Gardening humour: if only it was like at the allotment!

The horse whisperer

I’m not sure if Dad (87) has been influenced by Rex Harrison in the film Dr Doolittle, a hit when he was young, or by more recent hero Robert Redford in the Horse Whisperer. But he has taken to talking to some hens down at the allotments.

They are three sets of them on the way to our plot, living in varying degrees of squalor, and if it’s a nice day he will spend a fair bit of time on the path by their respective coops making a noise like a creaking door.

He has become a Chicken Chatterer.

our old dog


Dad has always been fond of animals. He had a Cocker Spaniel as a child, which meant that our family in turn  had a Cocker Spaniel, Smudge. Smudge used to disappear from our back garden on warm afternoons and come back with whole cooked chickens and legs of lamb (we suspected a posh hotel a few doors down).

He never got much of a ticking-off. Dad admired his nerve, and the fact that he’d brought his own tea home for nowt, saving a few bob.

When I left home, I got a dog of my own. Maxi was a Border Collie and his successor, Dog MS, is a Belgian Shepherd. Dad has loved both dogs as his own. He has spent hours playing with them in the garden or sitting fondling their heads while they dribble on his knee.

‘What a lovely dog he is,’ he says about Dog MS, forgetting that she’s a girl. But little slips like this don’t bother her. She reciprocates his love in full. In fact, she throws herself at the feet of any man in a flat cap, something that often needs explaining.

It isn’t just dogs, though: Dad has ‘previous’ with birds. At their old house in the Cotswolds, he and Mum would sit for hours at the kitchen window watching sparrows, finches and the occasional wood pigeon descend on their home-made feeder. He saw off squirrels with a home-made catapult. All this was all a lot more interesting than the TV. ‘Not that that’s saying much,’ said Dad.

Dad's new friends

They rush to the fence

So perhaps it’s not surprising about his new friends.

But the interesting thing is that the allotment chickens have started to talk back to him. At the sound of his footsteps approaching down the ginnel, brown, black and white hens rush in a feathery tide to the fence, clucking and pecking each other’s eyes out in their haste to get to the front first.

The cockerel of course doesn’t join in the melee. He stands at the back looking outraged and making sudden, sharp little head movements, with machine precision.

Cockerel at our Yorkshire allotment

Looking outraged

It makes you wonder what Dad is saying. It makes him wonder, too. Whatever it is, it sounds good. There’s no clichéd Old-MacDonald-Had-A-Farm received chicken pronunciation going on. Dad is down with the chicks, speaking their speak. Not buk-buk-buk, more airrrrr, airrrrr.

Let’s hope they don’t start flocking to the fence every time a man in a flat cap comes along, though. The cockerel will have to introduce a work-to-rule system, or egg-laying production will be seriously down this year.