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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Second letter: I’ve got a thing about chickens

Monday 5th of December

Hi *******
I guess you’ve not found your first letter yet, that’s okay it’s still early days.
I’m writing this out of chronological order, my original intention was to recount our tales from the Netherlands in date order, but I’ve got these chickens in my head that won’t let go, so I’m going to release the chickens on to you and then perhaps (Did you know perhaps is my favourite word, perhaps closely followed by perchance?) I can get on with the main letters.

Bear with me if I take a while to get to the heart of the story. Remember I wrote to you we rented (Verhuurd in Dutch) the apartment with a lack of carpets or proper kitchen? The other lack I forgot to mention was the lack of a garden, not a problem for a trendy couple like us, although these days we’re more bendy than trendy. The problem is Alfie our much loved and spoiled Tibetan Terrier, we’d only arrived  in our new apartment in Breda for few minutes when we realised that the large (large by our standards not Alfie’s) balcony wasn’t going to cut it as a late night wee wee destination, plans needed to be revised.
Designated brown minefield

We’d already walked through a beautiful park on our flying visit in July and knew it was in the neighbourhood, it was just a matter of locating it. Luckily for Alfie the park is a three minute walk away, unluckily for us the park is guarded by the dog shit police or as we call them over here the Hondedstront politie (My Dutch studies are improving). Should Alfie or any other dog for that matter feel the urge to loosen his bowels anywhere but the designated brown minefield next to the river, the Hondedstront politie will immediately strap him with a 60 euro fine,  Alfie having no money of his own passes the debt on to us. For this reason the park is full of anxious dog walkers dragging their beloved pooches away from lampposts and grassy patches. Improbable as it sounds Alfie, like the rest of the constipated crossed legged dogs over here has learnt (more or less) where he’s allowed to poop.
Now this park is beautiful, not just because it’s a little oasis of green in the city centre but because it’s over run with its own unique wildlife. (You think I’m getting to the point don’t you?) There are birds living in the park I have no name for but they’re huge with large black (Zwart in Dutch) bodies, long white banded necks and irrational lofty demeanour, there are ducks, geese, moorhens, thick necked crows, pigeons, seagulls (even though the sea is an hour away), magpies (spit.. unlucky creatures), five turtle doves that meet every day at four fifteen for a get-together on one of the quieter paths. I mustn’t forget the rabbits, there are brown rabbits, black rabbits, white ones with black stripes running along their spine and my personal favourite the black rabbits with the white spots, for me the rabbits are a pleasant distraction, however for Alfie and his newly strengthen harness they are the untouchable cause of much misery. And then there are the chickens, not just the odd domestic chicken that wandered out of someone’s back yard chicken compound, but a whole community of them, some would say that we, the tax paying community in Breda are barely tolerated in the domain of the chicken. There are dozens of red speckled hens and the occasional glorious white feathered specimens, jabbing and scratching with complete indifference to the frustrated, constipated dogs being hauled past on tight straining leashes. We arrived in the height of summer when most hens paraded a brood of tiny yellow chicks, claiming the lawns and terrorising the dogs by their tantalising closeness.  Lording over all the animals in the park not least the hens and the chicks are the larger cockerels with their black tail feathers and noisy American voices.
Most of my knowledge of cockerels comes from cartoons and… No wait that’s where all my knowledge of cockerels comes from, I remember strutting, swishing tailed cocky cockerels getting the better of the fox and the practical joker Foghorn Leghorn the large white American rooster star of Loony tunes. From my observations so far the real life cockerels or rosters seem remarkably similar to the cartoon characters I used to watch with my brother too many decades ago. (Although I imagine he won’t remember, his mind containing far more substantial matter than roosters)
On our (mine and Alfie) daily visits to the park, we often use a short tunnelled path edged on both sides with spindly trees, I’m not sure of their name, but they look like thread bare Christmas trees. Well, a few weeks ago I was walking through this tunnel of ragged trees when I heard the noisy call from a cockerel, unusually the noise came from above, looking round I was amazed to see a precariously balanced cockerel teetering at the top of a seven feet high tree, on a branch no thicker than my little finger. Now I’m not as big an animal rights campaigner as some of my friends, but I recognise an animal in distress when I see one and this cockerel looked distinctly unhappy, if it moved a centimetre in either direction the branch would surely snap or a sudden gust of wind would blow him right off his perch. I stood beneath the tree trying to decide what to do, watching the rather weighty bird while Alfie had a few minutes of sniffing heaven. The branch was too high for me to reach and Alfie’s presence might have scared the bird into moving, so eventually I took the coward’s way and left the cockerel to its fate.
Once home I told Andy of the strange sight, I couldn’t lose the image of the overweight cockerel balancing on that twig. How did it get there, do cockerels fly? I didn’t think so or at least not very far. Do they climb, it seemed unlikely, they’ve great claws for gripping but no arms to speak of, so each time they released their footing(clawing) from one branch and reached a claw for a new higher branch they would by the sheer weight of their upper body end up swinging upside down. Andy suggested it was students playing a practical joke, as the students in the Netherlands are mainly very tall,  it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

Friday the 9th of December (The boys have been to visit and kept me away from my ruminations)

I thought no more about it, until several days later, I walked with Alfie one afternoon through the tunnelled path, looked up and there were three cockerels in the tree, again all precariously balanced on frail looking branches, yet this time the cockerels looked different, perhaps more comfortable as they jabbed their heads in silence. I couldn’t believe it, the student had managed to catch three cockerels and place them in the tree. I decided to hang around and see if I could catch him, (Oops.. that’s sexist, it might be a she) I walked around this small patch of the park for forty minutes but saw no one who even glanced at the remaining cockerels on the ground. Bored, cold and stumbling around in a dark park is for heros and not for me, so I deserted the birds again and hurried home.
The next few weeks, I asked around my small group of expat acquaintances, had anyone else seen the cockerels up the tree? Can cockerels fly? No one was any wiser than me, however the general opinion was they can fly, but only in short bursts, that didn’t explain how they could reach the top of the spindly tree.  The proximity of the other trees eliminated the possibility of them achieving enough momentum for the short flight. I was none the wiser.
Four thirty last Friday afternoon I was back in the park, Breda had been particularly unlovely that day with freezing fog and piecing winds, not made any more comfortable by a newly chewed and broken zip on my only damp proof coat, a gift from Alfie. Rushing through the now familiar tunnelled path, I glanced into the tree and tripped over Alfie with my size eight boots, the same tree now held eight, silent black tailed cockerels, all oblivious to the branches bowing under their combined weight. They couldn’t climb, had no room for a runway to make their flight and it seemed illogical that any student would go to the extreme of catching eight cockerels in the bitter, biting December weather.  I was left with only one explanation, their black tail feathers, the cockerels were using their long rich tail feathers to elevate them vertically up the tree like the blades of a helicopter.  
I have to say Andy is far from convinced, and I’ve yet to actually catch any of them in action, despite talking my camera daily to the park. If you can shine a light on my thing with the chickens or offer a better explanation I’d love to hear it.

Okay time to get back in the kitchen and rescue the crispy critter from my halogen cooker.(a whole new story) 

Write back soon and tell me all your news.

Tracey x


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