But no trumpets, no self-congratulatory smiles. Just go quickly and quietly to a place of safety and await further instructions. Recently I’ve read several newspaper articles about the ecological sin of meat-eating, about how you can feed thirty-nine and a half people on the grain needed to rear one cow. I’ve no idea if that’s accurate.  But I dare to say that environmentalism is here to stay. And now I’m finding more articles about the cruelty involved in meat-eating. Mm. I read The Times and The Spectator, not because I’m right-wing …I hover in a no-man’s land of doubt and confusion, changing my mind a dozen times a day …but because the prose is slightly less annoying. But aren’t these organs usually ( I’m not asserting an opinion here) read by middle-brow, opera-going, Latin-to-be-taught-in-schools supporters , whereas vegetarianism is commonly associated with  wacky, hairy, rough-brown-pottery-using lefties who educate their children at home on Ginsberg and Gurdjieff. I’m detecting a bit of slippage. For many years to be a vegetarian has been to annoy all sensible, practical people who’ve got a life and who know perfectly well that man is a carnivore and that Nature is red in tooth and claw and if we didn’t eat meat the cows and sheep we enjoy looking at in fields wouldn’t exist. Let’s face it vegetarians are a  pain. No, really. They insist on taking a sentimental anthropomorphic view of animals that wouldn’t hesitate to murder their own offspring if  food stockswere low. And vegetarians are a downright nuisance to the restaurant owner and the hostess/cook . What’s even more annoying is that even though they’re a bit of a joke with their hummous and rice cakes and butternut squashes, they’re laying claim to some kind of delusive moral superiority. When I meet someone who announces with a sanctimonious smirk that they are vegetarian I take a hard look to see if they’re chippy, censorious, drum-beating, flag-waving individuals, who are going to quote poetry at me (their own), try to convert me to an obscure religion or lecture me about what a bad mother I am. Which is odd because for thirty years I’ve been a vegetarian myself.

Only Happy Hens Here

February 21, 2010

I hope so anyway. They arrived yesterday a few hours after leaving the battery farm, five girls, rather short on wing and breast feathers and with pale floppy combs, always a sign of ill-health. We have named them Grace, Mercy, Patience, Hope and Charity. Puritan names but in this house indulgence reigns. The hens were utterly bemused of course by finding themselves in an eglu-cube and no doubt yearned for the cosy familiarity of the battery cage. But when I carried each one into the run, though obviously perplexed by the texture and greenness of grass, some instinct led them to start pecking. It was a Fidelio moment. I’d forgotten how delightful is the croaky crooning sound hens make when enjoying themselves. They stepped delicately about, turning their heads to the horizontal to look up at the sky, down at the grass, both at the same time obviously and started nervously at the coos and whistles and wing flapping of the wild birds whose feeders are also in the orchard. The girls weren’t interested in the food or water (worrying) and had no idea about putting themselves to bed when it got dark. I had to crawl into the run and catch them. Though the run is reputedly foxproof, our fox comes for food every night and I think the sight of his beautiful but unmistakably predatory face staring at them through the bars would have finished off these poor traumatised hens. This morning, when the door of the house was opened, two of them came out into the run more or less straight away but the others had to be manually assisted. Now, 5 pm, after a day that began with heavy snow and then became brilliantly sunny, they are all eating, drinking and exploring and three of them have laid an egg!


February 16, 2010

I cannot read the word ‘Blog’ without excoriatingl feelings of guilt. I am just not a diarist. But I always feel frustrated when other people say they can’t change as this is patently untrue. So here goes.
I’ve been told I should write about my lifestyle so that ought to be easy enough, hm! I live in a seventeenth century manor house in Northamptonshire. The date stones say 1633 and 1665 and the reason I like it so much is that it has no later additions. No huge Victorian wings built for servants. It has never been a grand house lived in by rich people and this is a great part of its charm. It’s manageable, just about, by two people. The garden is 1.7 acres, also manageable by us. We have no gardener. I’ve started the garden from scratch sweeping away what was here before and creating a seventeenth century one, more or less, with yew,holly and box topiary. Nothing too ambitious so far but I have plans. Not to make this post too long, I’ll describe what I’ve done in more detail later (?) My latest excitement is an eglu-cube which I bought the other day in a fit of wild extravagance, having wanted one ever since they were introduced a few years ago. A fox comes into our garden every night so I need something sturdy and proof against those digging paws. The green eglu-cube has just been delivered and looks fabulous in the orchard, quite a small area containing apple, pear, damson, mulberry and quince trees. The cube is truly an ingenious design, easy to clean (I hope) and a nice place for the hens to be. See the Omlet website. Only the shattering cost could possibly deter the aspiring hen-keeper. On Saturday I go to fetch five hens from the Ex-Battery Hen Welfare Trust. I’ve chosen to have these partly because I hate intensive farming and partly because I think I shall feel less guilty about them having to be in a run most of the time and not free-ranging. The thing is that these hens are considered spent and would be slaughtered if I didn’t take them and being on grass in the cool, so their combs can grow properly red, and being able to grow feathers and so on and having room to move about has to be better than their lives before. And when I’m spending all day in the garden they can be let out to roam. I’ve seen the fox, or different ones, in our garden during the day so absolute vigilance is essential. I’m so excited at the thought of keeping hens again after a break of eleven years. More when I’ve got them. And can I just say a huge thankyou to those readers who’ve left messages on my blog to be rudely ignored by me in my guilty, head-in-the-sand mode and I’m going to answer them next time. But I really am grateful, believe me!