Chapter 24: The End of the Fowl-House

When the girl from the farm next door used to come to help with the milking, Sue (who was home at the time) used to have me on about doing my hair before going to milk the cows. And that's about all you're going to hear. Actually, it's all there is to hear.

This bit is about the trouble Tony would get me into. When a cow kicked him, Tony would get mad. When I was kicked, I said nothing. What's the use of yelling at the cow when it doesn't understand English - or even French? So Tony would get fiery and I was pretty well perfect.


One milking, Tony got mad at me because I was cheeky, and even though I said I was perfect I had occasional lapses. So Tony grabbed me and threatened to dump me in the water trough. I kicked and shouted my way to freedom, and ran outside the cow shed into the paddock. Tony chased and tackled and grabbed my legs to drag me back to the milking. But I held on to some rushes. Rushes you know don't give way even if a great giant pulled at them. So even though Tony was ten when I was born, he still couldn't drag me into the shed.

I have a weak spot, which brothers and sisters know about, but very few strangers have ever discovered. And that is, I'm ticklish. I'm out-of-control ticklish. Now that you know, you'll only have to look at me in the street with an I'm-going-to-tickle-you grin and I'm yours for the taking. So as I kicked and clutched the rushes, Tony released my feet and tickled me under the arms.

Instantly I let go of everything in an uncontrollable heap, and Tony carried me kicking again back to the shed. This time he threatened to put my head in a bucket of mixed-up milk that was sitting there ready to be fed to the calves. But my torso was strong, and no matter how hard he pushed my head down towards the bucket I wouldn't bend. Somehow I managed to wiggle my feet underneath the bottom of the bucket, and with a might leap, the bucket flew up and Tony was covered in milk.

I shot outside across the paddock on the track that led to home. Tony followed me, shouting, as he always did, "You wait till you get to Silverstream! That'll sort you out!"

Now I've never mentioned it but the cow shed faced the house and was about quarter of a mile away. The shape of the cow shed acted like a sound shell, so Mum heard every word. And as we sped in chase along the track home, Mum appeared from the house heading for the cow shed with business-like stride.

I stopped. Tony stopped. And even though I was twelve and Tony was ten when I was born, we both ran back to the cow shed faster than ever. Well for the rest of the milking we were great friends, and that evening we went shooting rabbits at the back of the farm.

Arguments usually get sorted out one way or another. When Leo and I were squabbling it could get worse and worse. One day Leo chased me with his pocket knife, so I had to jump out the high kitchen window to escape. But he followed me out. And when we both landed miles down below we saw a man on the drive. His hair was wild, his eyes were wild, his clothes were scruffy. He had an Alsatian dog with red eyes and yellow fangs. Leo and I crept inside as fast as possible, and hid under the bed until danger had passed.

For the last holidays of my primary school I was working on the farm: milking, and making silage, and putting in fence posts and whatever. Mum complained that no one was helping around the house. So I was assigned for the week to mow the lawns and weed the gardens and all that. And one of the things I had to do in the course of the week was to dismantle the old fowl-house because we were going to build a better one. We'd spend our holidays working. Dad believed in work. One of the days I remember was not only a Sunday (a day of rest), but was New Year's Day (a public holiday) and a Holy Day of Obligation (a Church holiday). Three holidays were rolled into one, and yet I had to help Dad dig a hole for a new water tank. Wasn't that the pits?

So when the opportunity came for a week's work "around the house" I seized it. After a couple of days of mooching round and mowing half a lawn, Tony complained after tea that I was lazy, lazy, lazy. I'd been there all week and done nothing.

"You wait till you get to Silverstream! That'll sort you out!"

With that I saw red, and got the sledge hammer and went out in the dark. In a dozen swoops of the hammer the fowl-house was knocked into smithereens. No matter that the chooks were inside. They could fend for themselves, and the shock of losing their house in the middle of the night would simply put them off laying for a couple of days.

"I've done it," I announced on my return. "The chook-house is dismantled".

"You wait till you get to Silverstream," muttered Tony, like a stuck record.

And, you know, I couldn't wait. For soon the summer holidays would be over and the new school year would start. And I'd be at secondary school - at Silverstream which for years I'd heard about from my older brothers.

Perhaps the knocking over of the fowl-house was the best possible way to end my childhood - for unbeknown to me, the childhood bit was done.

And I was waiting, yes, waiting, for Silverstream.

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