Thursday, 30 October 2008

Proost and Salmon Motions

'I think we should choose a different book to study in our book club,' said Mrs Miggins, throwing 'A La Recherche de Temps Perdu' down in disgust. 'How about 'Ulysses' by James Joyce. 'No good for me,' I say. 'I've never managed to get past page 24 and I refuse to waste any more of my life trying to get to page 25.' 'Anna Karenina?' suggests Mrs Slocombe. 'Read it,' says Mrs Poo. 'Twice.' Several more titles of worthy literary tomes are bandied about and we settle on 'Five Go To Smuggler's Rock.'
'How come some people achieve fame through writing such tripe?' said Mrs Miggins as we by-pass the discussion on 'A La Recherche...' in favour of banana muffins and hot chocolate. 'I mean, take that Salmon Rushdie. You'd think someone named after a fish would come up with something a bit exciting, wouldn't you?' 'It's Salman,' Mrs Pumphrey corrected. 'He gets very cross when people make fish jokes in his presence.' 'Oh yeah?' says Miggins. 'How do you know?' 'I attended a literary luncheon with him once. He said he needed a companion, I wasn't doing anything so said I'd go along. It was very illuminating. The Poet Laureate was guest speaker.' 'Oh yes?' says Miggins, because she likes a bit of poetry. 'Yes. Unfortunately, we had to leave when Salman asked him in the post- talk questions how long it had been before he realised there was poetry in Motion. Andrew jumps up and shouts, 'Shut up, Salmon face,' and it all went down hill from there. We had to be smuggled out through the kitchens under a blanket.'

I am containing a snigger inside my hot chocolate mug. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing of supposed literary giants brawling in public like five-year-olds. 'If only Martin Amis had been there to join in,' I think. 'My joy would have known no bounds.'

'Anyway,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Back to my original question. How do you get to be famous?' 'That wasn't your original question,' I say. 'It's a more pertinent substitute,' says Miggins. 'Okay,'I say. 'In answer to your more pertinent substitute question, I have no idea how one achieves fame.' 'I think infamy is better,' chips in Mrs Slocombe, having recovered from her sulk that followed our rejection of her suggestion of Virginia Woolf's 'Mrs Dalloway.' 'You could be right,' I say. 'After all, there is that saying that well-behaved women rarely make history.' 'Quite,' says Poo. 'Does that apply to chickens?'

I give the matter some thought. 'I should think so,' I say. 'Why? Are you wanting your fifteen minutes of fame?' 'I want more than fifteen minutes,' scoffs Mrs Miggins. 'I want a lifetime of it.'
'And do you have any plans on how to achieve your lifetime of fame?' I ask. 'Absolutely,' says Miggins. 'I'm going to start a burlesque dance group called 'The Chicken and Asparagus Tarts.' Then I'm going to flirt outrageously with, oh, I don't know, a TV presenter maybe - and get myself involved in a slanderous scandal whereby I shall come across as the injured party, get myself some good publicity and jump on the celebrity bandwagon with a series of autobiographies, interviews, tasteful merchandise and public appearances opening supermarkets.' 'We've already got the perfume,' points out Mrs Pumphrey, squirting a dash of 'Poulet' behind her ears and knees.

'Oh, so you're all in it are you?' I ask. 'This burlesque group?' 'Safety in numbers,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'And we thought we could release a girl band record. We're quite keen to do a cover of 'Hen Will I See You again.' 'The old Diana Ross and The Supremes song?' I ask. 'That's the one,' says Slocombe. 'We've got the questions. I'm going to be Diana Ross.'

'I don't think so,' says Miggins. 'I'm Diana Ross. ' 'No,' interjects Mrs Poo. 'I'm Diana Ross...'

I slip away quietly, leaving them to it. Suddenly, 'Ulysses,' has become an attactive option to reality. I'll give it another go, I think. Over the salmon we've got for tea.'

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Art of Perfume Part 3

The clocks have gone back meaning that the mornings will be lighter again albeit only for a couple of weeks. This means I have to rise a little earlier to open the hen house. So, up at 6.15 this morning, I stumble downstairs in my overly long dressing gown( note to self: must get a new one before this one kills me. ''It woz 'er dressing gown wot done 'er in'' is not a good epitaph for one's gravestone) and go to let the girls out. On my return I find a handwritten note on the doormat. I open it. It says '8 teas, 9 coffees. Teas all white, 6 with 2 sugars, 1 with 3, and 1 with a sugar substitute if you have it. Coffees - 4 black, 5 white (1 of white just a splash, thanks). No sugar in black except 2 if you have sugar substitute, others 3 with 1 spoon and 2 with 2. 9 bacon sarnies, 4 blueberry muffins, 3 rounds of toast........'and a partridge in a pear tree,' sings Andy, appearing behind me, yawning and scratching in a dressing gown that is way too short.

'What's this?' I demand. I don't do maths at the best of times and certainly not first thing in the morning in response to scruffy notes shoved through my letterbox. 'There appears to be a film crew on the front lawn,' said Andy, opening the door and stretching. A passing makeup girl squeals. 'I told you your dressing gown was too short,' I say. 'And I am not spending my day providing non-stop tea, coffee, sandwiches and muffins.'

The flap to the letterbox lifts and a pair of shifty eyes peers through. It is Mrs Miggins. 'Oi!' she clucks, which is never a good way to begin a conversation with me. 'The crew can't get started on filming until they've had breakfast. So, when you're ready, love.' The letterbox snaps shut. I look at Andy. 'Did one of our chickens just call me 'love?' I say. Andy nods. 'I believe,' he says, 'that she is assuming film crew vernacular.' 'Oh she is, is she?' I say.

I open the front door. Miles of cables are spreading tentacle-like from several lorries that squat like giant octopuses (?)....octopus's(?)....octopi(?)..... octopinium (?)......squid on the only bit of lawn chez nous that still looks half decent. I step outside looking for someone who might be in charge of this chaos. Andy, still yawning and stretching, steps out behind me, the makeup girl squeals again, I shove him back inside until he gets the length of his dressing gown sorted.

