I’ve never had enough outdoor space to keep chickens but I’ve always liked chickens, their lovely colours, different sizes and shapes, the way their heads bob up and down, their noises, the flavour of truly free range eggs and the taste of a good free range chicken casseroled with wild mushrooms which is what I ordered one balmy evening at a restaurant in Vevey up above Lake Geneva. The Greek chap seated next to me ordered the same dish and we got talking as we savoured every morsel. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap but, as we talked of not having tasted such flavourful, chickeny chicken since we were children, we swapped our memories.
His were of being in Athens as a little boy when the Nazis were in charge. His family were very rich but, as he said, “What use was money when the Germans had stolen all of the food. We were starving”. One day, after the Germans had gone and he was out playing, he spied a chicken as it went inside a bombed building. Determined to make his mother proud of him, he stalked the fowl and got it into his arms. As he emerged from the building he came face to face with the business end of a British soldier’s rifle. The soldier lowered his gun but this lovely Greek chap said; “If I had to be shot by anyone, I would prefer it to be by someone who is British, even if it was a mistake”. That made me laugh.
My memories of chickens were of my maternal Grandfather’s dealings with them in his chicken coop at the bottom of his garden.
They were the only things that I recall making him swear. “You brainless buggers” but that was when he was trying to catch the “Brainless Bugger” as it was destined for the oven. In retrospect, it couldn’t have been that brainless as it raced away from Grandad and its ultimate demise. Granny would pluck and gut the bird and then singe any residual feathers with a wad of burning newspaper and into the range it would go. Out would come her superb chickeny tasting roasted chicken Sunday lunch. The very memory still makes my mouth water.
The guy who owned the restaurant came around to ask the assembled gathering how we’d enjoyed our meal and I piped up; “Where do you get your chickens?”, “They are Poulets de Bresse but the recipe is my Grandmother’s”.
My newly acquired Greek friend said; “I never trust the French but their chickens are good and his Grandmother was a great lady”.
We remained friends until he died.
© Barbican 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file