September 21st 09
Birds of a feather
‘Do you think many people nowadays know how to pluck a chicken?’
Your man does that sometimes. He just comes right out with a question and let’s it stand there naked, on its own, completely out of context and without any relationship whatsoever to the conversation up to this point. When pressed about this he says it’s because he has an active mind.
‘Do you think many people nowadays know how to plant a chicken?’
He gazed into the bottom of his glass as he waited for an answer and was unmoved when I chortled loudly.
‘What do you mean? Plant a chicken?’
‘I mean pluck a chicken. You know that. You should listen to what I mean; not to what I say’.
I emptied my glass slowly.
‘You always know a good pint of Guinness by the way the top goes right to the bottom of the glass’ I said, ‘Look at the rings’.
Your man looked at me for a long slow minute.
‘You can tell its age by counting rings’ he observed, ‘like a tree. And your pint is nearly as old. It’s your round. You’re a very slow drinker’.
He motioned to the barman to pull us another two pints.
‘Now’ he continued ‘about the chickens? I reckon that there are very few people nowadays able to pluck a chicken. In fact it may even be that there are people who don’t know that chickens need plucked. Most people only know chickens when they come served on a plate or when they see them naked and footless and headless and featherless, a little bundle of white flesh and bone on a supermarket shelf’.
Our pints arrived, black as night with their collars of yellow cream exact and as inviting as could be.
‘It seems a pity to spoil that by drinking it’ I said.
‘It’s as pretty as a picture’.
‘Slainte’. Your man said, gulping appreciatively at his pint.
I sipped gently at mine, trying hard not to destroy the collar.
‘The chickens’ he continued, ‘you haven’t answered my question about the plucking chickens’.
‘I don’t intend to’. I answered evenly. ‘How would I know how many people can pluck chickens?’
‘You cud guess! You cud enter into the spirit of things. This is a serious question. It’s about what we as a people have grown into. And your lack of response proves my point. You wud rather see how long you can stretch your pint. You don’t care any more about the important things’.
I considered that. Maybe he was right. But I couldn’t concede that. When it comes right down to it everything is relative. A good pint is important as well.
‘How many people cud pull a good pint of Guinness?,’ I challenged him, ‘Any sucker cud pluck a chicken’.
‘In the old days yes. We were more self sufficient then. Before the Celtic Tiger. Before the Troubles. Not now’. Your man said plaintively.
‘I don’t like the way people call it the Troubles’. I reflected, ‘It was more than that.’
Your man ignored me.
‘My granny kept chickens out in the backyard’, he continued. ‘In the coalhole’, he added.
‘What did they do with it?’ I asked.
‘They ate it. No sell by dates in them days. No best before …’
‘It cudnt’ve been very nice’. I mused. ‘All black and all’.
‘Your pints all black and all so it is and your delighted with it’. He looked at me angrily. ‘They washed the chicken’.
‘After plucking it of course’.
‘Of course’ he said.
‘In those days people knew how to do things like that. Nowadays even the farmers don’t have chickens. They don’t even grow spuds. We import cabbages and spuds. Imagine. In Ireland’.
‘Ninety per cent of the Ash wood used in hurling sticks comes from Poland’. I volunteered.
‘You’re having me on’, he said.
‘Well then it’s worse than I thought’.
He looked at me tearfully and finished his pint.
‘Whose round is it?’ he asked.
‘Yours’ I said.
I placed my empty glass beside his.
‘You finished that very fast’, he said.
‘When I don’t keep up with you, you complain and when I do you complain as well’.
‘It’s the way you have me’, he shot back.
Two more pints arrived. We gazed at them contemplatively. After a long languid silence your man turned his gaze dolefully towards me.
‘How do you pluck a chicken?’ I asked him
‘Well …’ he said. ‘You ……………………..’