It took me two hours to summon the courage to phone The Executioner. As an animal lover, I found it very hard to deal with the fact that I was about to condone the murder of 8 cockerels. I gazed out into the garden and pondered upon my moral dilemma. If there really was a hell i'd be sure to go there for snuffing out the lives of God's creatures!
I watched a defeated looking bantam hen scratching about in the long grass. Suddenly, the mob of cockerels strutted out from behind the hen house and caught sight of her. It was all i could do not to shout out "BEHIND YOU!" as they stealthily crept up on her, heads lowered, in a silent ambush. I watched in disgust as they took turns violating her, before buggering off. Their timely display of insufferable brutality banished my lingering doubts. Never mind if i went to hell. The poor bantams were already there. I picked up the phone and signed their death warrant.
Our dear friend Jamie, who lives in a cottage down the lane with his girlfriend Amber, had offered to do away with the cockerels. He used the word "despatch", which i found comfortingly ambiguous. If i didn't actually witness the blood shed, i could pretend that he had packed them all into a box and sent them on their holidays...
He arrived just after lunch the next day. He emerged from his Land Rover bearing an axe, a tree stump and a hammer. There was an uneasy murmur of muffled clucks from the henhouse, as though the doomed inmates could sense that the end was nigh. Jamie placed the wood on the grass and propped up the axe against it. The razor sharp edge glinted blindingly in the sun. I felt giddy. All he needed now was a black hood i thought to myself. I started to titter - not because i found the situation even remotely funny, but because for as long as i can remember, tension has manifested itself in the form of mild hysteria, prompting uncontrollable giggling fits at inappropriate moments. (I will never forget the time the car broke down on the M6 during torrential rain in the middle of the night. I must have looked like a maniac, sitting in the drivers seat whooping with laughter as the car shook from the force of the articulated lorries that thundered past, blaring their horns.)
I realised how odd it would seem if i were to stand there chuckling whilst Jamie sharpened his axe, so i locked myself in the downstairs loo until i had stopped laughing.
After making Jamie a cup of tea I went into the front garden with Lily to get out of the way. Within minutes i heard the terrified squawking followed by the dull thud of axe on wood. I turned the radio up to drown out the noise.
Ten minutes later, Jasper appeared and announced that the deed was done and that Jamie was ready to show me how to "prepare the birds for the pot."
"Great!" i said, trying not to look aghast. As i walked round into the back garden I told myself that it wouldn't really be any different to preparing the chickens i bought from Waitrose every week. And we were only taking the breasts out which must be pretty easy.
Who was i deluding? It was not at all like dealing with a Waitrose chicken, as you have probably guessed. For a start, the back garden was bloodier than the battle of Culloden, and Waitrose Chickens do not have feathers on them, or a ragged bloody stump where their heads once were. Waitrose chickens are not still twitching either.
Jamies voice interrupted my train of thought.
"....so, it's really easy. You pull the feathers out like this." he grabbed a handful of plumage from the breast area exposing the greyish skin of the breast beneath.
The headless cock jerked violently and flapped it's wings. "AARRGGGH!" i shouted, jumping as though i'd been electrocuted.
"Just nerves. It's quite dead." Jamie smiled reassuringly before continuing.
"And then you get the knife and make an inscision in the top of the breast bone, and just slice all the way down like this. And there it is. Easy " he said, holding the flesh up for me to see.
I put my hand to my forehead which was clammy with sweat.
"Your turn." he said, handing me the knife. A terrified giggle escaped.
He handed me a cockerel. I knelt down in the grass and pulled out some feathers.
I pressed the tip of the knife into the breast bone.
"Jess, are you alright?" asked Jamie.
"Hell yeah! " I smiled cheerfully.
"You've gone green." he said.
"Look, would you like me to do them for you?"
I almost dropped to his feet and wept with gratitude.
My legs were shaking slightly as i went inside to get him a lager.
A couple of hours later, 16 breasts were simmering gently in a fragrant stew of Burgundy, shallots, mushrooms, garlic and herbs. They were quite tough so we cooked it very slowly overnight. That evening, Jamie and Amber came over for supper.
We raised a glass in honour of the Cockerels before we started.
Do you know what? We all agreed that i t was, by far, the best Coq Au Vin we had ever tasted.