Headless Chicken


Watching The River Cottage Treatment on TV this week reminded me of a memorable episode in my early childhood in the Caribbean. The programme concerned the attempts by Hugh Fearnley Eatitall (as he is known in our household) to persuade a group of people who had hitherto only eaten cheap, intensively reared chicken to commit to eating chicken that had been reared more humanely. Part of it involved participating in the slaughter of a chicken that they had got to know over the week. It provoked shock and tears.

When I was about five, our family spent  a few years in Antigua. Our neighbours, locals, not ex-pats like us, kept chickens. I used to play with the children of the family and went to their house on Thursday nights to watch “Scooby Doo”: a rare treat as we didn’t have a TV. So when, one afternoon, I was invited over by the eldest son of the family, it didn’t strike me as anything unusual. Until, that is, instead of playing hide and seek with him and his sisters, he told me that we were going to kill a chicken.

The only details I remember of what happened next were that he asked me to hold a chicken, which I did. He then produced a machete and briskly cut its head off. To my open-mouthed amazement, instead of dropping dead on the ground, the chicken ran off, sans head in ever-decreasing circles around the yard, eventually flopping  lifelessly in the dust. I don’t recall being traumatised or upset in any way, just amazed, as though this were a magic trick the machete-wielding neighbour’s son had performed.

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