Living The Country Life: A sad end, but our eggs depended on it

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The Independent Online

The cockerel we originally thought was a hen, Mrs Doubtfire, is no more. We tried to find him a home, but nobody here has much use for a cockerel, even one as handsome and assertive as Mrs Doubtfire. So we began to contemplate the unthinkable: eating him. After all, the hens weren't laying much in his presence, probably distracted by the bloody racket he kept making. And we didn't want fertilised eggs from them anyway - we wanted poached and soft-boiled ones.

But how to dispatch him? I have now been living in the Herefordshire countryside for 18 months, and in that time my smallholding skills have come on apace. I can saddle a miniature Shetland pony with only a limited amount of swearing. I can pick up a squawking chicken with something approaching insouciance. But when it came to killing Mrs Doubtfire I realised that I was still very much a townie. I couldn't bear the idea of wringing his neck or chopping his head off, largely out of concern for my own sensibilities, I'm ashamed to say, rather than his. We tried to think of townie ways of killing a cockerel. Jane suggested backing over him in the Volvo.

In the end I phoned Malcolm, who lives in the next village and had been recommended to us as an expert in these matters. He came round within the hour and stuffed Mrs Doubtfire into a cage, although not before Mrs D led him a merry dance round the chicken run. I confess that I looked on with a degree of pride as Mrs Doubtfire gave Malcolm a neat body swerve, not quite as I do when my eight-year-old son makes a successful sliding tackle in a school football match, but nearly.

We had told the children that Mrs Doubtfire was going away to live with Malcolm, who collaborated admirably in the deception. I suppose we should have told them the brutal truth - they need to know the realities of living in the country. But we had made it difficult for ourselves by giving the cockerel a name, especially the name of a film character the kids like. We should have called him Captain Hook.

A week or so later Malcolm returned Mrs Doubtfire in a carrier bag, plucked and oven-ready. Jane peeped gingerly inside. "Do you think he's at all, you know, recognisable?" she asked.

As a meal for two, he was considerably less fine than he had been as a strutting cock. There wasn't much meat on him and what there was, was rather tough. Which I suppose was a revenge of sorts. I did use his bones to make an excellent stock, however, which later formed the basis of a superb onion soup, made with onions that we harvested from our vegetable garden months ago. Once the guilt had subsided we felt very Tom and Barbara Good about ourselves, even if, at the sharp end of living in the country, we are still more Jerry and Margo.

And now for your bonus question...

My colleague John Lichfield last week reported from Paris on the increasing popularity of intellectual soirées in cafes and bars, at which cerebral French people earnestly discuss politics, science and philosophy. He beguilingly contrasted this with its nearest equivalent in Britain, the pub quiz. It is certainly true that pub quizzes do not engage the intellect in the same way as ruminations on existentialism in Café les Deux Magots, and that even bright young people in Britain would, on the whole, rather debate which former Blue Peter presenter is the daughter of Gloria Hunniford, or what is the surname of Mel Gibson's character in the Lethal Weapon films, than how European agricultural policy should proceed in anticipation of climatic change.

Still, the pub quiz I attended last Tuesday, at the Boot in the north Herefordshire village of Orleton, was a classic of its kind: fun, spirited and altogether an enjoyable bonding opportunity for a small community on a cold winter's evening. Moreover, in the True or False round, it emerged that Venezuelan scientists really have invented a "wind-free" baked bean.

So in response to John telling us that France has cafés scientifiques, "gatherings at which the scientifically minded can discuss advances in human knowledge", I can proudly report that the Welsh Marches do, too.

Aren't you that woman off the telly?

We have a good friend who is a BBC newsreader, and who stayed with us a couple of weekends ago. We introduced her and her husband to The Roebuck in Brimfield, a pub that is renowned locally for its good food, and which Jane and I have visited several times. It wasn't us the landlady greeted, however, but our friend. Not because she recognised her as someone off the telly. After all, people off the telly don't hang out much in Brimfield, even at weekends. No, it was because the face was familiar and she thought she knew her.

It was interesting being vaguely at the receiving end of this phenomenon, because I was once, to my acute embarrassment, at the perpetrating end. At Lord's cricket ground during an England v Australia Test match a few years ago, I spied a chap who I had been at university with but hadn't seen for at least a decade. His name was Justin and I waved to him extravagantly, before marching over and pumping his hand, saying, "How the hell are you? You've hardly changed." With his look of bewilderment came my realisation that it wasn't Justin at all, but the former England rugby captain Will Carling.