Yes, I know that much of London has been set on fire, and my local elected representative is now trying to finally turn the country into a police state. But, of far more interest to most people – certainly any who’ve already ploughed through the acres of discussion about recent events already out there – is that today I was menaced by a chicken.
I have a few options when it comes to choosing a direction home from work, and one of my longer routes goes through a tiny hamlet: no pub, no shop; just half a dozen enormous country houses and a church. Today I had forgotten to water myself before leaving the office, and as the weather had surprisingly turned from misty drear to sunny late summer during the day I was starting to feel the heat as I climbed the worst hill of my journey. So I bought a bottle of pop in a village’s shop, then went to the churchyard in the hamlet to sit for a while and quench my thirst.
The path in front of the churchyard is shaded by trees; I rested my bike in this shade against the wall, and looked for ways into the yard and thence to the park bench in one corner. The church gate itself was closed – perhaps in response to damage to the noticeboard, the post of which had been broken some time previously – but it was an easy enough manoeuver to swing myself over the slight ridge of the wall and into the church grounds, recently re-turfed and slightly higher than the land outside.
I wandered over to the bench and sat back, finding myself pleasantly again in shade, as the lawn and church walls ahead of me warmed themselves in the late afternoon sun. Briefly distracted by a fruit tree which had actually been planted in the middle of a grave plot, I barely noticed a toffee-coloured chicken picking its way over the grass and round the corner of the church, until it started to make a faintly hooting cluck.
When I looked at it, the bird clearly realised I was doing so; but unlike most prey animals, it began to run towards my gaze, not away. It was clear that other people who sat in my place in times past have fed this chicken, and it was probably hoping for more of the same. As it approached, its clucks turned to a kind of clarinetty, door-hinge noise. It pottered around my feet, showing interest when I screwed and unscrewed my pop bottle, but always keeping away from my hands when I reached out to it.
Suddenly, with a burst of bravery entirely unexpected in a chicken, it pecked at my shoe: just the once, but quite hard. I frowned and said rather loudly: “now, that’s not food, is it?” In response, it looked at me as if to say “Yes, I already realised that, thanks,” and continued to stalk around, cluck-hooting to itself. I realised that, if it wasn’t specifically hoping my shoe was food when it pecked it, then it might have been hoping to give me a signal to provide it with some food.
Not having grown up in the countryside, I wasn’t entirely sure of what a chicken might do in a deserted churchyard, if its demands for comestibles weren’t met considerably promptly. So, having nothing edible to hand except myself, I made for the wall and my bike with some speed. As I looked back I saw that the chicken, disgusted at this turn of events, had wandered off to peck at a worm.