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Chickens

When I was a child my parents kept chickens. These birds wandered around the orchard until there came a time when they had to go. As a child I was never told anything about all this.

There were cows on the field next to our home. I fed the cattle apples and got friendly with one old gal. She’d come to the gate and allow me to climb up and sit on her back. At times she’d walk off and continue grazing.

One day a truck arrived and loaded all the cattle. Innocently I asked, ‘is she going to another field?’ The driver gave me a hard look, ‘she’s going to another field alright,’ he said as he drove off to the slaughterhouse.

I also rode a pair of Suffolk Punch horses in the next field. They pulled the brewery dray for Daniel’s brewery on the other side of the valley. Climbing onto the back of this huge beast¬† I’d be on one when it decided to go for a walk. It’s a long drop from the top of a Suffolk! Lovely animals they’d stop and allow me to hold on to a mane as I slid to the ground.

Suffolk Punch

My father could never kill anything, so he cheated. Old George lived down the hill, and would come, whenever requested,. to do the business.

He’d arrive at dusk, once the birds had settled to roost for the night. Quietly opening the chicken hut door one hand would slide in to be pulled back with a chicken in his hand. It was dead by the time he got it out of the door. Never a cluck.

This deadstock would be taken up to a shed, cleared for the event, where my father and me would be sat on stools to deal with the dead birds. Quickly, while still warm, we’d pluck the birds, usually in silence, pausing only to comment upon the size of the birds.

Once plucked I’d take the carcases into the kitchen where my mother waited, all prepared, to clean and eviscerate. If needed she’s light the gas and quickly burn off anything we’d missed.

This was a ritual we really enjoyed during Christmas week. At the end of the evning Mum would make a pot of tea and cut slices of apple cake. We had an orchard of 30 trees, so there was always fruit.

I was looking forward to presents and lots of food! I’d only feel a small pang of disappointment as I unwrapped a shirt, pairs of pants or other clothing. Everything was still short after the war. To get anything new was a delight.¬† There was always something that held my attention even though my mother (Santa’s helper) never really understood the mind of a little boy.