This year, we decided to keep chickens. Fowl Play is the terrible pullet pun titled tale of How the Coop Was Made, and the Chickens What Went In It.

Beginning

Here is a pic of the south-west corner of our back garden, taken at the beginning of summer.

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We’re quite lucky, really. I work at a boarding school. The college owns various properties, and we rent this one.

Waking up to this sort of view is a total privilege.

The field behind us is farmed. It was wheat this year, oats the year before that, but the bit you can see just over the fence is too small for tractors, so we have lots of nettles, and somewhere to tip the grass from the lawn. The tree is in the garden. It’s somewhat gnarly, but the apples are pretty good, as eaters and cookers.

We wanted to make the most of the space, so decided earlier in 2014 that we should get some chickens. And this summer holidays gone by was when it was Going to Happen.

Lay of the Land

The various fence posts you can see are the remnants of a previous occupant’s attempts at keeping hens. It didn’t really work out for them (the occupants or the fowls), and there was all sorts of junk behind the wire that was attached to the posts. They had a series of fires there (the occupants, not the fowls, although it’s an appealing image), getting rid of bottles, mattresses, all sorts of incongruous items. You can just about make out the fence post in the middle is charred, and there’s a bare spot on the ground just in front of that. This photo is after the initial clean-up. Getting rid of the giant thistles and Triffid-esque nettle network took quite a bit of slash and fork. I dug down a fair way, but the chickens now in place are still scratching up singed bits of battery, bolts, hooks, plastic toys.

Once I’d cleared out most of the debris and ill-placed flowers (aka weeds), the Grand Designs project was under way.

Material World

The intention was to try and build a shed from as near scratch as possible, and re-use as much material as possible. I wish I could tell you I’d kept an account of all the spending, but I’m just not that organised. I will give approximations, at least.

Starting from the base up… this large section of wood had been part of some sort of gazebo outhouse structure built along the fence, further up to the left from the view above. It was fixed to the perimeter fence with gigantic nails that took ages to prise out.
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So, free, but unwieldy. It sat in the garage for ages, awaiting sanding and painting…

… awaiting…

...later that summer...

…later that summer…

Our neighbour on the other side of the garden meanwhile offered eight of these sets of wooden panels. I think the panels didn’t pass the fire regulations wherever they used to be, and had to come out.

"...get it knocked together in an hour no bother..." - A Local Former Carpenter

“…get it knocked together in an hour no bother…” – A Local Former Carpenter

The neighbour, Brian, was a carpenter at the school for 50-odd years, so I had a fair bit of barracking and plane-speaking banter to put up with across the fence all summer. He was really sweet, actually, lending tools and offering hints when I asked… but he also took the piss quite a lot.

Taking the time to procure some A3 graph paper online, when that came I tried my best to measure and plan the whole thing. Informed by Brian’s suggestions (if unconvinced of his assertion that it could be completed in 60 minutes), I had a vague notion of making a sort of box out of the different bits, using one panel as a roof.

v rough sketch

 

I mean, I just bashed this pic out now rather than scanning the originals, but you get the idea. The process of measuring everything out properly, on the graph paper, with a ruler, was crucial. Clarifying the actual requirements into manageable sections, generating lists of other stuff we’d need to get, etc.

 The image above is sort of what ended up happening, with a few tweaks. I found a great deal of helpful info on various chicken keeper forums, and I’ll post some proper links to those later, but if you’re here looking for actual technical guidance, I must be honest and acknowledge that my construction skills are about on a par with my ‘free hand drawing in Paint using a knackered mouse pad’ abilities. Architecture and mathematics are not particularly my portfolio, as evidenced by some of the Escher-esque angles in the finished building.

It all really came into focus about halfway into July, at the start of the holidays. I heard some neighbours from down the lane were moving house and divesting themselves of all manner of stuff. I knew they had a coop in the garden. While I was too late for the fencing  – an earlier bird neighbour from the other way swooped faster – and knowing the family from school, I went round to see if I could “help their moving process” by taking any unwanted chicken fittings off their hands.
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As you may be able to discern, there was a nesting box, side panels, bits of mesh, doorways, and all sorts.  Despite me asking pointedly a number of times, all payment was turned down. I even managed to press gang the students into carrying the bits up the road to my house. Quite a result – thanks, former neighbours!

Putting these bits and pieces together with my existing supplies, the project was underway in earnest. A trip to B&Q for some lengths of 2×2 timber frame, sundry exterior paints and items, proved a decisive motion. After that, construction proceeded rapidly.

