Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Monday, March 31 – Knowing and crowing

I’ve finally solved the mystery of the paperbacks in the loo. I knew I had put out 12 books originally and as I seem to be the only one who removes the covers from the cloakroom when the book is finished, I was sure I hadn’t miscounted and now I know that I was right.

I stripped our bed this morning to wash the sheets as the weather looks bright enough to wash them and I noticed a book sticking out from under the divan base on Martin’s side. I pulled it out and there it was. Fifty Shades of Grey. He hasn’t said a word, so I’m not going to either. I’m just going to wait and see if he dares take it out to read.

I opened up the hen house for the new chickens yesterday. They peered out of the door at first and only emerged slowly, but they obediently went in to roost at dusk, just as they are meant to. This morning they were more confident and when I went to feed them this afternoon I found the first egg, which I hope will be the first of many. Once they have all begun to lay we could have as many as five eggs a day, which will be plenty. I may even think of letting a few hatch once the cockerel gets into his stride if the hens get broody.

It is a real pleasure to have chickens here again and hear them clucking at each other and see them wriggling in their outdoor dust baths. The cockerel is still young, but he is strutting and puffing, pausing now and then to crow. His cry hasn’t yet fully matured and still has treble croaks in amongst a richer tenor. But soon his cry will be my most efficient alarm clock.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Sunday, March 30 – Clocks and books

I always wake early and since this crisis began my body clock has been governed more by daylight than by the ticking of a mechanical clock. But today we realised that in normal circumstances the clocks would have gone forward overnight, so Martin spent some time adjusting all the clocks in the house, which he still winds up ever couple of days. I don’t really see the point, but I suppose if everyone else is on Summer Time then I may as well conform. At least it meant I got to church on time and I didn’t know until I got there that today was Mothering Sunday. But Jane and Stephen somehow knew and they gave me a little bunch of primroses when I came back.

Martin wasn’t tempted to filch any pages from the hymn books this week, but when we returned home I noticed that our little pile of paperbacks in the cloakroom has diminished. I thought at first that we were maybe being liberal with the paper, after strictly rationing the last of the toilet rolls. I looked through the stack of books, trying to remember which titles I’d selected for our use. I know I was being selective and don’t want to rip up my favourite books unless we get desperate.

I told Jane and Anna that we seemed to be using up the books very quickly, but they didn’t know what I was talking about. Anna was excited by the offer of the loan of a cot from Gail, as Alfie will be two in the summer and can move into a bed a few months after the baby is born. But they don’t have any newborn clothes to pass on as everything was left behind when they had to escape from London.

Tom and Tickles must have been hard at work again today. They left a gory little pile of guts on the kitchen doormat which seems to be their favourite place for eating their prey.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Saturday, March 29 – Idle gossip

After several days of very cold weather and frosts, we have sunshine again. Working outside we feel quite warm and have even thrown off our winter sweaters at last. But the house is still very cold at night and we huddle round the fire for warmth. If there was power we’d be having the central heating on until late into the evening and maybe even some of the day as well. Martin keeps saying that the only good thing about the long power cut is saving money. But I can’t help thinking that while there is no way of spending money or accounting for it, how can it be important?

We went to the pub today as usual and returned with supplies of beef, carrots and potatoes. I’ll make a large stew which will last for at least a couple of days, eking it out with dumplings. The gossip there was all about raids on the allotments again and Martin didn’t help by telling everyone about the strange disappearance of the hens and the significance of the hellebore circle. I don’t see the point in fuelling suspicion and superstition, especially in these difficult times. It can only create uncertainty and fear and I’ve told Martin he’s to stop doing it. I think men are worse gossips than women.

When we returned home, Jane said the dog had been desperate to go with us and she’d had to tie him up to stop him following us down the road. Martin said she should have let him come and then untied Buggles, I mean Bubbles, and they walked off together to collect more wood for the fire.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Friday, March 28 – Hens come home

We have chickens again! They are mostly Rhode Island Reds, which are dark reddish brown, but there are two light brown mottled legbars as well, which I am glad of as they are the ones that lay such pretty coloured eggs. We brought them home in a selection of containers; a large cardboard box with holes, two cat baskets and a picnic hamper. Mr Christopher, who bred them, had rounded them up ready for us and helped us by grabbing them and stuffing them into the various carriers.