Scanning the scene of hustle and bustle, I catch glimpses here and there of four excited chickens in various states of hair/dress/make-up ensemblage. They are being pampered and feted like Hollywood starlets. Mrs Miggins is sharing a Galloise with the director (I am glad to see hers remains unlit). She is clucking coquettishly and twirling a girly toe in the grass. Mrs Pumphrey is being levered into a stunning chiffon and lace ballgown - the dresser is telling her that no, she isn't too fat at all, she is amply curvacious and it is all the rage these days to be amply curvacious. Mrs Slocombe is having her claws painted a ravishing shade of scarlet by a fey young man called Gok who is flirting outrageously with her, causing her to blush furiously and giggle in a most un-Mrs Slocombe-like manner. And Mrs Poo? Mrs Poo is sitting in front of a huge mirror surrounded by lightbulbs. Her eyes are wide open, having just had massive false lashes fitted and the hairdresser is primping her comb whilst discussing the finer points of the Marxist manifesto. Mrs Poo is in heaven. All the hens are in heaven. I feel like a harbinger of doom and go inside without saying a word.

'Put the kettle on,' I say to Andy. 'Have we got any bacon?'

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Something more annoying than pushchairs

A while ago I had a rant about the things that annoy me in my role of innocent pedestrian. You may remember? Anyway, yesterday I went into town to post copies of my masterpiece children's novel to ten carefully selected and lucky agents and publishers and discovered something that annoys me even more than those previously mentioned. And that is mothers pushing pushchairs and allowing their small toddler child to push its own dolly pushchair along beside them.

Now, I use the word 'beside' in the manner of France being beside Australia, in that they both occupy the same planet if not the necessarily the same hemisphere. Yomping along the pavement in my usual brisk and straight as an arrow manner I overtook said mother only to find her small child avec her pushchair swerving into my path because small children cannot and do not walk in straight lines. Now, if the mother had the child in the pushchair instead of a pile of shopping from Wilkos,then I would have negotiated my manoeuvre without problem. But no. The woman might as well have given her child eighteen excitable poodles to hang onto for all the control the child was showing with her dolly pushchair (which at least had a dolly strapped in and not another bag of shopping). The toddler was swerving this way and that, varying her speed between very fast and stop, bashing people's ankles, playing in the traffic, sending old ladies on zimmer frames plunging off the pavement into the paths of speeding doubledeckers...okay, the last two points may be a slight exaggeration but you get the idea.

Why? Why wait until the busiest time of the day and unleash a small child with a dangerous weapon into a crowded shopping centre? Tell you what, next time, give 'em a breadknife, set them up with a camping stove and let them run a hot dog stand whilst you go and get your eyebrows plucked to within an inch of their lives. At least if they are standing still they won't be getting under my feet.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Art of Perfume Part 2

There is a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the garden. 'Oi!' calls Tybalt from his vantage point in the conservatory. 'Come and have a butchers at this.' I reprimand him. 'Firstly, I am not 'oi' and secondly you are not a Cockney cat. You are a Scouse cat. If anything you should be saying 'eh?eh?' I say. 'Whatever,' says Tybalt. 'Just come and have a look, will you?' Right, he's straight off to the Paw Bonne to get his manners polished, I think crossly. Anyway, as it isn't often he shows much interest in what's happening outside, I go to see what has drawn his attention.

Mrs Pumphrey is standing on top of the compost bin wearing six inch stilettoes. They could be Choos, they could be Manolos, I don't know. She is shrouded in chiffon which is being blown around in an artistic manner by means of Mrs Miggins pointing a huge fan in her direction. Mrs Slocombe is sulking by the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a headscarf, looking like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Jones; I can't see Mrs Poo, but there are strains of the 'Red Flag' being played on the harmonica coming from the Eglu so I assuming she is holding one her meetings which would explain her demand for a bottle of retsina and a dozen coconut macaroons earlier this morning.

'What are you doing?' I yell from the back door. Mrs Pumphrey falls off the compost bin in surprise which causes Mrs Slocombe to snigger. 'We're practising the commercial before the film crew arrive,' explains Mrs Miggins, switching off the fan. 'Film crew?' I ask. 'I thought it was going to be me with a camcorder?' 'Oh, the campaign has become much bigger than that,' says Mrs Pumphrey, wading her way across the increasingly muddy lawn and giving Mrs Slocombe a kick as she passes. 'We've decided to hire the professionals.' 'Oh really?' I say. 'And the point of the fan?' 'It's all to do with creating an atmosphere,' says Miggins. 'It's October,' I point out. 'Couldn't you use the natural wind? It'd be cheaper.'

Mrs Pumphrey sniffs. 'Well, yes, we could. If you want us to create a piece of film noire that looks cheap and shoddy.' ' Film noire?' I say. 'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I've been exploring the genre of French existentialism and I think it would create the perfect feel for my perfume advert.'

'Existentialism, smenshialism,' mocks Mrs Slocombe from the greenhouse. 'What's up with her?' I ask. 'She was making far too many demands for an extra,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'You know, things like only being shot in profile from the right, twelve bichon frises dressed as clowns in her dressing room, silk covered roosting perch. I told her it wouldn't matter which profile we shot her from, she'd still look like Gerald Depardieu with his nose caught in a pencil sharpener.'

I make the mistake of laughing. 'This is my career!' shrieks Mrs Slocombe. 'You're going to have to pay for rhinoplasty for me. And therapy.'

'Therapy, schmerapy,' I shriek back. I am very fond of Mrs Slocombe but really, she can be the limit sometimes. I return my attention to Pumphrey. 'Nice shoes, by the way. Choos or Manolos?' 'Pete's,' she says. 'Tango Pete?' I say. Mrs P. nods. 'He does a drag act every other weekend. These are his Mae West shoes.'

I close the back door and let the girls get on with it. Tybalt has curled up in a ball in his basket. He has a very short attention span. He lifts his head and watches me with sleepy eyes. 'Well?' he says. 'They're bonkers,' I say. 'Quite bonkers.'

'Must be catching,' he says.

