My First Job: The children's poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen was a chicken-plucker

'My sweeping was better than my plucking'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Michael Rosen was not a - take care if you're reading this aloud - pheasant plucker. Back in 1960, pheasants hadn't reached his part of Pinner, north London. Even turkeys were pretty thin on the ground. So, when young Michael asked the local butcher, whose son Keith was a friend, if he needed extra staff for Christmas work, it was obvious which bird he was going to get.

"I was a chicken-plucker. I was 14 and it was the first holiday job I'd had. I was completely rubbish."

Fortunately, this was never going to be his life's work, which is as a broadcaster (BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth) and children's writer (We're Going on a Bear Hunt is out next month in glorious pop-up).

It should take about 10 minutes to pluck a chicken. "My first one took me an hour. The big plumes are quite easy but the smaller, weaselly feathers slip out of your fingers. You have to be nippy, that is, nip the feathers hard. Normally, you'd finish with a taper and burn off the last feathers."

He didn't mind spending the day nose-to-beak with the chicken corpses stuck on S-hooks. When he was seven he had camped on a farm. "The farmer would say, 'We're going to kill a chicken today'. He would smash its head against the side of the coop to knock it out, then stick a penknife up its beak, turn the knife into its brains and leave it to bleed to death."

So Michael thought he knew all about poultry. The butcher knew otherwise. "He moved me, when he saw how slow I was, holding up the line, to the job of sweeping the sawdust off the floor. My sawdust sweeping was incredibly good. I might have been put on tea-making but I caught the flu. I must have been one of the world's first victims of avian flu," he adds, although he admits that there isn't much scientific basis for his claim. "I recovered."

Unfortunately, his employment prospects did not. "Keith let it be known that my services had not been appreciated."

Michael retained his butcher-like attitude to corpses - of any kind. "When I started doing medicine, I was quite happy to get the old scalpel into rats, fish and the odd human body."

In his current job, however, Rosen has never written about his teenage stint at the butcher's. He doesn't do chick-lit.

Michael Rosen launches National Children's Book Week at the Unicorn Theatre, London SE1, on 2 October. Details on www.booktrusted.com

jonty@jonathansale.com

Comments