Sunday, 9 September 2012

Comings and Goings

I feel like a stranger on my own blog page, I have been gone so long.
I'm sorry about that - it's been a busy summer one way and another, and I've hardly been online at all.
I've also been on holiday in England for the last couple of weeks, visiting friends and family, but I'm back now.

I went on my own while the In-Charge nobly stayed at home, managing everything.
When I got back, Model Dog was so pleased to see me, she pee'd on the spot.
Top Dog looked suitably appalled at her lapse from manners and said: 'I told you she'd come back - eventually!'  He sounded a little out of patience, and I could tell that he hasn't had much sleep in my absence. Probably every hour of the night he was woken by a huge sigh and another moan: 'She's gone! Lost and gone forever!'
At least he's sleeping now, trying to catch up.

Pixie, who seems to have lost yet more of her precious 25% vision, was also overjoyed at my return, hesitating and then racing across the yard when she heard my voice. And when I went out to the hen's field and called Napoleon's name, his head whipped round and he hobbled eagerly towards me.
But he obviously wasn't very well.
The In-Charge confirmed that he'd been off-colour for a few days and my heart sank.
In my experience, once a hen or cockerel has been unwell for more than a day, there is only one outcome.

Sadly I was right - but how I wish I wasn't.

Napoleon and his first wife, Josephine

We buried the little Emperor in the orchard this morning, close to his Empress, amidst tears and sorrow.
How much I will miss him - as I still miss her.
They were 'my babies'.
He was adorable, he was feisty, he was ludicrous!
He was gorgeous, he was - in every sense - a feather-head, and he was utterly hopeless.
But he was a devoted husband, a total pet and quite the most glamorous bird I have ever been owned by.
He was also the only member of my extensive poultry family who ever answered to his name.

He was a character.

I'll never forget him, or the times I've had with him.
The night when for some reason - I forget what - he wasn't in his pen and we went looking for him.
A hopeless mission, looking for any chicken after dark, but even more hopeless to be looking for a small, black cockerel.
I found him though. Quite by chance.
Ranging down one side of the orchard, where the 200 year old wall borders the road beyond, I suddenly saw his unmistakeable profile outlined in the orange glow of the distant streettlight. He had nestled down amidst the uneven 'cow and calf' stones on top of the wall for the night and I wasn't at all sure that he was thrilled to see me!

A winter silhouette that I shall miss

He was thrilled the day I saved him from the bullocks though.
He was standing on top of the gate into his paddock and in trying to make him fly down into the paddock, I somehow panicked him and he flew onto the wall instead, and then over and away into the field beyond.
It was, needless to say, peopled with large bullocks who didn't take long to register the appearance of an interesting diversion from the tedium of their afternoon. Unfortunately Napoleon's large, cockaded hat meant he could hardly see anything at all, and the noise and hazy vision of charging bullocks sent him instantly into super-panic mode.
The bullocks found that even more entertaining.
It was winter, nearly dusk and the In-Charge was in Dublin - 3 hours drive away.
Is it not ever thus?

Balefully I watched as Napoleon zig-zagged across the field, more and more terrified as the bullocks threw themselves wholeheartedly into the chase.
You see, I am also terrified of bullocks.
I searched for a large stick and ran to the only entrance into the glebe pastures - a door in our garden wall. Quaking with fear, I peered out, but all I could see were the wretched animals standing in a ring on the far side of the field, staring down silently at something in the midst of them.
'It's too late,' I thought. 'They've killed him.'
The light was starting to fade, and in desperation I phoned the In-Charge who, quite reasonably, said: 'What can I do, my darling? But if you do go into the field, take a big stick.'

I grabbed another large stick and set off, before I bottled out completely. The bullocks, needless to say, were even more delighted to see a second diversion late on a winter's afternoon. They charged forward eagerly and, without giving myself time to think, I dived in, roaring and waving both sticks.
'Yeah?' I yelled. 'Come on then! Come and get it!'

It is always best, I have discovered, not to dwell on the moments when one has made a complete twit of oneself. Suffice it to say that the herd was obviously not used to being shrieked at by a banshee. I didn't even have to hit them - they fell back bemused, and ran behind me across the field - still hopeful of some sport no doubt. 

