I started keeping a couple of hens as soon as I owned a garden. My first two were cast-offs, from a friend of a friend. They were huge black birds that had silhouettes like Queen Victoria in mourning, and arrived accompanied by a cockerel*.
After two days, the cockerel was not popular with my neighbours, Dave and Gina, who found his 4 a.m. crowing impossible to sleep through. Even occasional donations of half-a-dozen eggs didn’t reconcile them to him, which is a shame, because passers-by invariably commented on how handsome he was.
Roughly a year later, Gina told me how Dave cheered when Cockerel’s early morning crow broke off midway through his chorus. ‘At last,’ Dave cried, ‘the ****** thing’s had a heart-attack.’
I dug a deep hole, and planted a black-currant bush on Cockerel. For me, names are important. I don’t name everything, animate or inanimate. Somehow, Cockerel never needed any other name, though the two hens were Henrietta and Flossie-the-flew.
I replaced the hens as time took it’s toll, but decided that I’d leave out cockerels and keep on good terms with my neighbours. Then Dave asked if I could drop some tools off for his friend, George, as I was passing through the next village.
‘Thanks,’ said George, when I arrived with a car-boot full of drills, spanners and hammers. As we emptied the car, he said, ‘I hear you’ve got hens. What about a cockerel to keep them company?’ He’d rescued eight male pullets from a colleague who had hatched out a batch of eggs to amuse his children and only wanted to keep the hens. ‘He was going to put these boys in the pot. Look at them, you couldn’t live with that, could you?’
I said I could, and pointed out that he would be risking his and my friendship with Dave and Gina. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘my hens are full grown. He’ll get bullied.’
‘Not for long,’ said George. ‘Besides, better bullied, than roasted.’
‘Are you vegetarian?’
‘No, and yes I eat chicken, but that’s not the same,’ he said, as he put a cockerel into a box and loaded it into my car.
No one noticed the extra bird. He hadn’t grown his adult plumage or his voice. Ray and I watched him skulking under shrubs, and dodging the sudden attacks of our three hens, One, Two and Three.
We invited Dave and Gina round for a drink. ‘Meet Turkey-Lurkey,’ we said, leading them out to the garden. Turkey-Lurkey was running for cover after another unsuccessful attempt to win over the hens. ‘It’s straight out of Benny Hill,’ said Dave, when he’d recovered from his laughing fit.
Turkey-Lurkey matured. He grew in height and stature, developed a fine plumage, a finer voice, and took his place at the top of the pecking order. He was handsome, and we were fond of him. He developed idiosyncrasies that seemed to be expressions of his name. One morning we noticed that all three hens now followed, rather than ran at him. Turkey-Lurkey strutted and postured. Now his lurking took the form of lying in wait for intruders, whether that be the postman or our new puppy.
We apologised, laughed, and enjoyed him, but: ‘We would happily give him away, if we could find someone who wouldn’t put him in a pot,’ I told anyone who would listen.
Dave and Gina were patient, and possibly more motivated than us. One afternoon, Gina told me about a family who would love to adopt Turkey-Lurkey.
I don’t know if his new owners adopted his name as well. I like to think not, that they took their own measure of his personality and found the right symbol to express what he meant to them.
Does it matter that I’ve called my neighbour Dave rather than David? What if I’d called him Paul, or Arthur? Then there’s his surname: I never mentioned it was Pecksniff, but if I had, and you’ve read some Dickens novels that might have influenced the way you pictured him.
* In America, cockerel’s are called roosters.
Top Photo: Benny Hill chase-scene.