Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas draws on...

Christmas draws on - the ones with the sprigs of holly and mistletoe - I set about having a grand old house tidy this morning. What is it about events like Christmas that make you want to give your surroundings a good spit and polish? I woke this morning (obviously, as I wouldn't be writing this - unless I am communicating from beyond the grave which is a distinct possibility as I've had a nasty cough this week and could well have expired in the middle of the night during a hefty hacking fit) and had a HUGE urge to tidy and clean and 'sort out' stuff. I mentioned this to Mrs Slocombe who had popped in for a coffee and chat.
'Perhaps you're going to lay an egg,' she suggests. 'I get the terrible urge to fling straw about when I feel one about to pop.' 'I've noticed,' I say. 'But I think I'm too old to be laying eggs now. I think they've all gone off.' 'Ooh,' says Mrs S, 'be careful. Careless talk costs lives. They'll be around to wring your neck and turn you into pies if you go shouting about things like that.' I reassure her that I am safe from the neck wringing brigade and pour some tea. 'So what can I do for you?' I ask as Mrs Slocombe helps herself to a slice of my special fruit cake which I baked yesterday and am hoping will last me over the festive season.'Well,' says Mrs Slocombe, or Betty as I shall now refer to her because it's quicker to type than 'Mrs Slocombe', 'I've got a bit of a social networking issue going on at the moment.'
Now, I'm very fond of Betty. She is friendly, allows me to stroke her, pick her up and cart her about. She also has a very wobbly comb which causes me much hilarity. But I've noticed she's developed a habit of late that I could see would incur the wrath of the other hens. And that is that she creeps up on them, plucks feathers from their bottoms and eats them. It's a bit like watching a naughty child pinching sweets from other kids in the playground and running off before they can catch her and retrieve their property.
'Is it the feather plucking?' I ask. Betty nods. 'I can't help it,' she says. 'It's like the urge you got this morning to do cleaning. Well. I've got this compulsion to eat feathers. I have no idea why.' 'It can't be good for you,' I say. 'I mean, do feathers have any nutritional value?' Betty shrugs. 'I do worry that I'm going to cough up a huge feather ball,' she says. I know how that feels too. I've felt like I've been going to cough up a whole duvet all week. 'And the others don't like it,' she continues. 'Are you surprised?' I ask. 'Tell you what, I'll get Andy to look on the internet and see if he can find out what's wrong.'
Half an hour later we have a potential solution. Betty, it seems, may be suffering from a protein deficiency. Out of all the hens she is the one least likely to eat the layers pellets, so this might explain her feather eating habit. 'What shall we do?' I ask Andy. 'Tuna!' he declares. 'We'll try giving her tuna.' So out comes the tuna and the cats appear. 'Hmmmm...mmmm...tuna!' says Tybalt. 'Lovely!' 'It's not for you,' I say, scooping it into a bowl. 'Of course it is,' says Tybalt. 'Tuna is always for me.' 'Not this time. We're giving it to Mrs Slocombe to try and stop her eating feathers.' Tybalt huffs loudly. 'I've got a better idea that will have the same effect,' he says. 'Does it involve a rubber band?' I ask. 'It might do,' he says, sniffily. 'No,' I say. 'The rubber band idea is not a viable option.'
So I present the bowl of tuna to Betty who sniffs it suspiciously. 'What is it?' she asks. 'It smells fishy.' 'That's because it's fish,' I say. 'Full of protein. Try it.' Betty takes a half-hearted peck. 'It's not as fun as pulling a feather from Mrs Poo's bottom and running off with it,' she says. 'Maybe not,' I say. 'But at least it will stop you getting your head kicked in.' 'I quite like the thrill of the chase,' says Betty. It is at this point that I begin to think maybe Betty isn't suffering a protein deficiency at all. 'And if I can get one from Pumphrey I can make her jump nearly two feet in the air,' continues Betty. I pick up the bowl of tuna. 'This compulsion of yours,' I say. 'It's nothing but sheer devilment, isn't it?'
Betty Slocombe looks at me. 'It might be,' she says. 'But at least it's more fun than cleaning.'

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