Once we were back we took them inside the hen house, which was ready with food and water, then shut the outer door before releasing them. They squawked at first, then started investigating. We shall leave them shut up in the house for at least 24 hours before allowing them out into the run, so they become used to their new home. As we have lost our old flock, we don’t have to worry about the hens fighting or bullying each other. If we were introducing new chickens to an established group we would have to separate them for a longer period, so they became accustomed to each other.

So all seems well in the animal part of the household for now. The hens are settling, the lambs are feeding, the cats are killing and the dog is loving Martin. I think the feeling might be mutual. Martin came back to the house after we’d unloaded the hens and, as he kicked off his muddy boots, he said, “Bubbles was very interested in the new chickens”. “Bubbles” I said, “who’s Bubbles?” He looked sheepish then said, “Oh, you know who I mean. Anyway, I always thought Buggles was a stupid name.” I tried not to laugh too much. It’s rather sweet.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Thursday, March 27 – Dogs, logs and hens

Blasted dog, Martin keeps saying. Follows me all the darn time.

I think it’s really funny. Martin has never liked dogs and never wanted us to have one, but Buggles seems very attached to him. And I suspect that Martin is secretly enjoying the attention, as I swear I saw him pat Buggles on the head when they were outside this morning. He definitely didn’t shoo him away.

We used the last of the toilet paper this morning and now there is a pile of books in the cloakroom, next to a plastic bin which was originally the electric paper shredder we bought but never used. It’s hard to break the habit of tossing used paper into the loo, but I’ve stressed we must do this if we want to be sure of having a flushing toilet. We’ll burn the paper outside when the weather is dry. I wondered about putting it on the fires indoors, but I’m not sure it will add to the ambience the way a scented candle could!

Stephen cycled over to the other side of the village today to speak to the man with the surplus hens. He is prepared to let us have five, providing we also take on a young cockerel. I wasn’t too keen on this, seeing how aggressive the last one became. But if this one gets too feisty he can end up in the pot too. The hens will cost us a delivery of logs, which is fair exchange and as we would need to take the car to collect them anyway, it will be worth using the petrol.

I’m really looking forward to collecting them and helping them settle into their new home. Stephen shovelled up all the old sawdust and straw from the house today and added it to the compost heap. Poultry manure is very potent and is an excellent ingredient in the compost mix. We were a bit stumped at first as to what we could spread in the empty henhouse, but then we realised that our old pig’s shelter still contained dry straw, so Stephen recycled that with a helping of dry leaves. It now looks fresh and clean and awaits its new occupants.

Powerless – The Year the Lights Went Out

Wednesday, March 26 – Lambs, logs and dog

I was outside early this morning and I saw a ewe give birth to twins. She was still licking her first-born dry when the sac started to emerge with the second,  glistening and steaming in the morning sun. Half an hour later, both lambs were standing and one gave a little jump, trying out its new legs, as the mother nudged and snickered at them in her special sheepy baby talk.

This event quite put me in a good mood and I was in an even better mood when Martin cycled back from the village with the last remaining tube of chilblain ointment from the chemist. If my toes don’t throb I might be more cheerful, he said. But he had also heard that some hens might be available soon. There is a chap down near the church who has a garden full of hens and not enough food for them, now that supplies are so hard to come by. We have come to rely on our own eggs, so I shall be very glad to stock the run with new hens.

Martin and Stephen then got on with splitting the pine tree that fell in the high winds last week. I’m relieved it has finally come down as it was the one with the splintered trunk, which had been threatening to fall since Christmas. Luckily it didn’t bring any neighbouring trees down with it, only odd branches. And I couldn’t help noticing, as they were working over by the copse, that Buggles has abandoned Jane and seems to be following Martin everywhere he goes.

Dances with ostriches

I can’t get up. There’s something on the end of my legs. Of course! The stilts. Perhaps I am not in the after-life after all. I must be alive.

“He’s waking up!” The voice is not unfriendly.

“Funny looking specimen.” That voice is definitely unfriendly. Quite sneery in fact.

