Pillock and Plank, the escaped chickens, are still enjoying their freedom – sometimes. They both spend a lot of their time standing round near the henhouse, especially when I am giving the chooks their daily mealworm treat. When they’re not there, they like to pretend they’re cats and hang out under the Dutch barn where I feed the Barneys. The cats are quite wary of Plank in particular, who doesn’t seem aggressive but is unafraid of them and eats their food if I don’t wait and protect the carnivorous hunting mammals. Who are not very bold at all. Mama cat is particularly nervous of Plank, but she’s lost a lot of her confidence altogether. I’m not sure how old she is, she isn’t underweight but she eats slowly and is easily scared away. I’m very fond of her and, if I’m worried, I know I can catch her and take her to the vet for a check-up, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong at present.
I’ve become fond of Pillock the cockerel, more than of Plank. The unescaped chickens are still laying, but no more than three eggs a day, which is a manageable number. Absurdly low between 23 girls, but no matter. I don’t know if Plank is laying. She had been leaving eggs in the other greenhouse, but not for a couple of weeks.
I’m typing this one-handed, holding the keyboard in the other hand, because Eloise cat is on my lap, kneading me. I have had a bath and put on a dressing gown that she is particularly fond of. It’s a quilted nylon number that my mother-in-law gave me, many years ago – I’ve been thinking about her, she died 36 years ago yesterday, so the dressing gown must be a good 40 years old.
That means that, 36 years ago, I wasn’t allowed to talk. I’d just had a growth removed from my vocal cords and was told that there could be permanent scarring if I spoke, because the vibration would damage the stitches. Ma died the morning after my operation and my mother came over to tell me what had happened. I suspect the operation would be a day job now, but I was two or three nights in hospital in those days.
It was a shock, there was no reason to suspect it would happen. She’d given me a Roberts radio to cheer me up because I was having the operation and she’d spoken on the phone to Russell the night before. Hilda, her maid, took her tea in the morning and left it on the bedside table. Later, she was worried because Ma was late getting up and she asked Kenny, the gardener, to rattle the lid of the dustbin outside the window to wake her up if she’d nodded off. When that had no effect, she knocked on the bedroom door and then, with Kenny waiting with her, she looked in. Ma had poured her tea, but then evidently her heart had just given up.
And I thought about her because Eloise kneaded her dressing gown. I was very fond of Ma and she was always kind to me.