a tasteful garnish of fresh parsley. Your Handsome Husband enters the kitchen. “Oooh scrambled egg!” he says appreciatively.

“Think again!” you reply with a frown. “This is for Cobweb Gladys.”

As you head out of the door, leaving him salivating and somewhat perplexed, you add, “There’s some bread on the side, you can have that.”

Wife of the Year, that’s me.

You place the tasty breakfast in front of your little hen, and sigh as she refuses to eat it. You let both chickens out into the garden, and follow the poorly hen’s every move like a crazed stalker. Over the next few hours you pick random leaves and offer them to her to peck, marvelling at the variety of greenery on offer for the average garden-dwelling omnivore. Then you sigh again as you realise that what minute amounts of food or drink make it into your little hen’s beak, soon squirt out the other end twice as fast…that’s if it doesn’t dribble out of her beak first.

Cobweb Gladys SelfieLeaving your boys on sick chicken duty, you head indoors to cook your little hen a nice bowl of warm rice, mixed with chopped grapes and mealworm. You put tonic in her drinking water (minus the gin) and take it all down to the coop. Your little hen stands at your feet, so you pick her up and tuck her under your arm. She nestles against you and blinks slowly.

“What’s happened, Cobweb Gladys?” you ask in a soft voice. You feel so helpless; you’ve never seen your little hen look so poorly. She just closes her eyes and bows her head. You place her down gently on the dirt floor of the coop and she slowly makes her way up the ramp to the hen house…oh so slowly. Meanwhile her sister, Dim Doris, munches noisily on the treats that you have provided, wondering if it’s her birthday or maybe Christmas, but not really caring either way.

The next couple of days pass in much the same way. You miss the coarseness of your hen’s voice shouting obscenities at you from across the garden, the way she always scuttles towards you at full pelt from the moment she spies you. You dose and you nurture and you cook; oh yes, you cook up all sorts of treats to tempt her.

By the fourth day it is raining, but you still let your little hen out of the coop – she only wants to be near you, even if that means sitting in a chair under an umbrella, listening to the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of the raindrops. You chat to her about all manner of things and she listens carefully with half-closed eyes.

“Come on, Cobweb, you need to get better.  We’ve still got lots of fun to have together” you repeat over and over again.

Her Chuffness resting in a hammockThen you discover your chuffin cat, usually so full of life and cheeky attitude, looking forlorn and refusing to eat. I repeat: refusing to eat! That single fact in itself rings alarm bells. So you dash her to the vet, who checks her over and shakes his head. He holds her down, shaves her throat and takes some blood: brutal but necessary. She sits hunched and dejected, her fight having ebbed away.

You kneel down and press your forehead gently against that of your ailing cat. “Noggin” you whisper in a choked-up voice – a word from your shared vocabulary, a word that means everything yet nothing. You close your eyes and sigh, a tear making its escape down your cheek.

Your beautiful, naughty-natured cat won’t be coming home. Instead you have to leave her attached to a drip, laying on a heat pad in the sick ward. She watches you leave, her glassy eyes pleading with the little energy she has left, a look that punctures your heart.

You are tasked with taking her blood samples directly to the animal lab, to speed up the process of investigation. Then you return home, to an empty house brimming with memories of your cat’s unique chuffness: her discarded catnip mouse, a clump of fur carelessly tossed on the carpet, her battered scratching post rudely upturned in the corner.

You look at the telephone, waiting for it to ring with what you hope will be positive news from the vet. Anything, just please make it positive.

Cobweb Gladys in the gardenThe silence is too much to bear, so you head down to the chicken coop. As you approach, you hear a lowly <cluck>, somewhat despondent but still far more than you’ve heard from your little hen all week. You open the coop door and she potters gingerly out into the garden. You watch as she pecks carefully at a few selected leaves. There it is: a small glint of sunshine battling its way through the funereal thunder clouds. You need that right now.

A crane fly lands gracefully on the ground near your sick chicken. Never before have you been so pleased to see an insect beheaded before your very eyes, as your little hen pecks at it then shovels it slowly into her beak. Such a shame that her sister suddenly snatches the insect carcass, pulls it from Cobweb’s beak and eats it herself. Still, half a crane fly is better than none. That will help the protein quota. You’ll take that.

