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

The horse whisperer

A post from 2012 in memory of my Dad…

Influenced by hit films of yesteryear like  Dr Doolittle and the Horse Whisperer, Dad can often be found down at the allotments talking to the chickens.

They are three sets of them on the way to our plot, living in varying degrees of squalor. He crouches as best he can on the path by their respective coops making a noise like a creaking door.


He has always loved animals. He had a Cocker Spaniel as a child, which meant that I also had a Cocker Spaniel as a child. Smudge, a slow portly animal, used to disappear from our back garden on warm afternoons and come back with whole joints of meat in his slobbering flews.

He never got much of a ticking-off. Dad admired his nerve and the fact that he’d brought home the bacon (and lamb and chicken and once a foil wrapped packet of cheese sandwiches.)

We came close to roasting and eating the spoils ourselves (that’s the sort of thing people did back in the 1970s) but Health and Safety prevailed and Smudge got to polish them all off himself. The nearby Fantail Hotel had a Michelin starred restaurant and Dad said it must have an open larder. That seemed unlikely. But then so did the idea of Smudge doing anything stealthy or agile.

When I left home, I got a dog of my own. Maxi and his successor Dog MS were both shepherd dogs. Dad has loved them as his own, spending hours playing with them in the garden or sitting fondling their heads while they stain his trouser leg with their dribble.

‘What a lovely dog he is,’ Dad 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, thinking they are all Dad.

Dad has previous with birds too. At their old kitchen window in the Cotswolds he and Mum would take their elevenses watching sparrows, finches and tits of all kinds descend on Dad’s home-made feeders. He would see squirrels off with a home-made catapult.

So perhaps it’s not surprising about his new friends. But the interesting thing is, the allotment chickens have started to talk back to him. At the sound of his footsteps, brown, black and white hens rush in a feathery tide to the fence, clucking and pecking at each other’s eyes in their haste to get to the front. Their foreman the cockerel, doesn’t join in the melee but stands at the back looking outraged and making sudden, sharp little head movements, with machine precision.

Cockerel at our Yorkshire allotment

Looking outraged

Even once Dad has moved on, the hens stay at the fence squawking. It makes you wonder what he has said to them. It makes him wonder, too.

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