I was sticking to my truculent teenager role which included sulkily picking at the breakfast she made (everything was fried, including the bread) – David of course cleared his plate - and answering all of her questions in a sing-song voice. I don’t think she noticed, she was too busy pandering to her son and grandson and cleaning up my hovel.
Mid morning, I came into the living room halfway through a conversation. David was wearing his resigned expression and Amelia her triumphant one. It seems we were going to see “Giles and the family”. Giles runs a farm on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells that supplies “quality meat and cheaper than the butchers” and Amelia visits him once or twice a year to fill her freezer up with pig, cow and sheep. I’ve never been before but David always gets roped into driving her out there. Then David suggested that it might be better if just he and Amelia went – I was about to agree when I saw the smug look on her face and the obstreperous teenager in me came racing to the fore and said “no, Mac and I will come with you”. David looked wary (as well he might) and Amelia looked like she had severe indigestion.
The drive was pleasant enough. Amelia pointed out cows and sheep and horses in fields to Mac as we drove through windy lanes. As we got closer to Giles’ farm, Mac started asking questions about what “aminals” he was going to see. “lots of cows and sheep and pigs and chickens and geese” came the response. Indeed, we were passing fields full of chomping sheep to our left and oinking pigs to our right and, on arrival in the courtyard, nearly took out half a dozen chickens who were roaming free. Idyllic. Until you caught the smell of blood.
It hung over the place like a cloud. Mac didn’t seem to notice it but my nose was twitching the minute I set foot outside the car. Giles, a ruddy faced man wearing a blood smeared apron, embraced Amelia and shook David’s hand. “The wife and son I’m guessing” he said, gesturing to Mac and I. “Take feller-me-lad over to the pig pen while I sort Amelia out” Giles said, pointing to a distant part of the courtyard. A blood soaked youth loped passed us as we headed pig-wards. Honestly, it was like something out of Deliverance – I was waiting for the banjos to start.
The pigs were sweet enough but they all seemed to have days of the week written on their backs. “Mummy what is the writing?” came the inquisitive voice at my side. I assured him they were their names. “Nah, they’re not” said the blood soaked youth who was now at least looking less gory. “They be the days they be due for slaughter. Gotta tell kids the truth these days” said this youth, with an admonishing wag of his finger. He looked about twelve and I didn’t like the way he was fingering his steely blade and looking at the pigs. I daren’t check to see if there were any marked “Sunday”. I took my son and headed back to the car, avoiding the clearly marked Slaughterhouse. We watched the chickens for a bit, Mac tried to catch a couple “for dinner mummy”. Oh, out of the mouths of babes! David was backwards and forwards to the boot of the car. “She’s bought half a pig and a quarter of a cow!” he said, almost jovially “come and have a look at the lamb chops, fresh in!”. Oh the blood lust!
We joined Amelia and Giles in the shop part of the butchery, me feeling slightly queasy and Mac beginning to look worried. I clutched his hand and eyed the admittedly lovely looking lamb chops. “They were runnin’ round yon field yesterday!” Giles boomed as he beamed proudly over the massacre in front of him. Out of the side window you could just see lambs happily strolling around. Out of the field and into the chilled cabinet. I decided against the chops. “A few chickens and then we’ll be off” Amelia said as she led the way back to the courtyard. Mac took up where he left off and started trying to catch a feathered fowl. “Is this normal?” I asked David, peering from left to right lest blood soaked youth appeared. “It’s the countryside!” David said, ruffling my hair and heading over to Giles and Amelia.
“You’ll never catch ‘em like that laddy!” Giles boomed, bringing out a huge net and bringing it down on the heads of a couple of chickens who were minding their own business in the corner of the yard. “Can I stroke it?” Mac asked in wonder. Pennies were dropping all over the show and my voice, when it finally erupted from my mouth, was croaky. “No Mac, come and sit in the car!” David bodily removed him as Giles cracked first one, then the second neck. Too late, Mac heard the strangled squawks and the crushing of neck bones and started sobbing “the poor chicken, the poor chicken”.
Half an hour later, plucked and paid for, we were off home, our gruesome cargo in the boot. Mac was inconsolable and I had to sit in the back with him which didn’t help my car sickness. What with that, the smell of freshly deceased farmyard animals and my imagination running riot about what other delights that gruesome little plot held, it was not a good journey. I made David stop in Hither Green – I had to get out and have a good wander round. When I got back to the car, Amelia was talking about cooking one of the chickens for dinner.
Home and Mac went up to his room for a sleep and I prayed he didn’t have nightmares. Amelia was busy shoving the dead carcasses into my freezer “Mrs Myers son is picking me up tomorrow, he’s visiting her for the day” she said as she left one of the chickens out. It still had its head and claws. I took one look at it and compared it to my neatly packed supermarket chickens and felt quite faint. I was accused of being hypocritical – “you eat meat don’t you?” – but my meat comes neatly cleaned and packaged and looking nothing like the animal it once was. I’ve got the rear leg of a pig in my chest freezer, complete with trotter.
David and Amelia sat down to nicely roasted chicken whilst Mac and I shared a vegetable lasagne I found at the back of the freezer. Hypocritical I may be but I just couldn't face eating a chicken I'd seen not four hours since being chased around by Mackenzie.