After what seems like an eternity, the telephone springs into life: the news you’ve been anxiously awaiting. You hold your breath and listen. Your cat is still poorly, but stable…however the blood results haven’t shown anything nasty; in fact they haven’t shown much at all which is confusing the vet. They indicate that your cat is fighting something big, maybe a virus. (You can recover from viruses, right?) She has been pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers to try and help her. Then the vet drops a bombshell: he is concerned about your cat’s breathing. Her heart is racing and her respiration is far too fast. A decision is made: being on the sick ward is distressing your poor cat and making her worse. The vet asks how you feel about tending your ailing cat at home, counting her respirations, checking her breathing – can you nurse her overnight then bring her back in to the surgery the next day? Yes, you can do that. Yes! Just let your chuffin cat come home, let you nurse her. You can count, you can cuddle, you can nurture. Who needs sleep anyway?

You usher the chickens back into their home, surrounding the coop in a bubble of positivity. “Come on Cobweb!” you say to your little hen. “You can do this.” She looks at you and cocks her head on one side, her comb still flopping over her eye. It looks like she’s trying out a new ’80’s hairstyle. You nod at her and she blinks slowly. An agreement of sorts. This has to be the start of her recovery.

And now you have 2 sick pets to care for.

 


A Cup of Tea

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What a beautiful day. Determined to make the most of the glorious sunshine, I ventured outside. As I inhaled large lungfuls of fresh air, I noticed a pretty yellow butterfly. Perched on a fox turd. Nice.

I could hear the perturbed chickens shouting obscenities at me from the bottom of the garden. Accompanied by the chuffin cat, I went to release them from their coop. As I opened the cage door they looked up at me, squawked and hurtled off onto the lawn. As opposed to the chuffin cat who hurtled headfirst vertically up the nearest tree.

Son no 3’s voice drifted across to me: “Mum! I’m stuck on the trampoline!”

I ambled across to him to see what the trouble was.

“Every time I move, I get an electric shock” he complained.

“Best sit still then, love” I replied with a smile.

Chuffin cat on a slideThe poor little chap was having a bad day. He’d already spent half the morning tied to a tree, courtesy of his brothers. Having struggled free, he’d then had a fight with the chuffin cat as she wouldn’t let him play on the slide – she was having far too much fun clambering up and down it and completely refused to take turns. Now this.

I left him in his bouncy prison, rocking a funky new static-spiked hair do, and went inside to make a drink. I love a nice cup of tea, particularly Earl Grey … although my family don’t call it that after son no 3 once misheard the name, causing much hilarity: he thought it was called ‘Old Gay’ and the name stuck.

I looked through the window to see the chuffin cat was now playing hide and seek with the chickens. Well, she was hiding, they were seeking. A large crow suddenly landed in the garden, a menacing gleam in his eye. He didn’t stay for long – who chased him away? Yes, that’s right: Cobweb Gladys the small white hen, whilst the chuffin cat bravely cowered behind a blade of grass.

I brought my cup of ‘Old Gay’ outside and wandered towards a garden chair. The chickens instantly spied me and came running full pelt, their little spindly legs working hard as their fat, feathered bodies waddled from side to side. I placed my cup on the ground and they took it in turns to peer impertinently at the tea. Much to my annoyance, a small black fly decided to nosedive directly into my cup. Chuffin cat stuck up a treeIn a frenzy, Cobweb Gladys plunged her beak into the hot tea. It didn’t stay there long: she shook her head in a stupor, knocking the cup and spilling the entire contents all over the grass. Not to be outdone, Doris DooDah decided her errant sister should lose her ‘Head Chicken’ status at that precise moment, and she launched a full scale mutiny. The chuffin cat hit major panic mode and shot up the apple tree, her claws splintering on the trunk in her haste to escape. There she remained, shouting loudly as if to provide a running commentary on the battle unfolding below her.

I sighed in frustration. How could a simple cup of ‘Old Gay’ have turned an idyllic afternoon into a scene from Gladiator?

Son no 3 appeared, evidently having managed to extricate himself from his static cell.

“Mum, I’m hungry. What’s for tea?” he asked.

“Roast chicken!” I replied tartly, looking at the squabbling heap of feathers fighting at my feet. “Take your pick!”

"Got any grapes?"