“Specimen?” It was on the tip of my beak to utter the word but I managed to stop myself speaking. Perhaps they are not planning to kill me after all. Perhaps they have something else in mind, something that The Joker might do to Batman, or…. Note: Must watch some of those old classic films again. See what I can download.

“Hiyarr.” The friendly voice is above me now. I can just about open my eyes and see – well I never, it’s an ostrich! “You alright there? You look all funny.” It sounds like a kind ostrich.

“Stay away from it Sandra, you don’t know where it has been or what it even is.” Old sneery across the room from me.

My eyesight is clearing a little and I seem to be in some sort of a prison with concrete walls a concrete floor and just a thin layer of straw.

“Aww, don’t be such a old fuss face, Ricky darling. He’s a cutie.

The character called Sandra is indeed, an ostrich (note to self, real ostriches have bendy necks. Work on disguise). Must not look at her directly or she might notice some of the joins in the costume. Must make my voice sound more ostrich-like. Here goes, I’m going to try to talk.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in the lock-up sweetie. Place for runaways. They’re taking us back to the farm. Me and Ricky here, we’ve escaped loads of times…”

“You exaggerate.” It was Ricky’s voice.

“Well, a few times, or at least I have.” (Sandra)

“And they always catch you and they always bring you back.” (Ricky – still very sneery, large and ugly ostrich, don’t take to him at all.)

“This time it was your fault. Lost the use of your legs.” (S)

“If you hadn’t taken that wrong turning.” (R)

They continue to bicker while I take stock of my surroundings. No obvious way of escape. Must try…

“Oh and look how rude we have been. We’re arguing in front of the new boy.” Sandra turns to me once more and gives me another peck. Even through the extra feathers it hurts.

“No please, go ahead,” I mutter. “Just tell me about that farm they will take us to, please.”

“You’re not from there?” (S)

“I told you he was strange. Don’t talk to him.” (R – his sneer gives his voice a whiney character which makes me want to laugh).

“I thought you must be one of the ones the farmer took in. You know the big man with the big hat. He got a lot of new boys a bit back. You are a boy aren’t you?” S moved towards me, her head bobbing as she walked. I stepped out of the way.

“Oh, don’t be shy. You are a real cutie-pie.”

“Sandra!” (R wasn’t sneering now, he sounded worried.)

“Leave off Ricky. I’m just being friendly to the new boy. What’s your name, new boy?”

She moves towards me again and I side-step. She side-steps too, so I step to the right. And then the left. And then the right. And as I take one final and rather desperate step to the left, a door scraped open and light flooded into the room.

“Hey, you lot, quieten down.” Mr Beard is framed in the door, his gun still in his hand.

“Sssss!” shrieks Sandra, turning on the human. “Sssss. I was just getting to know him and you come in and spoil it!”

I don’t think old Mr Beard understands many of the words, as humans are usually limited in the languages they choose to learn (unless you are Mrs Desai of course). He understands her when she raises herself up and flaps her magnificent wings, hissing and shrieking at him. He steps back with a mix of fear and anger on his face and raises his gun.

“Oh no you don’t!” Sandra leaps again and this time Mr Beard dropped his gun and gives a yell.

“Simon, Simon! Help!”

“What the…!” Mr Bald is here now. He makes a dive for the gun. Too late. My left stilt, still functioning though with an impressive series of splinters sticking out of the side where the shot had skimmed against it, presses down firmly on the gun, preventing him from picking it up. A flurry of feathers and Ricky is there as well.

“Don’t you try and be the superhero!” he hisses at me.

“I won’t!” I hiss back at his chest, which is as high up as I could see on him. And as Sandra chases Beard and Ricky chases Bald, I run through the open door and across a yard, not so much a superhero as a bird on the run. In the middle of the yard is the white van. Its driver door is open. Keys are in the ignition. How I thank Mrs Desai’s love of computer simulation games. That car driving one was the best. What’s more, my stilts can reach the pedals.

Stealing is wrong, but in my defence I have been bird-napped and nearly attacked by a couple of humans and an ostrich. It’s enough to turn any self-respecting dodo’s head.
Sandra, if you are alright and reading this, I hope you will forgive me for not staying and helping chase off the men. I needed to get away, and in any case you scared me even more than the men did. Sorry.