Tragedy: three of the chickens have disappeared, and some feathers by the path strongly suggest a fox is to blame. The missing are the cockerel, Enkidu, and two of his harem, so whimsically named by me in last week’s column after Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children. To think that I maligned Enkidu, insinuating that he wasn’t the smartest chicken in the coop. His diffidence in picking up the bread I cast for him may well have been nothing more than selfless concern for his hens. And now he and two or maybe three of his wives have gone to the great coop in the sky, not that I believe with all my heart that there is such a coop, but saying so brings a little comfort.
“The thing to do,” said P—, their lord and master, “is to be happy for the fox,” and while one salutes his pragmatism and ability to draw something positive from this loss, you could tell he was upset, and now the remaining hens are imprisoned within a nettley area the size of a smallish garden. There’s plenty of room but it’s not the same.
This slaughter set me off on gloomy thoughts. And when I noticed that (a) all the sheep in the surrounding fields had disappeared and (b) that noise I’d heard for which I could not account, like a distant but massive crowd, had turned out to be massed bleats coming from an enormous shed, I feared that the sound had been of terror at imminent massacre. The worst thing about it was that it went on for days. And then it stopped.
Look, I’ve read Watership Down, I know nature and the country life isn’t all fun and games, but this really rattled me. I remembered Clarice Starling’s little speech explaining why the story she was in was called The Silence of the Lambs, and even though the sun was out, and I was in a perfectly sober frame of mind, I started considering vegetarianism. I do this every so often, until I remember that the only vegetables I like are chips and spinach; everything else is more or less a chore. (Although I can cook cabbage in such a way as to make it fairly tasty, believe it or not.)
Later on, I mentioned the business with the sheep to my hostess. She said, “They were being shorn,” and when I next looked at the fields, I saw they were again dotted with sheep, only now they looked all nude. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy.
And yet I am happy here, happier than I have been for months, if not years, despite suffering, right now, from a bout of nausea that kept me up all night. Funny thing, nausea; when you’re in the grip of it you can’t think of anything else, and when it’s extreme you really begin to accept that death is the only release. It’s a rather philosophical feeling.
This particular bout, though, is entirely of my own making. One of the things they don’t tell you about homelessness, presumably on the grounds that it’s too bleeding obvious, is the fact that you find yourself doing very much less cooking than you used to.
This is even true in my kind of homelessness, which is not to be confused with the kind of homelessness that means sleeping on the streets. My homelessness involves me being allowed to take up space in other people’s homes, which is psychologically wearying after a while, for all concerned, but not nearly as bad for your health. But when it comes to cooking you find that you are far less inclined to, because you find yourself asking questions such as, “Where’s the colander?” so many times that in the end everyone concerned decides it’s too much bother, and you end up ordering a succession of alternating curries and Chinese takeaways (which I adore anyway, but it’s not great for the bank balance).
Here, though, I have my own kitchen for the first time in ten months and I’ve had to stock it myself from scratch, which keeps me reminded of a question that was asked on some cookery show ages and ages ago but which has haunted me ever since: what’s the most essential non-essential item of kitchenware? (Do write in. It sounds like an almost nonsensical question, but you get the point. At the moment I am managing without a tea strainer, which you may think isn’t much of a privation, but it is when you drink leaf tea.)
So the thing is this: I seem to have forgotten basic kitchen hygiene. Also, there are many flies and insects about the place, because the good people here do not drown the land in pesticides. (They’re not farmers, and they are ethically committed to good ecological practice.) So I leave food out, the flies do their business on it, I eat it, and then, well, you get the picture.
I am going to have to relearn the business of wiping surfaces and putting stuff away. (I could do with a larger fridge, and am saving my pennies. This one is a barely knee-high cube.) I am expecting a visitor here, and I do not want to make her sick.
This article appears in the 18 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump-Putin pact