Monday, 20 October 2008

The art of Perfume - Part 1

With Christmas less than 10 weeks away, and there being an never-ending run of arty perfume commercials on the telly, Mrs Pumphrey has decided to launch her own brand of scent. It is to be called 'Poulet' and is ' a heady combination of grass cuttings and summer corn mixed with a hint of compost bin and warm peat.' 'You've mis-spelt 'peat', says Mrs Pumphrey, peering over my shoulder as I type. I have been employed as copywriter (media and admin) as I am the only one who can type faster than three words a minute. 'It's not 'peat' as in the earthy stuff you grow plants in. It's Pete, as in my tango partner.' 'Is he warm?' I enquire. 'Very,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Especially when he wears Spandex hot pants. I've told him he should go for something cotton because it lets your feathers breathe, but I think he's trying to hang on to his youth a few more years yet.'

Not wishing to hear further information on this subject I ask more about the perfume. 'I've created a mood board,' says Pumphrey, heaving it onto the table in the kitchen (or 'press office' as she now insists on calling it.) I cast an eye over the art work. Given she doesn't have access to many materials she has done a remarkably good job. Bits of leaf and grass are set on a dust bath background; the overall colour theme is mustard yellow and lime green. 'It's not quite finished,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I wondered if I may have a look through your fabric box.' Always keen to encourage enterprise in my hens, I agree. 'Anything you're looking for in particular?' I ask. 'Chiffon,' Mrs P. replies determindly. 'And maybe a bit of lace.'

'And who do you have in mind to be your perfume model?' I ask, anticipating some heated bargaining with the agents of all the top models. 'Kate Winglet? Henda Eggvangilista? Hennifer Lopez? Naomi Henball?'

Mrs Pumphrey looks at me askance. 'Why, me, of course,' she says. 'I don't want some nose- in- the- air skinny bit of stuff who won't get out of bed for less than a bucket full of oats advertising my perfume. My perfume is for proper women, curvaceous women, women who like cakes and biscuits and mashed potato - proper mashed potato with butter, milk and maybe a dollop of pesto.'

'I see,' I say. At least I'll be able to keep within the £10 budget I've been allocated. Mrs Pumphrey gathers up her mood board. 'I've got Mrs Slocombe working on some packaging ideas,' she says. 'She said she'd do it in return for a bit part in the commercial. I thought she could be the one who all the guys stampede in order to get to me because I smell so great and she smells like a chicken.'

'Okay,' I say, sensing trouble further down the line. 'She suggested we develop an aftershave for men,' said Mrs P, pausing in her mission to find my fabric box. 'Had a name for it already.' 'Oh yes?' I say. 'It wouldn't work,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'She suggested 'Big Cock.' Big Cock? Can you imagine what my Pete would have to say about that?'

I don't dare think.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Can you see me?

Mrs Pumphrey is standing very close to the greenhouse, staring intently. 'Morning, Pumphrey,'I say, going out to refill the chicken feeder and water bowl. I give my leg a shake to throw off Mrs Poo who has taken to savaging my ankles every time I step outside the back door. I have told her this is unacceptable behaviour but it is difficult to gauge her response when it is muffled by a beakful of my trousers.
'There's a chicken in the greenhouse,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Oh no,' I think. 'Here we go again.' Mrs Miggins runs over. 'I told you so,' she says, glaring at me. I've been trying to convince her for months that the chicken she has been seeing in the greenhouse is, in fact, her own reflection, but she won't have it. 'Mrs Pumphrey can see the chicken, too,' she says, smug at having her theory proven. 'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'A big white one.' 'Oh it's not white, dear,' says Mrs M. 'I think you'll find it's ginger.' 'It's your reflections,' I yell. 'HowmanytimesdoIhaveto tellyouthis??'
'What's up with her?' asks Mrs Pumphrey. Mrs Miggins shrugs. 'Hormones, I expect.'

'Right,' I say. 'I'm having my eyes tested this afternoon and you two are coming with me.' 'An outing - how exciting,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

At two o'clock we find ourselves sitting in Specsavers. Mrs Miggins is playing with a child's plastic shape sorter on the floor and giving evils to any two year old that happens to wander too close. Mrs Pumphrey has found an old copy of 'Hen and Now' and is copying a pattern for a crocheted bobble hat into her notebook.

'If you'd like to come this way,' says the assisant. 'I'm just going to run a couple of pre-tests before the optician sees you.' 'Pre-tests?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'What are they?' 'One is where they shine light into your eye and you have to click a button every time you see a flash, ' I explain, 'and the other is where they puff air into your eye to test your pressures.' 'That doesn't sound very healthy,' says Miggins, having prised herself away from the toy. 'Have you got a plastic brick under your wing?' I ask, eyeing a suspicious looking bulge. 'No,' says Miggins, defensively. She does a tuneless whistle and stares at the ceiling.

Anyway, we have our eyes tested. Mine are fine -no change to my prescription at all but it transpires that both Miggins and Pumphrey need specs for shortsightedness. They are thrilled at this news and immedately set about choosing frames and driving the assistant mad with their indecision about whether to have anti-scratch coating or not. 'Might be a good idea,' Miggins says. 'You know how Mrs Poo goes for our eyes sometimes.' 'They won't stop us scratching up the lawn will they? Being anti-scratch?' says Pumphrey. Miggins assures her they will still be able to wreck the garden more than adequately.

We arrive home, Mrs Pumphrey looking elegant in her rimless pair and Mrs Miggins tres fashionable in her 'Red or Dead' designer jobbies. They immediately test them out in the garden. 'There is still a chicken in the greenhouse,' Miggins says. 'Yes,' agrees Pumphrey. 'Only now they seem much, much bigger.'

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Amidst much excitement and Andy cursing my inability to divide my writing into manageable chapters in suitable format, the first 27,000 words of Ginnungagaps have gone onto HarperCollins Authonomy website. There are another 43, 000 words ready to go but I don't like to ask Andy to do the tecky bit for me just yet as they aren't divided into chapters either and will require much scrolling, dividing into individual folders and converting to Richtext in order to be uploaded successfully. He has been having a stressful time at work recently and I don't want to add to this in the evenings even though I am so excited by the whole process I could burst! I am exercising patience -after all, Andy has also created me a lovely book cover. He is very accommodating of my demanding requirements! Such a darling!! xx

So this afternoon, with the end of the book in sight, I sit down to wade my way to 'The End'. I've been having trouble finding the finish and no amount of comfort eating handfuls of nuts and wandering around the garden asking the hens what to do has helped. I know how it will end, just not how I'm going to get there. BUT this afternoon, during my 235th round of 'Patience' (there's a game that wastes time better than the Devil) I suddenly had an epiphany and knocked off 2,000 words straight away which has got me rolling very satisfactorily to the end. Hurrah!! I reckon the whole book will end up at 80,000 words. Or 85, 000 if I end up in a ramble. And am I saving this final section in Richtext chapters, each in its own folder? Of course I'm not! I'm an artiste - I have to 'go with the flow'. 'I call it being bleeding awkward, ' I can hear Andy saying!!

