Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Happy eating

A social leper informs you of his miserable existence

To get to the nearest main road from here, you have to drive for five miles along a cow-shit-covered country lane. Two-thirds of the way along, where the lane is joined by a farm track, stands a wooden hutch on legs. More often than not, there are new-laid eggs inside. The eggs, lovely brown eggs marked with yellowy-green chicken-shit and bits of straw, sit neatly in rows of circular holes that have been jigsawed out of a sheet of plywood. A hand-written sign says the eggs are £1.20 a dozen and would you please put the money in the money-box, thank you. Beside the eggs is a haphazard pile of damp egg-boxes. You help yourself to as many eggs as you need, up to 36, which is the maximum capacity of the jigsawed sheet of plywood. If the egg-boxes are very damp, you have to be careful getting them to the car because they tend to fall apart.

Pinned at the back of the hutch is a curling photograph of some or possibly all of the hens. They are white hens. The photographer has captured about ten of them pecking about amongst some derelict farm machinery. A caption beside the photograph, hard to decipher because the rain has blown in and caused the felt-tip ink to run, says that the hens are ‘Happy Hens’; happy because they are allowed to roam free. On first reading this, you peer again at the photograph and scrutinise the hens for signs of happiness. They are very clean, very white hens, to be sure. And all of them are in motion, suggesting energy and motivation. But ultimately, you conclude, you’ll have to take the farmer’s word for it.

I heard ex-Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew speaking on the radio the other day.

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