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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)


The Golden Age may seem vague to some people. To me one thing about it is definite—we had no hens then. As sorely as did Adam, so do I yearn after my former state of innocence. What did I know then of bran mash or of gaps? Nothing!

These hens just happened to us. An insurance agent might have spoken of them as an act of God, but it seems scarcely fair to let Aunt Margaret escape her share of the blame. Were I perfectly honest, I might trace the prime cause to my own cursed desire to charm people. Knowing her interest in hens I played up to it; and there we were. Why cannot people have the sense to recognise insincerity? Must I be compelled to show an obvious red tail light or take to wearing cloven shoes?

Hens are not rational beings. I was first convinced of this when we were bringing them home. The normal person does not pour out his soul in conversation when a tram is at a standstill. But these hens, not wishing their contribution to oratory to go unheard, waited impatiently for this lull, and then, with all the symptoms of hysteria, announced their views on women's rights, the modern age and, more particularly, the depression.

Having escorted these suffragettes home we housed them palatially in an old glass house. We fed them with religious zeal and Plunket precision on the diet set out for them. We built them an elegant Cubist nest-box from a petrol case. We even went the length of buying a crockery egg. We christened one hen Doris, so that we could refer to her efforts as the Doric lay, and we argued that once she responded to the call of duty Excelsior would be spurred on to even nobler heights. The force of ingenuity in us could no further go. We sat back and waited results.

We have been waiting a long time now. Hens, as far as our experience goes, were deceivers ever. But they have become an institution with us in the upkeep of which we spend our life. When the day's work is ended we come home and carry water and wheat and cabbage leaves to glut Doris and her mates. The full glory of a public holiday is realised only when we have to spend it putting fresh earth in the henhouse or dipping perches in kerosene. There is an extra tang about our Christmas holidays because, after bribing our neighbour, we escape the lure of the sirens for a week or two. When we come home the well-known false cackle greets us.

If only they enjoyed normal health I might not be feeling so bitter. Doris has cannibalistic leanings and is the cause of many a bloody coxcomb. When these are cured a wheat husk sticks in their tonsils and they trumpet round like an engine with a blocked whistle. Next they become broody, though what they have to brood over passes my comprehension. Are we not their bond-slaves, meekly ministering to their every need?

Henpecked, that is the word for us. If I had any spirit left at all I would expend it butchering these hens, but this fowl existence has quenched every spark. I have only one hope of release. A human being's life should be longer than a hen's. I must be careful. I should not like a chance steam roller or pneumonia germ to rob me of my reward. Let me at least have a peaceful old age. I shall have earned it.