Flat of the Land
Welcome to Stickford, Lincolnshire. You can find us by driving approximately
ten miles north from Boston – our nearest ‘proper’ town
– upon a road as unwaveringly straight and unforgiving as a Quaker.
There are no corners in this part of the world and even if there were,
it’s unlikely that you would find success around any of them. Our
road heads humourlessly for the far horizon, a horizontal demarcation
between cabbages and sky, uninterrupted by trees or hedgerows or copses
or dells or nooks or dips or hills.
Just the cabbages; and the smell of them.
Companion by it’s side and lying in wait, runs an endless ‘Drain’,
a Venus Flytrap for the booze befuddled farmhand, swatting at the windscreen
of his Morris Minor as fog and dark descend.
You see it a mile off, The Red Lion. The casual traveller, bowling like
a tumbleweed up the road towards it will find me in here. No more spangly
jacket, but at least I’m half way to pissed. Every one round here
knows me, I’m the one who doesn’t fit in.
Slightly further up the road there’s a petrol station and on the
right, a big dilapidated house. These three buildings, so startlingly
grouped together, comprise Stickford, as comparatively exciting to the
surrounding sea of cabbage as is Las Vegas to the Nevada desert.
The house is my house. So remote is it’s location that the RAF target
it, screaming out of Coningsby eighteen miles away and ‘dive-bombing’
us moments later. To be out in the courtyard when the fighters come in
low and hurtle across, too fast to see and too loud to hear, is to experience
insanity. The world cracks open like an egg.
Pat and her mother Dorothy now live in armchairs, wearing
sleeping bags. Only their noses show, and knuckles, clutching books. Pat
is reading ‘Self Sufficiency’ by John Seymour, Dorothy ‘Carrie’
by Stephen King.
“Did you know Mum”, says Pat, by way of a peace offering,
“that veal calves are kept in the dark so their meat turns white
when you cook it?”
“Or that pigs are bunged in farrowing crates to suckle their litter?”
It’s so cold, her words come in plumes, steaming the air.
“Dreadful”, replies Dorothy somewhat automatically.
“Just listen how the factory farmers kill chickens and turkeys.”
Dorothy dutifully sets down her book. She’s on the last few pages.
After a moment of mutual glaring, Pat continues.
“They’re hung by one leg on a conveyor belt that takes them
through to the stunner. But they’re swinging and every tenth or
twelfth one gets missed! So they go through to the throat slitter and
have to watch their own death. The really unlucky ones miss the stunner
and the slitter and go through to the next bit fully conscious –
being dipped in boiling water and plucked in mechanical plucking machines.”
Dorothy is riveted despite herself – this is better than Carrie.
“That’s why we’ve opted out. That’s why we’re
rearing our own.”
“Yes,” muses Dorothy, mistress of the pregnant pause…
“How does Hereward feel about killing his own meat?”
“He’ll be fine.”
“I mean, it’s not like playing the guitar.”
Outside all colour fades like hope from the face of the
day. Light wanes into waxing darkness. Snow fields slide away, wan listless
ghosts, yesterday’s already. My two North London sons shiver up
a tree, trapped by geese. Turkeys, ducks and hens mill about crapping,
waiting for me to get home from the pub and strangle one of them. They
don’t know which yet and neither do I, but one of them.
Under the bruised sky I set off a kerfuffle of activity in the chicken
run. I’d been leading up to this for weeks, months, years.
My first murder.
I moved into the enclosure and lunged about wildly, setting off a squabble
of hen gossip as they evaded my clutches.
“Grab one by the foot!” called Pat from the open bedroom window,
before ducking down to resume her cringe position beneath the parapet.
I feinted left and grabbed right. Gotcha! Sophia LeHen, can’t do
that one. Playing God, I let her go and went for another instead, pouncing
upon it’s scaly ankle just above the three nailed foot with the
lethal fourth at the back, hauling it upside down high into the air above
feather and din.
“Not that one, that’s Moby Duck!”
I set it down, bestowing the gift of life. It scorched off scandalised,
to gabble with the rabble.
“Did you see what the bastard tried to do?”
“Oo, I say!”
“I’ve never liked him!”
They’d have found more dignity on a factory farm. I grabbed a third,
Gregory Peck, and strode out of the arena like the winner of the Victor
Ludorum, my inverted victim now curiously becalmed, as if coming to terms
with the dreadful card that fate had dealt: the Grim Reaper.
I stalked sternly across the gravel toward the sweeping brush that leant
like a layabout against the wall. Holding Gregory Peck high in the left
hand, I grabbed the sweeping brush with my right and smashed it against
the wall. The wood splintered and the head came away; perfect practice
for the murder I was about to commit. Now I had just a long sweeping brush
handle in my right hand and a philosophical chicken in my left. At that
second the children charged round the corner and pulled up dead. Jody
broke ranks first, running into the house and not stopping until he hit
the attic, where he hid under the bed.
|| “I don’t know how you can Dad,” said young
Leon with quiet dignity and went indoors.
“Easy,” I muttered. “I just pretend it’s
Keeping the chicken well up I gingerly dropped the pole down to the ground
and stood on one end. I poked the toe of my other foot underneath the other
end. I lowered the bird till it’s gullet scraped the ground. I introduced
it’s head to the small gap beneath the pole. I continued lowering
until it’s neck followed through and it’s head was out the other
side. It arched it’s neck obligingly, looking up to see the world
for one last time. It rather reminded me of the limbo scene in the Elvis
film ‘Blue Hawaii’.
I still had the ankles. The bird was in situ.
I found myself involuntarily looking round, sharing the
moment as if it were my last moment too. The patchy gravel, puddles floating
soiled straw, gunmetal March sky, phone ringing…..
I removed my foot from under the raised end and stamped down hard on the
pole. With both hands I wrenched skywards. It’s neck elongated,
stretched and stretched. It’s two wings beat a frantic tattoo against
my legs. It refused to be killed, though I pulled and pulled.
Pat was calling.
Suddenly from nowhere, a mighty monstrous noise blackened the air, unhinging
my mind, all orientation gone, beyond loud, ripping open the skies. For
one dislocated moment I thought it was I who was dying. Then the two Bombers
were gone, twisting away towards Mablethorpe and the sea.
What the hell was she yelling about? Did she think I’d killed Moby
Duck? I looked down at the hands that gripped a headless, twitching torso.
“Robert on the phone!”
Gregory Peck’s unblinking face lay upon the ground.
It’s dangling miserable neck dripped like a loose hose, turning
my trousers crimson.
For fuck’s sake.
“No!” I screamed, “it’s not Moby Duck!”
“No!” she yelled, “it’s Moby Dick!”
“Robert Longden on the phone!”
“What does he want?”
“He’s got a Musical for you in London, Moby Dick!”
I dropped the body down beside the dumb head on the ground and I ran.