When I got to the far side, Napoleon wasn't a lifeless rag, trodden into the mud, as I expected. He had somehow crept behind a narrow stump in the hedgerow, just out of their reach. All the same, he looked pretty dead.
I didn't stop to investigate. I just leant down, grabbed him, put him firmly under one arm and turning towards the melee, brandished my sticks again.

Back in the kitchen, I was shaking, the dogs who had been firmly shut inside the garden were excited and on edge, and the cats were goggle-eyed, but Napoleon just sat up in my lap, shook himself and then started a rather belated bravado-strut.
I pushed him firmly back down again and got out my nail scissors.
In future he needed to see what he was up against.
I gave him a good haircut - not exactly a No 1 - but I never let his cockade grow over his eyes again.

Napoleon and his beloved Empress

Remembering that makes me smile. His 'I'm good for another round!' attitude.
He deserved the name Napoleon for more than just his hat. He was always 'good for another round' with Wellington - hurling Gallic insults at him morning, noon and night - as long as there was a strong, secure gate between them, of course. Otherwise it was 'Run away! Run away!'

Perhaps it was saving him from the bullocks that made me love him.
Or maybe it was the time that he disappeared and I eventually found him in the churchyard - behind our eight foot wall. How did he get there? I couldn't get over the wall - I had to walk the long way round, pick him up and carry him home.
Certainly, by the time I discovered him wandering about in the road one afternoon (where was he going?), I was already well and truly hooked. On that occasion I had to screech for the In-Charge, as I tried to catch him, stop the cars and prevent him from panicking or being run over, all at once.
His brief time in our lives was certainly eventful.

Our wwoofers all loved him, and the garden visitors hailed him with delight and took endless photos.
For such a small creature he had a huge character. And a very loyal heart. He missed Josephine so much when she died, that he took to following me around like a small dog. Eventually I found the little Empress Marie Louise for him, and they became the ultimate couple. They spent most of their time in our courtyard, just hanging out together, until she died in March and after that I didn't bring him into the courtyard again because he would just start looking for her, even after Mrs Smith came.

Napoleon and the Golden Princess, aka Mrs Smith

She will miss him, Mrs Smith.
I hope she will gradually be taken under Wellington's wing.

I will miss him too. And sadly, I can't fit under Wellington's wing, so I will have to find my own comfort.
Fortunately the Model Dog is glued to my side.
Animals don't always understand about comings and goings, but thank heavens they do understand about comfort.

'Here will I rest, here lie, because my heart desires it'


  1. I am sorry you have had such a sad day. I have hens too and have lost them to ill health, Mr Fox and a neighbour's dog at different times. Their little lives are so short, I'm afraid. There is no getting round this, you have to just enjoy them while you can and when you are feeling better perhaps get Mrs Smith a nice, new General Custer or similar as she will not want to be a little widow for too long. Meanwhile, I stumbled on this by accident today and I thought of you (your last post) and thought you might enjoy this picture - I hope so, anyway

  2. You have been missed! I am sorry your return met with such sadness. Perhaps Mrs.Smith was too much for an old fella. Hopefully he went with a smile on his face.....or a feather in his cap.

  3. I was over here looking for you last night. Glad to see you returned and so sorry about Napoleon.

  4. Lorely, Sorry to hear about napoleon, his chicks are doing well.

  5. What a sad homecoming, though I will say the story with the bullocks made me laugh out loud. That little chicken had one exciting life!

  6. Oh NOOOOO! My most heartfelt condolences, Lorely. I will definitely remember him fondly - we've been sharing stories of Napoleon everywhere we go. Also, his feathers made it home safe!
    Sean and Shyla

  7. How sad is it to read your beautiful testimonial, we always talk about him to our friends and families. We have at least 30 pictures of him. Sometimes when I'm walking in the street I think about the life in Ireland and I imagine you two walking in your garden, and see Napoleon...
    We are really sorry for you but you can see his son at Colin's no?

    1. Colin has had a bit of a disaster. Something - maybe a mink - got in and killed most of his poultry a couple of nights ago. I think one of Napoleon's babies survived. Such a shame when these things happen, and very traumatic for all the birds.
      We often remember your visit too! We loved having you to stay.


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