Well, construction of the frame started to be begun, at least. I wasn’t in a rush. I had a summer holiday to fill.

Next edition: Construction begins on “Mimi’s”: the Best Little Henhouse in Ryedale.

Gentle reader, hello.

That’s a personalised opening gambit, although judging by my site traffic stats I may be, actually, just addressing one person. Hiya!

Well, it’s not that bad, but if people come looking for new content they will have been sorely tested this last month or so. A glance at the twatter twitter feed info on this site will suggest that I tend to microblog rather than long-form it during term time. Six school days a week – the boarding mysteries of loading and timetabling and post-school activities. Sporadic bursts of energy with regard to writing, especially blogging. Life’s events too busy like getting all up in my face and that (prior clause to be read in R.P. 1940s BBC voice) for me to feel the need to step back and catalogue them in a public forum.

M’colleague JCG over at 10 Minutes Hate just published an interesting article on writing wherein Geoff Dyer is quoted as talking about ‘levels of noticingness’, the act of switching on enough to write things down, and the mundane draggishness of this.

It is a weird aspect of a weird idea of writing as a discipline, in some ways. Having to notice stuff? You just notice stuff, don’t you? Then write about it. Or not. You need to have something to say. Forcing it seems a bit… well, keen. In an unhealthy way. You start writing terrible poems about puddles.

I’ve measured it from side to side:
‘Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.

Couple that with ‘just because you can, you should…’ notions of instant publishing (the aforesaid Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Ello, etc, etc), an assumption that everything is of interest, even when it is not, and you definitely have a recipe for stress, rather than enjoyment.

These are, it might be argued, manifestations of the late capitalist notion that one is never doing enough. The act of creation and magic that writing is becomes yet another productivity measure in an Excel spreadsheet universe. One more flagged assessment for you to parse your personal progress. Self-flagellation and word count anxiety, and a failing grade from The Man by half term.

And I worry, I waver, I wonder, about the delusion of hope and progress implied in the idea of ‘late capitalism’.

Thusly, I was gratified (confirmation bias) to read Dyer’s concept of having ‘deprioritized the role of writing in my life’. Improve your focus on activities being undertaken, while making it much more fun to do the writing bit when you fancy. In this mode, it is much more valuable to no longer think of oneself as a ‘writer, interrupted,’ but as a being doing stuff who also, when opportunity knocks, likes to faff about with word strings. Puts down phone, watches gig.

These are, of course, notes from an amateur. Professional writers’s views vary: Dyer offers one, Warren Ellis synchronicitously publishes another, on being consumed by commercial writing.

Maybe that aspect of it is why I’ve always skirted the edges of professional writing. For my part, kicking off clag accumulated in the quagmires of faff (and what a choice phrase from JCG!), I note that I keep advertising a post about chickens. It never materialises. And which came first, the post ad or the idea for the post?

Reality clucks. I’ve been busy enjoying tending the flock, more occupied cleaning up the chicken shit to worry about feeling I have to write shit about chickens.

“…but we need the analogies!”

Now the fowl are in place and providing eggs as planned, though, I think I am due a bit of stepping back and cataloguing. Don’t cross the road, gentle reader! I’ll be just a moment.

Will Self, writer of occasional interest, has had a go at George Orwell. In an article on the BBC, (a somewhat ouroborostic bit of content given Orwell’s role in much the same sort of position for the Beeb), Self describes Orwell as a “Supreme Mediocrity”.

It seems pointless to rebut Self’s preposterously contentious article in any depth, given that the argument is based on a Will-full misreading of ‘Politics and the English Language’. He suggests that ‘the George Orwells of this world’ are cultural conservatives, reactionaries who ‘would rather peer at meaning by the guttering candlelight of a Standard English frozen in time, than have it brightly illumined by the high-wattage of the living, changing language’.

Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently, duh!

…’prejudices against difference itself’! This is the sort of rhetoric one might use to lambast people who object to “txt speak”, or any other modern innovations they suspect of being a bit foreign or liked by the youth, as debasements of our great and noble tongue. It’s a fair point in some ways. Languages are living and changing (although one could begin to dim Self’s de-lux metaphor by asking why language needs to be examined at night time anyway).

However, none of this is relevant to a discussion of Orwell’s essay, because Orwell isn’t talking about demotic Anglo-Saxae, the vernacular, street speak, and especially not about everybody speaking in the same way. He is discussing obfuscation in political discourse, and the obfuscating political discoursers who create it. It’s in the title, duh!