And now I have to resist the urge to go on the website every half an hour to see how my baby is doing. Today, I was up the rankings in the children's section from 41 to 21!! I have no idea what this means. I've had a couple of very encouraging comments. Maybe I am a writer after all?

Anyway, it's all very exciting!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


What's going on with all this global money crisis doo-da? I don't understand. Where's all the money gone? Surely it existed at some point? Is there someone out there now with huge wodges of cash under their bed, too frightened to leave home in case they get burgled? It can't just have 'disappeared.' Can it?

And what's this 'sub-prime' scam malarkey? Lending money to people who are least likely to be able to repay it, betting on the default rate and then scooping up the winnings when it all goes pear-shaped? It's jolly unsporting behaviour and I hope the (American) people who are responsible for inventing this (American) scam are thoroughly ashamed of their (American) selves. Probably not though. I'm relying on those very (American) people having social consciences, aren't I?

If I don't understand the finer points of the way this mad world works on a fiscal level, think how confused the cats are. Tybalt and Phoebe were noticeable by their absence around the house today. Usually, Phoebe waits until I'm just about to have my first bite of lunch before doing a huge poo in the litter tray. But not today. This is odd. I go in search of the pair of them for although Tybalt is very much enamoured of Phoebe (the older woman) she does not cherish his company and they are often found as far apart from each other as possible. However, on investigating some strange chemical smells coming from upstairs, I discover them both in Andy's study. The door is closed and the lights are off. There are strange scratching sounds coming from within. 'Hello, ' I think, 'has Phoebe finally succumbed to Tybalt's animal charms?' Slowly,I push the door ajar. A red light glows gently in the darkness. As I slip into the study, my face becomes entangled in what seems to be a giant cobweb and I don't feel like standing calmly and awaiting the arrival of the no doubt giant spider that made it.

So I flap about wildly, screaming AT THE TOP OF MY VOICE!

'What's the matter with you?' says a voice from the gloom. Once I've calmed down and established there are no giant spiders waiting to drink my blood, I notice Tybalt standing in the corner. He is operating a printing press. In the other corner, Phoebe is hunched over a desk, a green visor on her head and one of those jeweller's eye glasses latched firmly in her right eye. The cobweb turns out to be lines and lines of string upon which are hung hundreds of thousands of pounds of fake bank notes.

'You can't do this!' I gasp. 'This is called forgery. You can go to jail for it.'

'Nah,' says Tybalt. 'It's okay. We've checked it out, haven't we, Phoebe darling?' 'Yes,' says Phoebe, 'and I am not your darling so shut your face.' Undeterred, Tybalt continues. 'You see, we've been listening to the news. And you know all that money that we aren't going to get back from Iceland?' 'Yes,' I say. 'Well, yesterday the news said that we were going to loan Iceland money so they can pay back the money they owe us in the first place! How cool is that!?' says Tybalt, hanging another £50 note on the line to dry. I have to confess here that 'cool' wasn't the first word that sprung to mind when I heard this news. 'Moronic' and 'bonkers' yes; but 'cool'?

'I don't understand,' I say. 'Where do you come into all this?' 'We got the contract, innit?' says Tybalt, proudly. 'We're printing the money to send to Iceland.' I stand open mouthed in amazement. 'It'll be ready tomorrow morning,' Tybalt continues. 'So all we need you to do is put it in a bag and deliver it for us. Can you do that?' I don't know why - maybe it is the sheer lunacy of the idea - but I find myself nodding slowly in agreement. 'Great!' says Tybalt. 'Can you get me a bag of prawns whilst you're there. And some sausage rolls.'

'What do you think about this, Phoebs?' I ask, turning to the female and therefore infinitely more sensible half of the pair. Phoebe looks at me, one eye magnified by the eye glass. 'I think prawns spend far too much time hanging around sewage outlets. So I'll have a box of profiteroles, thanks.'

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Trouble brewing

'I told you it would happen!' screeches Mrs Miggins as she bursts from the Eglu this morning. 'I said there would be trouble with Mrs Poo, and I was right!'

It is just before 7 a.m and the sun is barely scraping the bottom of the sky. Too much trauma too early in the morning, I think. 'What is it? What's happened with Mrs Poo?' I ask as the other three girls emerge, bleary- eyed from the hutch. They look suspiciously like it's the morning after the night before.

'Well,' says Mrs M, leading me by the arm away from the others who are pecking half-heartedly at breakfast. 'We had a gin and Ferrero Rocher party last night and one thing led to another and Mrs Pumphrey ended up reading our fortunes. Then she happened to say she could do past life regressions and we thought 'What the hell, let's give it a go.'

'Okay,' I say, wondering if I've slipped into some kind of parallel universe. 'What happened?'

'I went first, of course and it seems I was an Arabic princess in my last incarnation.' 'That's very exotic,' I say. Mrs Miggins huffs and continues grumpily.'And then Mrs Slocombe had a go and of course, she had to be one better didn't she?' 'Oh?' I say. 'Yes, flippin' Cleopatra, wasn't she? 'Oooo, look at me, I'm the Queen of Egypt,' she says, strutting around the place. Didn't look so good when she got a foot wedged between the roosting bars and ended up on her back with her flannel drawers waving in the air, did she?' says Mrs Miggins. 'Took us ages to lever her out she was giggling so much.'

'And what about Mrs Poo?' I ask. 'Well,' Mrs M says, lowering her voice to little more than a whisper, 'I don't want to cast aspersions but it seems we might have a little dictator in our midst.' She steps back and waits for my reaction. 'A dictator?' I ask. 'Yes. Not mentioning any names but who in history was a small, bossy control freak? Just like Mrs Poo?' 'Attila the Hen?' I suggest, allowing myself a juvenile snigger. 'Be serious,' snaps Mrs M. There is a mug of tea and some crumpets waiting for me indoors and not wanting to get involved in protracted guessing games, I give in.

