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Travel: Competition: Literally Lost Number 86

This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where is the action taking place? b) who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30 worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday. Literally lost 85: The book was `View From The Summit' by Sir Edmund Hillary. The action took place in New Zealand. The winner is Ian Knox from Glasgow.

It was indeed. It had taken about three months for our pigeon population to increase from four ... to four. I began to see Old Man Domingo's forecasts as an optimistic target. At this rate we would be lucky to dine on one pigeon pie a year. In fact, it began to dawn on us that the poultry department as a whole was failing to thrive. We were putting in a fair quantity of the recommended input but there didn't seem to be much output at all. A general reluctance to breed or increase or grow, or even to lay eggs, has taken over. Clearly something was amiss. We did some observing, and some thinking, and came to the conclusion that it was mutual antipathy that was affecting performance.

The quails, the smallest of the menagerie, were frightened of the chickens; the chickens didn't like the guinea fowl or the pigeons, though they could live with the quails; the guinea fowl were indifferent to pigeons but were terrified of the quails and hated the chickens; the pigeons were affected by the guinea fowl's terror of the quails, nervous of the possibility of a chicken-quail alliance, piqued by the indifference of the guinea fowl, and shared everybody else's dislike of the chickens.

It wouldn't do; action needed to be taken. So we designed and built a contraption that came to be known as the Quail Recreation Facility. If we could get the quails out of the equation we might be able to make some sense out of the rest of it all.

We consulted a number of works on the subject and slowly a design appeared. The three factors we had to bear in mind in the construction were happiness, security and portability. In order to get maximum performance from our quails we decided that we needed to simulate, as far as possible within the confines of a wired-in box, the conditions they enjoyed in the wild.

We came up with a sort of portable ark with an enclosed nesting-box and night-quarters at one end, served by a cunningly contrived trapdoor. The other end was wired in, but the bottom was open to allow the incumbents access to whatever piece of ground the thing was standing on. A mesh skirt, weighted down with stones, surrounded the outside area. The finished thing seemed to me to be the very acme of modern, enlightened poultry-keeping.

The quails, sadly, had other ideas. When we introduced them to their new home, they beetled straight into a corner of the nesting-box and there lurked disconsolate and depressed. Then after a week or so of this unpromising behaviour they at last managed to experience one of the few conditions that quails enjoy in the wild, that of being eaten by a fox.

The removal of the quails was insufficient to settle the disharmony in the poultry house. The cross-currents of mutual antipathy continued to affect performance. So we prepared an appealing home for the hated chickens, an attractive, traditionally built stone chicken-shed with spacious outside recreation area and fox-proof door. In went the chickens and shortly after wards we were thrilled to be presented with our first egg.

I gave the egg full culinary attention according to the French manner as retailed by Elizabeth David ... It was like no other egg I've ever eaten, done to exquisite perfection.

Unfortunately, as I was eating the egg, a stoat or a weasel was eating the chickens. And it was not very many weeks later that first the guinea fowl and then the pigeons went the way of the others. Foxes, snakes, stoats, weasels, martens, wild cats, rats, were all lying in wait to discourage any move we made in the direction of poultry-keeping. Our skills and our facilities were not up to their onslaughts.