Orwell’s target is the generators of phrases (and situations calling for phrases) such as ‘friendly fire’. Self’s a provocateur. And he has succeeded in getting me geed me up enough to write something. Gah!

Fresh outrages with children’s clothing and social nudging at Tesco.

Recently acquired for our 21-month-old female child: the kind of funky “Digi Robot” pyjama set, in exciting oranges, blues, stripes…
tesco-boys-pyjamas-roboto

By far the nicest jammies in the (limited) selection available, and she loves them. In fact, within seconds of seeing them she had stripped off, the quicker to get into them. Yet they are, somewhat perplexingly, labelled “boys pyjamas”.

Here are some other pyjamas with which you can “update his nightwear”:

"...because Mummy is soft as shite."

“…because Mummy is soft as shite.”

And here, by contrast, are some “girls pyjamas“:

Sarcastic captions fail me.

Sarcastic captions fail me.

The more I think on these colour associations, and the not-so-subtle social nudges provided by the stuff written on clothing, when I consider our two year old daughter and the choices being made on her behalf by Tesco and all the other outlets getting all pink and beauty sleepy in her face at every turn, the more… well, actually, it makes me just baffled. Like, whaaat? I really don’t get it. How is orange male? Why is that strong just like daddy? What if boys want to be beautiful and/or sleepy? How many meetings have I missed?

Then I worry. It’s not just Tesco, of course. It’s everywhere. It’s constant. So the problem must be me. In the face of this realisation, I think, what sort of monster have I become? Buying something intended for a particular function, then transgressing social mores and chromatic decency by misusing it!

Then I think, right. I want a king size bag of blue grips over here for all the males, and a queen size bag of pink ones over here for the little ladies. Now we can all GET A GENDER-APPROPRIATE GRIP.

A lengthy gap between posts.

Busy, busy! Enjoying summer holidays, watching lots of sport, playing in the sandpit, tending the garden, building a chicken shack…

Normal service should resume in the next week or so. Having typed that, the youths’ exam results are published in the next week or so, so I shall be doffing beachwear, gardener’s weeds and carpenter’s apron in favour of donning the mortar board. This post may end up a lonely placeholder between June and November. Although there’s nothing like some pressing task to make doing something else appealing…

Still, actually making a chicken shed! It has been proving an intriguing project. That may well be the next, more lavish post up.

Meanwhile:

When the world and I were young – just this morning – I heard that the songwriter Gerry Goffin had died. This was, in one of life’s funny little correspondences, only a week or so after I saw an intriguing documentary about his former writing partner and former wife Carole King.

Gerry Goffin wrote the lyrics to many of late 20th century pop music’s most enduring tunes: Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp), He’s In Town, Up On The Roof, Saving All My Love For You, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman… Perusing a list of songs he wrote is quite an eye-opener – Glenn Medeiros, indeed!

Anyway, I had cause to be in the car this afternoon and enjoyed a very loud tribute, consisting of repeated listens to my personal favourite, this genius social commentary and guitars number, from 1966 – Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees.

Every single time. Mr Goffin, many thanks!

Author JK Rowling, the BBC reports, has contributed cash and controversy to the debate on Scottish independence in the UK.

She marked her £1 million donation to the ‘Better Together’ campaign, which aims to keep Scotland in the UK, by suggesting that some nationalist critics in Scotland were “a little Death Eaterish for my tastes”.

“Death Eaterish”…

The Death Eaters, to gloss for people who have not read the Harry Potter books, are pure-blood supremacist wizards, who wear a special mark on their arms and follow their dark leader, operating outside the normal laws of magic.

Nazis

Nazis

Death Eaters

Death Eaters

Some Scottish nationalists are a little bit like Death Eaters, though, to use Rowling’s whimsical analogy. Definitely not the SS.

Given the potential consequences (positive and negative, on all sides) of Scotland choosing independence from the UK, we will of course see such high profile figures choosing to draw attention to the referendum, and particular arguments.

I am amused but a bit discomfited by the commentary associated with this development, where the foregrounded issue seems to be Rowling so doing in such a self-reflexive manner. It is almost as if this point is secondary to Rowling proving Godwin’s Law at a relatively early stage of proceedings.

Still, it will almost certainly get dirtier, tricksier, as the campaigns before the referendum intensify. And definitely populist, lowest common denominatorish. Perhaps we can look forward to, say, the cast of Taggart throwing out epithets such as “murderous-criminal-like”. Or Ian McDiarmid: “Sithy.”

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