'Napoleon!' hisses Mrs M. 'Just you watch her today and see if I'm not right.' And she struts off to screech in Mrs Slocombe's poor hungover ear.

Later that afternoon I decide to make the most of the warm sun and take my tea break in the garden. I settle on the garden swing with a mug of tea and do a bit of chicken watching. Mrs Miggins is taking a dust bath in the border next to me, looking like one half of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling on the beach in 'From Here to Eternity'. Mrs Slocombe is sitting very still under the eucalyptus tree sipping from a vat of Alka Seltzer, her eyes hidden behind some huge sunshades and Mrs Pumphrey is practising what looks like a fairly complicated tapdance routine with cancan interlude. But where is Mrs Poo? Then I hear strange noises coming from the Eglu.

Slowly, I creep over and lift the pop hole cover. Inside I can see Mrs Poo. She is standing in front of a mirror and is using hair gel to form a flat, neat comb over with curly bit on her forehead. She is wearing a military jacket and a pair of riding boots with what look suspiciously like stack heels. Pinned to the wall is a map of the garden with 'World Domination' printed across the top. On the sideboard is a bottle of French Brandy, a snifter already in a tumbler waiting to be drunk. A novelty mini-guillotine paper shredder is on her desk and she is humming along cheerfully to the distant strains of La Marseilles playing on her DAB/CD/MPV player. Carefully, I replace the pop hole cover and sneak away. Mrs Miggins, having completed her toilette, is sitting on the swing awaiting my return.

'Well?' she demands. 'I'm not saying anything, ' I say. 'Not until I get more evidence.'

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Mum's mission

My Mum is on a mission. She has become obsessed with tracking down and purchasing the definitive toaster. This has been going on for about a month now, since the demise of her previous toaster and the tale is turning into a bit of a saga. I get weekly updates when she and my aged Auntie Pollie pitch up for hot chocolate and shortbread every Wednesday after their early morning swim at the local leisure centre. The visit is a fairly recent habit which coincided with the leisure centre revamping its coffee shop and putting up their prices to cover the cost. Apparently, my refreshments are a darn sight cheaper than anything the leisure centre now has to offer.

I digress. Toaster number two was duly purchased from a branch of a well-known supermarket but being cheap and cheerful it refused to work so was duly returned for immediate refund. Off Mum goes to the retail park in search of toaster number 3. 'I don't want one of those fancy shiny ones,' she says. She's never been a slave to fashion, my Mum. 'A plain white one will do for me.' Of course, plain white toasters are very old hat now and three shops on the trot fail to deliver the goods, but she does find a nice vacuum cleaner in shop number 2 which she might keep an eye on in case the price drops in the sales. Shop number 4 has plain white toasters and coloured toasters but they all come as part of a package with a kettle. 'I don't want a kettle,' says Mum. 'I want a toaster not a toaster and matching kettle. Why would I buy a kettle every time I want a toaster?' Okay Mum, we get the picture. But at least she is coming around to the idea of a coloured toaster, thereby increasing her overall option base.

This morning, Mum declares that although she still doesn't want a shiny, shiny toaster she isn't averse, having done some research, to the matt shiny ones. 'Provided it takes fat crumpets.' This is the other problem. Mum's friend sometimes buys her a pack of crumpets because she knows Mum likes crumpets. But Mum's friend, not being short of a bob or two, buys fat crumpets and not your bog standard slim variety (althought they don't make crumpets like they used to, do they?) And fat crumpets didn't used to fit in toaster number 1 (now demised - are you keeping up?) unless severly beaten with a rolling pin to render them flatter. 'And another thing,' says Mum, 'is that cheap toasters aren't deep enough and you always end up with an untoasted edge of bread.' This is true, but has never really bothered me - if I want my toast done all the way round I take it out half way through the toasting process and turn it over.

Mum's solution? She intends to carry a piece of cardboard around with her that is EXACTLY the same size as the bread she buys in order to try it for size in any potential toaster slots to see if they are deep enough to provide evenly toasted bread. Note to self - make sure to stand at least ten feet away from Mum if she gets cardboard faux bread from handbag when shopping.

So she wants a matt-shiny, white, possibly coloured toaster with no matching kettle that has wide, deep slots to deal with bread, crumpets, muffins and bagels of varying shapes, sizes and thickness.

'Or maybe,' I say to Mum, as the plot thickens, 'you could just use the grill?'

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The wing of peace

Misses' Pumphrey, Poo and Slocombe have made a momentous discovery which is that Mrs Miggins can only chase one of them at any given time. This means that if they split off in separate directions, one of them can provide a distraction whilst the other two get on with chickeny stuff like eating, drinking and preening. Also, Mrs Pumphrey has displayed the ability to fling herself in great leaps across the garden attaining a quite spectacular height and her aerial acrobatics really throw Mrs Miggins into a tizz. (Don't tell Andy though, or we'll find ourselves surrounded by an 18 foot barbed wire enclosure by the time the week is out.)

Going outside to bring in the washing at lunchtime, I find Mrs Miggins has retired to the end of the garden, exhausted by the three way relay marathon the others have been leading her all morning. She is taking time out to work on her neo-classical sculpture, although the light drizzle that has started is doing nothing for the consistency of her clay and Dionysius's firkin is looking a bit droopy. 'It's coming along though, isn't it?' I say encouragingly, as I fold Andy's underpants into the laundry basket. 'Yes, it's not bad, not bad at all,' says Mrs Miggins, wiping her wings on her apron. 'Although I'm not sure about the firkin.' 'It'll perk up,' I say. 'Don't give in. It's definitely one for the Turner Prize.'

Mrs Miggins seemed cheered by this. 'I've had a thought,' she says. 'About how me and the newcomers can bond better.' 'Oh yes?' I say. 'I thought we could go on a spa day,' says Mrs M. 'What do you think?' I ponder the suggestion and wonder why it is that I always find a wet sock stuck in a corner of a mostly dry duvet cover. 'What, like all girls together for saunas and facials?' I say. Mrs Miggins nods. 'I've booked the four of us into Fowl Play for one of their 'Hen, Will We Treat You Again?' pamper days. You get a pedicure, a facial, a bum fluff and a comb wax.' 'And lunch?' I ask, as this is one of the most important aspects of a pamper day. 'That was extra,' says Mrs Miggins. 'I put it on your credit card. You don't mind, do you?' she finishes, with a look in her eye that dares me to disagree. 'No, no, that's fine,' I say, hurriedly, happy that she is making an effort on the team-building front.

