Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Life of Reilly

It is a cloudless day here in the west. There is a bit of a cool breeze - not uncommon for us, living within sight of the Atlantic as we do, but in our sheltered courtyard, you could almost feel you were in France.
Particularly as our French wwoofers have arrived, and that lovely, lyrical language is floating on our airwaves once again.

Our lovely wwoofers arrive in true French style

I have just been to let Napoleon and Mrs Smith out.
They spend their mornings in a large pen, while Wellington and his girls have the freedom of the paddock and easy access to the nesting boxes. Then, when Wellington moves on into the orchard, I shut the gate and let the Emperor and his lady out for the rest of the day. Napoleon is usually exhausted by then, and in need of a little rest.

Napoleon and Mrs Smith have the little paddock

This is due to the fact that while in the safety of the pen, Napoleon is the hero of the French through and through.
He hurls Gallic insults at Wellington through the wire netting, and Wellington, lest he let the side down, says extremely unpleasant things back again. They jab at each other and shout defiantly.
The trouble is, I think Napoleon is all crow and no trousers because I have seen him run - and run - when there is no steel curtain to hide behind, whereas Wellington, should he wish to stir his stumps, would be a formidable foe. He closely resembles a tank when he charges across the field, and I would not like to see him with all guns blazing. After all, we have no wish to re-enact Waterloo.
Napoleon might never recover from the indignity of it all, let alone the battle itself.

Wellington thinking up a new insult

But today all is peaceful, and the little paddock was already empty when I went out..
How happy my chickens are! I wish all chickens could lead such pleasant lives.

Napoleon and Mrs Smith have the freedom of the paddock, with a sycamore tree for shade and shelter, and a suite at the George V when they retire at night. And all afternoon there is a feast of green to devour.
I think Mrs Smith, although she came from a happy, free-range home, was not used to being on grass. Lots of free-range hens have open space but no grass. She cannot get enough of it - she eats and eats and eats while Napoleon runs around behind her, searching out greener blades and lush pockets that she  might have overlooked. He is very attentive.

The gaggle of girls come and go between the paddock and the rest of the garden. They can get over the wall or the gate, which mercifully, Wellington can't. Even the boarders, on their very  pleasant holiday with us, learned quickly how to get in and out of the paddock when the gate was shut for the day.

Very free range indeed

Once out of the paddock, they have a detailed and complex schedule to follow.

In ones or twos - or sometimes all together - they parade around the orchard and investigate all their favourite places.
They bathe under the old dead ash stump where the dust is just perfect.
They excavate large holes here and there in which the rest of us risk breaking our ankles.
They scratch up random patches of grass for no apparent reason.
The toddle outside the front gate to look for dietary supplements. Weirdly, they never go in the road or wander off. (How do they know not to venture into the big, bad world? It's a mystery.)
They sunbathe in the yard at the back of the house, and pick interesting insects out of the cobbles.
In short, they lead the life of Reilly.

Frau Schpeckle posing by the bluebells

But it's never enough, is it? An acre of space, but their beady eyes are fixed on halcyon pastures denied them and they contort themselves, and push and squeeze and shove to get under the gate that leads into the vegetable and flower gardens. We have to remember to barricade below the gate with stones.
And to each and every one of them, the Elysian Field of myth, fantasy and desire is the courtyard.

That is where they long to spend the greater part of each day - scratching up the the flowerbed, eating any seedlings I might have hardening off against the wall, sitting on the table or the back of the bench and - in bad weather - rootling happily in the adjoining turf-shed, and laying secret, never-to-be-found eggs it it's dark, straw-strewn nooks and crannies.

Top Dog - who doesn't like to see me put-upon by anyone but himself - will tell you that they are all wicked, bad and spoilt.
He may well have a point.

The In-Charge has finally put his foot down and has constructed a makeshift gate to keep them out, until funds and opportunity coincide to supply a more permanent fixture. The cats are not entirely pleased, as they now have to go round the other side and perform acrobatic feats in order to gain entry. The divine duo, to whom gymnastics are of no avail, are frankly speechless. How are they supposed to run freely to and fro doing important work, like greeting visitors and keeping an eye on things?
But at least none of us have to do the hot-coals-dance to avoid hen droppings, and in the rare moments when we are able to sit down out there, we don't have to fight for occupancy of the bench.
All good so far.

And I am learning to ignore the row of deprived, starving, neglected and abused creatures whose beaks and beady eyes are thrust resentfully against the wire.

They are spoilt, I tell myself.
Completely and utterly spoilt. And I have no one to blame but myself.
And things were only going from bad to worse.
Especially with my lovely French wwoofers here.
Every time I turn round, I find them coddling a feathered brat something rotten.

Spolt rotten


  1. Love your stories of the daily life. Brings back such fond memories. I wish your blog existed when we were your wwoofers. What good stories that would have made with the drawing room floor, Christmas feast and winter freeze

    1. Ah - thanks! It's funny you should say that, because I was thinking I should write something about wwoofers, so I probably will...! They were great times, and we think of them often. In fact I think of you every time I go in the drawing room!

  2. It sounds as if your feathered friends are leading the life of Riley - would you take me in if I come back as a particularly delightful hen in my next life?

    1. I certainly would, Carol! Any time - you're welcome!

  3. Your page doesn't want me to comment. This is my fifth attempt!

  4. Partial success, but no further words accepted after that pont and I wanted to insert a question mark. I love the photos of your hens. I thought of you today when I passed a bluebell wood. Now I wasn't see a bluebell wood with hens in it.

    1. That would be a wonderful sight! How nice that you thought of me! Thank you!

  5. Goodness, how unbelievably annoying! I'm sorry about that. I wish I knew why it happens so I could try and fix it!

  6. So what do wwoofers do? fix wwoofs?


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