Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Article excerpt

If I haven't mentioned my poultry for a while, it's because the subject has been too depressing. I had been very fond of my ducks and chickens until the constant attacks on them by foxes began to harden my heart. I had protected them in every way I could, short of keeping them cooped up all the time; but as a fox kept on killing them all the same, I almost stopped caring. Acceptance of their seemingly inevitable fate brought with it a loss of interest. If they were going to die, I must learn to be indifferent.

For a while, I felt callous only about the ducks, six out of my flock of 14 ducks had been killed, but only one of my nine chickens had gone. I took this to be because the chickens lived much nearer to my house than the ducks, so that a fox would always encounter ducks first on its visits to my garden to find food for its cubs. I thought that the fox might be satisfied after taking a duck or two and conclude that it wasn't worth the risk of going after the chickens as well. But it turned out that I was wrong; for soon five chickens had also gone, leaving only four behind.

It was at this point that I did what I had resolved never to do. I shut the four chickens in their coop and didn't let them out. Until then, they had strutted all day around the garden, pecking with great concentration at invisible sources of food, and been put into their coop only in the evening for the night. Thereafter the garden seemed dull and lifeless during the day, and I felt so guilty about depriving the chickens of their liberty that I would visit them only very rarely in order to chuck some corn at them.

Meanwhile, the farmer Geoffrey Smart, a keen marksman who goes abroad every year to take part in international shooting competitions, positioned himself most evenings on the edge of a field, rifle at the ready, hoping to kill a fox as it emerged in the dusk from its lair. …

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