'We're going on a pamper day,' says Mrs Pumphrey, full of glee as this is very much up her street. 'Pah!' says Mrs Slocombe who, if consulted on these matters would rather have gone paintballing. 'You could get your moustache waxed,' says Mrs Poo. 'How many times do I have to tell you,' snaps Mrs Slocombe, 'it is not a moustache. It is merely the shadow cast by my comb onto my upper beak.' 'Your comb hasn't grown yet,' Mrs Poo points out. 'That's a point,' says Mrs Miggins, who has crept up and is listening to the conversation. Of course, she is in possession of a vibrant and positively rigid appendage, the days of non-comb now far behind her. 'But don't worry,I think you can substitute the comb wax for another treatment if you like.'

Mrs Pumphrey leaps eight feet across the garden in excitement. 'Ooh, lovely!' she shrieks. 'I'm going to have my tail feathers primped. What about you, Mrs Slocombe?' Mrs S. thinks carefully. It's been a wet day for free-ranging and the grass in the back garden is long and tickly on her under feathers. 'I think,' she says, 'I might brave a Brazilian.'

'I wonder if there will be a Jacuzzi?' says Mrs Poo.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Settling in

There is a knock on the back door. It is Mrs Miggins. 'Can you tell me,' she begins, 'why the newcomers are keeping their distance?' Well, that's a good sign, I think. At least she's stopped calling them 'the intruders'. 'I think it may have something to do with your attitude towards them,' I reply tentatively, for Mrs M is a sensitive soul. 'What do you mean 'my attitude?' she demands. 'I don't have an attitude.'

I pause before I reply, aware that I need to be careful what I say or there won't be any eggs for a week. 'Maybe you should stop herding them back into the run every time they try coming out into the garden,' I suggest. I can see Mrs Miggins is trying to get her brain around this by the way she is frowning. Either that or there's a giant poop on its way. 'Mrs Slocombe shouted at me,' she says. 'You shouted at her first,' I point out, having witnessed the yelling match between them earlier. 'And Mrs Pumphrey keeps trying to eat exactly the same piece of grass that I want to eat,' she says. 'There is more than enough grass space to go around,' I say.'You should share, rather than trying to fence off areas with picket fencing.' 'Well, what about Mrs Poo?' Mrs M demands. I can tell she is struggling to maintain her side of the argument. 'What about her?' I say. 'Well, nothing yet. Apart from her stupid name. But there will be something soon, you mark my words,' says Mrs M, tapping the side of her beak in a 'voice of doom' kind of way.

I sigh. As far as I can tell, the new girls are being thoroughly inoffensive. They are keeping their heads down, deferring to Mrs Miggins in all aspects of the 'Who Is Boss?' game, including who gets the nestbox at night. They have recognised her without doubt as top hen in the pecking order.

'They're just being chickens,' I say. 'Like you.' 'Like me?' asks Mrs Miggins. She seems oddly startled by this news. 'I think you'll find, my dear, that I am no more a chicken than you are.'
I give a little laugh. 'You are a chicken, Mrs Miggins,' I assure her. 'I am not,' says Mrs Miggins, hotly. 'I am the owner of a pie shop in Regency England.' 'No you aren't, ' I say. 'You are named after the fictional owner of a pie shop in Regency England. But you are a chicken.'

Mrs Miggins raises herself to her full height -all 14 inches of it. 'Young woman,' she says (which thrills me, given I am fast approaching my 43rd birthday), 'I am Mrs Miggins, pie shop proprietor extraordinaire and if you'll excuse me I have a vat of vegetables on the simmer and some puff pastry in the fridge awaiting its third rolling and folding.' And with a big huff and a poop (it seems she wasn't thinking after all), she turns and takes herself off to the Eglu, giving Mrs Poo a bit of a look as she passes by.

'What's the matter with her?' says Mrs Poo to Mrs Slocombe. 'Delusions of grandeur,' Mrs Slocombe declares. 'And I hope she tastes that pie filling before she puts it in the pastry cases. There's not nearly enough pepper for my liking.' 'I've rolled and folded that batch of pastry in the fridge,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Do you think Mrs Miggins will appreciate the gesture?' 'Of course,' says Mrs Poo. 'What a nice thing to do. Hopefully, she will realise we just want to be friends.' 'Speak for yourself,' snorts Mrs Slocombe.

Ten minutes later there is another knock on the door. 'Yes, Mrs Miggins,' I say. She looks cross. 'I want you to know that I've just taken my pastry from the fridge and found this in it.' She holds aloft a feather.

'It's a feather,' I say. 'Yes,' she says, triumphantly. 'A feather. One of your so-called 'chickens' '(and she does that little scribing- commas- in- the- air thing with her wings) 'has been fiddling with my pies. And I want to know which one it is. I need to have words with them.' I take the feather. It is ginger. 'Well?' demands Mrs M, flapping her ginger wings in agitation, ginger wings that are the same ginger as the feathery evidence. 'Go and look in the mirror,' I say. 'You'll find your answer there.'

Ten minutes later there is another knock on the door. 'I am a chicken, aren't I?' says a contrite Miggins. I nod. 'Just the same as them?' she says. I nod again. Miggins turns to walk away, then pauses. 'But I am the best chicken, aren't I?

'Yes, ' I say, with a fond smile. 'You are very definitely the best chicken.'

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Invaders at twelve o'clock

Yesterday, Andy and I set off to collect 2 new hens from a farm deep in the Kent countryside. Somehow, we manage to come home with three - a white Sussex, a Speckedly and an H& N Brown Nick. We install them in the hen house and congratulate ourselves on increasing our flock whilst at the same time sparing a fond thought for the recently departed Mrs Bennett.

