Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Death in the afternoon

The phone went, it was the landlord. "Mark," he said, "John will be coming to our land soon to kill Big Whitey."

I'd been expecting this. Big Whitey was the last of the cockerels introduced to the olive grove more than a year ago. The unfortunate Eileen (about whom I have written before) was another of the cockerels. Others rejoiced under the names of Chuck Norris and Christmas Dinner. Slowly their numbers have dwindled as they met the fate which seems to await all cockerels. Surely a warning for males of the species everywhere?

Anyway, Big Whitey, so called because he was big and white, had an appointment with a soup pot courtesy of "John" who is in fact Ιωάννης. Usually, the landlord is on hand to help Ιωάννης  when it comes to killing cockerels, but this being summer the landlord is busy doing other things. I also suspect he is slightly squeamish when it comes to the moment of truth for the cockerels. I have a feeling this means I may be called on to be the slaughterer's apprentice. My intended appointment with a cold beer in town will have to wait.

Sure enough in a couple of minutes I see John ride his motorbike on to the land. I've known him a while now and met him last year before I found out he knew the landlord, but then on this island almost everybody knows everybody else. Ιωάννης has a small café in town and his father was a butcher which is where his knowledge about despatching cockerels comes from. As usual he has the stump of a cigar clamped in his mouth. "Ah, Mark, you are here. Good." That pretty well confirms for me that I'm likely to be called on at certain points in Big Whitey's demise.

We shake hands and I see that in his other hand Ιωάννης/John is carrying a bag containing a butcher's steel and a knife of which he takes great care. I know from previous occasions this knife is very sharp. I confirm for John that I know which bird faces the chop - not difficult, he is the only remaining cockerel. John gets a small fire going under an old feta cheese can full of water. This will come into play later on when the time comes for Big Whitey to be plucked. As we wait for the water to get hot, John inquires if I have any tsipouro (a strong Greek spirit). I do not. He then asks if I have any ouzo (another spirit). I sense a certain disappointment when I say no again. I tell him I have wine. "Some wine, then." Clearly the executioner has to be refreshed. We both have a glass. I, too, feel the need of a little alcoholic fortification.

I have a vague feeling of treachery as I accompany Ιωάννης to the chicken coop to identify Big Whitey, but we don't want any mistakes and, to be frank, Big Whitey's seemingly non-stop sexual demands on his flock of hens have become burdensome for them. With a surprisingly swift move, John gets Big Whitey by the feet and he is swept out of the coop. Very sharp knife in hand, John carries the ill-fated Big Whitey to a tree where his throat is cut and his blood spilled on the roots of the tree. According to John it is good for the tree. This sounds a little pagan to me, but then why not? There is something of the cycle of life in all of this.

The very dead, and headless, Big Whitey is then plunged into the hot water which makes it easier to pluck the feathers. It is at this point that I am called on to assist by holding various carrier bags. One holds feathers and bits of Big Whitey's insides judged to be of no use, another holds body parts that I think - although this is only through the filter of John's slightly eccentric English - will be used for stock, and the last one contains the body and a small plastic bag of golden fat from the late cockerel which John assures me is absolutely wonderful when used for frying eggs.

Job done, Ιωάννης settles down for a couple more glasses of wine. He then reveals that some turkeys he has on his land have been ill (or are dead), as I have said his English is slightly wonky, although much better than my Greek. John then moves on to what seems to be one of his favourite themes, which is food. No visit to our house by him seems to be complete without long and involved instructions on good ways to cook things. The instructions usually involve miming and sound effects, which may go against the spirit of mime, but adds immeasurably to the overall performance.

With a flourish, John then finishes his wine and bids us farewell, pausing only to inquire what are the various words in English used for prison. Why? Who knows? I tell him that prison is probably the best word and there is also jail. We didn't get in to the spelling otherwise we might have tackled the mystery of gaol. This seems to satisfy Ιωάννης and he wends his way in to the evening, leaving our land a lot quieter without Big Whitey.

Mornings won't be the same without Big Whitey around, but he and the late-lamented Eileen both managed to do the deed with numerous hens whose eggs were hatched out and whose offspring, still youngsters, will soon be free to roam on the land. The quiet of our Big Whitey-less mornings will not last for long. The cycle of life rolls on.


  1. Beautiful description. When I was in Greece, and more specifically in my dad's village, I always turned away to avoid seeing the goriness. But your text is so well-written that I couldn't stop reading.

    p.s: No tsipouro? No ouzo? You really need to stock up! :)

    1. Thank you. It is a bit gory, but I know it's done quickly, which is good. As for the tsipouro and ouzo, you are right. I will lay in supplies immediately!

  2. You had a cockerel called Eileen? - somewhat disconcerting....

    1. You are right, it is slightly odd. We were confused about Eileen's gender when he first went on the run from the chicken coop and started living "wild" and by the time we realised she was a he the name had stuck.


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