A hen's home guide to homeopathy

In The Sticks
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The Independent Culture
IT'S BEEN a big week for Death around here. Two shoebox burials already, and it's only Monday. If anything else snuffs it I'm going to throw principle to the wind and get down the fur and feather market with my cheque book.

After all, my sister's kids all grew up thinking that hamsters were immortal and it doesn't seem to have done them any permanent damage. I can see her now, showing a little corpse to the pet shop keeper. "Have you got one just like this?" The day our father died I nearly suggested that she and I do a quick trawl of the geriatric wards to see if we could find something spare that looked similar to take home instead of Dad. (Funny thing is, she's at an international conference this week giving a paper about "Death". How many slides of identical hamsters will a conference full of shrinks cope with, I wonder?)

First to go was Isabel, our oldest and most aristocratic hen - pure-bred silver-laced Wyandotte, like a little chicken tea-cosy with black and white scallops. Bald, mostly toeless and in chicken years about 203, she's been tottering ever more unsteadily around the garden for a fortnight. My daughter Bunny found her slumped over the alchemilla and ran up the garden doing her best Greek tragedy: "She's huh huh huh huh huh deeeadd."

That's where I made my first mistake. Influenced perhaps by my sister's "in hamster perpetua" I tried to revive Isabel with Rescue Remedy. Unable to follow all those scientific arguments against homeopathy, she opened an eye and stood up. But that's where the recovery stopped. For the next week she lingered in a box beside the Aga, with Bunny a grief-stricken Florence Nightingale. I thought of trying another Bach flower remedy but nothing seemed suitable: Clematis for "dreaminess and lack of interest"; Vervain for "over-enthusiasm" ... There was nothing for "knackered and toeless".

She was almost unconscious near the end but I have to hand it to her, she still managed a fabulous death scene, keeling over with a breathy squawk into Bunny's arms. I don't need to describe the scene; all you need to know is that Bunny could have got a Rada scholarship at four.

Nobody got any tea. We spent an hour laying Isabel out, and an another two choosing the burial spot - under the blue irises. None of it was helped by my partner making comments about a "nice bit of chicken stock", and telling us on no account to disturb any plant roots while digging the grave.

I had just about recovered by the next morning, when Bunny walked up the garden with another little chooky corpse. No histrionics this time. She was too impressed for that. "It's Greedy," she said, "she was Isabel's best friend. She just missed her too much." And if always sharing the same perch and dust bath constitutes chicken bonding, then that was true. I didn't say a word, even when Bunny did the number about the two of them being together in chook heaven (worms like spaghetti, eggs like soup bowls). I mean, who knows? Anything could happen if homeopathy works on hens and scientists have found some mass to particles that didn't have any. When I asked my partner about that funny particle thingy he told me that physicists don't know "diddly squat".

"Gravity" he said, "what is it?"

"Um, when big things make little things fall towards them?"

"That's what it does. What is it?"

"I dunno."

"Hah! There you are. You don't .Nobody does. They haven't got a clue."

So, Greedy and Isabel, I hope the afterlife is treating you well. I'm glad I didn't make you into soup.