As we settle for a cuppa and biscuit there is a knock on the back door. It is Mrs Miggins.
'Hello,' I say, 'how can I help?' ' I don't like to interrupt your elevenses,' says Mrs M, 'but there appear to be intruders in my garden.''Really?' I reply, thinking a local cat has wandered in, or a hedgehog, maybe. 'Yes,' says Mrs M. 'Three chickens. Are those hobnobs by any chance?' she continues, casting a glance at the barrell on the table. 'No, we ate all those yesterday, remember? These are Jaffa cakes. Would you like one?' 'No thank you,' says Mrs M. 'I find the orangey bit in the centre gets stuck to my beak.' Not wanting to become involved in a lengthy discussion about biscuit related products and whether, in fact, a Jaffa cake is a biscuit or a cake, I guide the conversation back to the question of intruders.

'They aren't intruders,' I explain to Mrs M. 'They are your new companions.' 'I have a companion,' says Mrs M. Oh no, I think, she still hasn't got her head around the Mrs Bennett/chicken heaven concept yet. 'Yes,' says Mrs M, 'I am all the company I need and if I need any more all I have to do is cluck loudly and annoyingly and you come running with sunflower seeds or grapes. A more than adequate arrangement I think.' 'Well,' I say,'I'm sorry to disappoint you but they are here to stay.'

Mrs Miggins fluffs herself out in disgust. 'Do they have names?' 'Yes, the little brown one is called Mrs Polotviska and the grey one is Mrs Slocombe.' 'And the poofey, white one with big knickers?' 'Is Mrs Pumphrey,' I say. 'She's a clairvoyant, you know.' Mrs Miggins's eyes brighten at this piece of news. 'A clairvoyant, you say?' 'Yes, she can foresee the future. It's quite a talent you know,' I smile, delighted that Mrs Miggins seems to be softening in her attitude towards the new residents. 'Well, then lets hope she has seen this coming,' says a determined Mrs M, who turns from the back door and with all the velocity of a greyhound after a rabbit, races like a maniac towards where the three girls are gathered, scattering them to the four corners of the run, squawking with alarm.

'Mrs Miggins!' I reprimand. 'That is not lady-like behaviour. Stop it this instant!'

Mrs Miggins turns and fixes me with a stare that means business. 'Now let's get one thing straight, shall we? This is my garden, my Eglu, my run, my food, my water bowl, my extra outside water bowl and my nest box. Mine, d'you hear? Mine...all mine!!!Mwhahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!' And with that she runs a few more turns around her garden, sweeping her cloak behind her and twanging her Zorro mask in a most menacing manner.

Mrs Slocombe looks at Mrs Pumphrey who looks at Mrs Polotviska who is trying to spell her name in bits of dried grass on the floor of the run. 'Did you see that coming?' asks Mrs Slocombe. 'No, I didn't,' admits Mrs Pumphrey. 'I think I'd better unpack my crystal ball. We have clearly fallen in with a bonkers crowd.'

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Great Escape

Popped into town this morning to post assorted birthday cards and short story competition entries and on my return I find a chicken wandering in the front garden. For a brief, mad moment I think 'There's a chicken in the front garden who looks exactly like Mrs Miggins.' And then I realise it is Mrs Miggins. 'What are you doing here?' I ask, shepherding her to the safety of the back garden. 'I'm looking for Mrs Bennett,' she says. 'The grass is a lot nicer in the front garden,' she adds, 'how come we aren't allowed to live there?' 'Because,' I say, 'there's a small matter of a main road, cars that ignore traffic calming measures, ninety three maurauding neighbourhood cats, not to mention the foul mouthed little scroats who walk up and down here every day and would think nothing of grabbing hold of you and breaking your legs.' 'Right,' she says, 'so we can't have the nicer grass then?' 'No,' I say firmly. 'And you do know it's just you now, don't you? You do know Mrs Bennett isn't here any more?'

Mrs Miggins frowns and hangs her bonnet on the coat peg. 'What do you mean, she isn't here any more? Of course she is. I saw her this very morning in the greenhouse.' 'No you didn't, Mrs Miggins,' I explain. 'That was your reflection.' 'You mean, the chicken in the greenhouse is me?' 'Well,' I begin, thinking we could be heading for mass confusion here,'it's a representation of what you look like. It's all to do with light and stuff....' Mrs Miggins is still frowning; she clearly thinks I am bonkers. 'How can I be in the greenhouse and outside the greenhouse at the same time?' she asks. 'You can't,' I say. 'Aha!' she declares, like she has caught me out. 'So it is Mrs Bennett in there after all.'

I can tell we are going to have to have THE TALK. No, not that one, the other one. I sit Mrs Miggins down, pour her an Earl Grey and offer her a hobnob. 'You know Mrs Bennett hasn't been around for a couple of days?' I say. 'I know she hasn't been in the Eglu at night, dirty stop out,' says Miggins, spraying biscuit crumbs everywhere. 'And you know she hadn't been well for a while?' I continue doggedly. Mrs Miggins sniffs. 'I think she was attention seeking,' she says, imperiously, 'look at all the digging I did for her. Fetching and carrying, making her bed, filling her hot water bottle at night.' I sigh. 'She had a problem with her lady bits,' I say. 'She was laying eggs inside herself without a shell and they all got stuck together.' Ooooh yuk, that's just disgusting!' interrupts Mrs Miggins. 'And quite frankly a pretty poor excuse for not pulling your weight around the place and hiding in a greenhouse.'

'She's gone to chicken heaven,' I say, making a mad dash for the end of the conversation and reaching for the headache pills. 'Chicken heaven?' asks Mrs Miggins, now on her fourth hobnob. 'Yes, where the corn is golden and the grass is greener,' I say.

'So she is in the front garden then? I knew I was right,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Well, you just tell her that I'm expecting her back immediately. Friday night is bridge night. I've bought Pringles and roasted macadamias and Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Poo will be here at eight to make up a four.'

And with that Mrs Miggins struts off, but not before tucking an extra biscuit or two under her wing for later.

Can you hear this, Mrs Bennett?? I'm going to arrange a seance and you can tell her about chicken heaven yourself. She won't be told by me.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Entertaining Mrs Miggins

Poor Mrs Miggins is really missing Mrs Bennett and this I understand completely. Therefore, I've been giving her extra attention, mostly because she's been squawking at the top of her beak and has worked out that when she does this I run into the garden to placate her with food so the neighbours don't complain about the noise. Hmmm....who is the clever one in this double act, I wonder?

