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04 November 2016


Choosy chooks
WE HAVE had a wonderful crop from our apple tree this year — so wonderful that the freezer is now full of stewed apple; the cupboards are groaning with chutneys, jams, and jellies; and the family are replete with crumbles and pies. We gave bagfuls to the neighbours, and left a box outside the church with an invitation to passers-by to help themselves.

Our hens took care of the windfalls; they did not seem to like the freshly fallen apples, but, once they had been there for a few days and were turning brown, they devoured them with apparent relish.

Our little Black Rock seemed to take particular pleasure in pecking at the rotting apples. One morning, I let our little brood out of their coop and went to work on clearing the vegetable patch ready for its winter mulch, and I noticed the Black Rock make a beeline for the windfalls. After a while, as is her habit, she came to inspect my work. Normally, this involves a great deal of strutting around scratching at the ground, and a fair amount of cooing and clucking as she passes judgement on my efforts.

On this particular day, her strutting included more than a little staggering, and her clucks and coos were indistinct mumbles; for a moment, I was concerned, and then I realised that she was, in fact, drunk. The bruised windfalls had been fermenting quietly, and the Black Rock had developed a taste for cider. Thankfully, she suffered no lasting harm, and I have since made sure to clear away windfalls before they can lead our chooks into a life of hedonism.


Be my guest
THE upside of the hens’ eating the windfalls is that their eggs had a faintly apple flavour — ideal for cake-baking for our guests, of whom we have had quite a few.

The American theologian Michael Hardin and his wife, Lorri, stayed with us on one leg of his UK lecture tour, and our kitchen, always the hub of the house, became a concert venue as Michael played the guitar and sang songs he had written as a young man when he was in a band. (These days, I find it hard to remember why I went upstairs, let alone lyrics from my youth.)

We have also had staying with us my expat brother and a workmate of his who were in the UK on business. My brother moved to the United States 11 years ago, and, much to my elderly mother’s confusion, he has developed a bit of an American accent. Two hours after he had arrived, though, he was slipping back into the familiar Scottish brogue — which, of course, confused his friend.

We did not do much singing in the kitchen during their visit, but we did spend some time talking about the election that is coming up on 8 November. We live, as the saying goes, in interesting times. If my apple pie doesn’t bring my brother back over the Atlantic, the outcome of the election might very well do.


Out of the depths
SADLY for my brother and his friend, they had to leave before the start of the Leeds International Film Festival (3-17 November). There are many films in the festival which I would like to see, but finances dictate that I must be choosy; so I will content myself with The Odyssey, directed by Jérôme Salle.

The film tells the story of the Cousteau family: Jacques-Yves, his wife, Simone, and their two children, Philippe and Jean-Michel, as they sail the seas in their research vessel, Calypso. I confess that the choice is purely driven by nostalgia. I have fond memories of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and being amazed and delighted by the wondrous creatures that Jacques and his crew captured on film.

What intrigues me is that, although I know that we didn’t acquire a colour television until the early 1980s, my memories of the programme are in colour, including the bright-red bonnet that Jacques used to wear.

Re-reading the festival programme to check my facts as I write this, I have noticed that the bumf about the film hints at disharmony as his sons grow up, and I am beginning to wonder whether, perhaps, I should allow my memories to remain wrapped up in comfortable layers of nostalgia. It would be awful to discover that my childhood eco-hero had feet of clay underneath his rubber flippers.


Marine encounter
FLIPPERS of another sort gave Number 3 Son a surprise a couple of weeks ago: he has taken up sea kayaking at university, and was spending a couple of days exploring the coast with some friends. On one particular day, the sun was bright, the air was still, and the sea was calm as they paddled across the mouth of a little cove.

Suddenly, the sea ahead of his kayak bubbled, and up popped a large seal, who regarded Number 3 Son with dark, solemn eyes, before giving what sounded like a sigh, and sinking slowly out of sight, only to reappear several feet away, wave a flipper as if in farewell, and disappear once more into the depths.

An unexpected encounter that will, no doubt, become the stuff of Figg-family legend.


Fowl freeloader
NOT all unexpected encounters are quite so exotic; going out to give our chooks their supper, I found that they had been joined by a hen who had escaped from the large brood owned by our neighbours over the road. Perhaps she had heard about the cider.


Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley. 

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