Anyway, on the fourth foray of the morning (it now being 10 am) I said, "Now look here, Miggins. I have to go into town because C & H Fabric have a 20% off day and now that I'm a sewing goddess I want to get a pattern and material for a winter frock whilst it's all going cheap." "I used to do that when I was little more than an egg," said Mrs Miggins. "What, go to C & H?" I asked. The hen cast me a bit of a look. "No, go cheep," she explained, slowly and loudly like she was talking to the idiot child that I am. "Right, anyway," I said, covering my embarrassment at not getting a very simple joke by putting a bucket on my head, "I still have to go into town so I won't be able to come running every time you call. Okay?"

"No, it is not okay. I'm coming with you," Mrs Miggins declared. So then I have to hang around, looking impatiently at my watch whilst she faffs around putting on her knitted bootees and changing her choice of head gear at least four times. "Will I need my rain mac?" she asked. "It looks cloudy." "Yes," I sighed, "wear your rain mac." "You'll have to carry it if I get too hot," said Miggins. "I can't because of my lack of prehensile thumbs."

So off we set, Miggo and me. It's about 3,000 steps to C & H - for a human. For a chicken it's about 12,000. "You could always fly," I suggested. "I can only go in circles," said Mrs Miggins. "You clipped my wing, remember? I'm all off kilter."

Anyway, we stop off at the park so she can have a go on the swings which are apparently a lot nicer than the one we've got in our garden. Then she insists, despite it being October and quite chilly, on having an ice lolly from the refreshment booth and this sets her beak on edge and gives her brain freeze. We finally make it into the fabric shop and she's after everything shiny and glittery that she sets her eyes on. So embarrassing. I'd have hidden my head in shame if I wasn't still wearing the bucket I'd put on earlier.

Once we got home I showed her the pattern and fabric I'd bought. She liked the fabric but I could tell she wasn't sure about the pattern.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked. "Will my bum look big in it, do you think?"

"Probably," she said. "And now, if you don't mind, I'm feeling quite tired and I'd like to be left alone. It's an effort being with you all day.

Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Poo are arriving the day after tomorrow and with any luck chicken equilibrium will be restored. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

And hen, she was gone...

This blog is in memory of Mrs Bennett, the most stoical chicken I ever met, who sadly died this morning.

Mrs Bennett arrived in our garden nearly six months ago along with her partner in crime, Mrs Miggins. A bright red comb with a minxy flick, Mrs Bennett immediately made herself at home by single footedly digging up a majority of the lawn because, in her words, 'it looks better a bit ruffled.' An intelligent bird, she managed to get the front off the compost bin within a week of arriving and was never fooled by her reflection in the glass of the greenhouse, unlike Mrs Miggins who, even this morning, was trying to communicate with the 'chicken who lives in the greenhouse who looks just like me.'

Mrs Bennett's favourite hobbies included free form bowling for sparrows, velociraptor racing and, in quieter moments, sitting on the garden seat, swinging back and forth and reading from one of her many books of Renaissance poetry. She could swallow a grape whole in under a second and every egg she laid for us was a double yolker and delicious.

Her unique gardening skills, gravelly vocal tones and intelligent personality will be missed by Andy and me but the last word comes from Mrs Miggins - 'Bok bokkity, buk buk buuuuuuuuuk Mrs Bennett, bokky, bik bok buk, my friend, bukky, bokky bokkity, bok, buk bik.'

Good night and God bless, Mrs Bennett, wherever you are...

Who moved the goal posts over there?

In order to maintain general well-being we are advised to cover a certain mileage every day. (On foot, not in a car - get a grip already, will you?) "10,000 steps a day are all you need to stay fit!" declare the health editors in every magazine. "This information is brought to you by Acme Step Counter - clickaway to walk your way to daily fitness." ('Nice alliteration, Denise.' 'Why thank you, Mrs Miggins.')

I have a step counter. It clings to my waistband, clunking away so it sounds like I am carrying a dried pea in a matchbox everywhere I go. I have become obsessed with listening to it, knowing that every 'clunk' I hear is a record of another step towards my daily 10,000. Sometimes it doesn't clunk and this annoys me. I wonder, 'How many steps have I walked that haven't been recorded? Have I already achieved my step dose for the day and could I be sitting on the sofa now watching that programme where elephants with cameras in tree trunks harass tigers, like pachyderm papparazzi?'

Have you ever tried to cover 10,000 steps a day? Okay, everyone who is an athlete and trains for 20 out of 24 hours, put you hands down now. I'm talking to normal people here. My initial experiment of wearing a pedometer at home whilst going about my daily business revealed I covered about 3,500 steps on average. So I found myself going for an extra hour walk to reach my target. Sometimes this isn't practical(like if it's blowing a storm or you've got a life to live) so you find yourself jogging on the spot whilst cleaning your teeth, doing the washing up and opening your post. Then you find yourself jogging across the kitchen to get the bread from the bread bin, or to take the rubbish out because jogging a) means you can make lots of little bouncy steps that b) all register on the pedometer (clunk, clunk, clunkitty clunk) which c) alleviates some of the paranoia previously mentioned.

Never jog when peeling vegetables or carrying a mug of tea...and watch out for cats...and pins, especially if you're well into your dressmaking course and it has become the 'new best thing to do'...

So, having now developed an obsession with getting that counter up to the magic 10,000, I read on Monday that to achieve weight loss through walking I have to stomp my way up to 13,000 a day! 13,000!!!! Who decides these numbers?? I tell you who. Some skinny bit of size 000 who subsists on a daily half an apple and a water biscuit and who wears two hollowed out pipe cleaners for trousers. They put a 'fat' (aka normal-sized) person on a treadmill and count the steps they cover before they reach certain stages of unconsciousness. Red in the face = 5,000 steps = unfit. Lying on the floor gasping for breath in the latter stages of lung collapse = 10,000 steps = look at you, you fat slob, you can't even stay upright. Pokes with a sharp stick and no response =13,000 steps = you are dead but at least you're in the right band of the BMI index and no longer an offence to my eyes.

It is my target to achieve 100,000 steps this week. That's 30,000 more than 'normal'. So far, at 9.30 on Wednesday morning, I have reached 34,791....34,792...34,793...34,795...................