Jemima’s tale

By Dreams and Adventures guest writer Jemima Pekin-Bantam

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My name is Jemima Pekin-Bantam and I am a glamorous princess, living alongside two commoners.

We get on remarkably well however.

Florence is a sweet little thing although she has got rather big for her boots recently. I remember when she was a timid babe but now she sometimes forgets herself and thinks she’s top hen. As if!

Dorothy, or,  as she prefers to be called, Dottie, was rather down in the dumps a month ago. She told me she felt ugly as she was losing her feathers. Of course I didn’t say to her, you’ll never look beautiful my dear, certainly not as wonderful as me.

To be honest, I too had the same issue of losing my feathers too. My human calls it moulting. Dear reader, I hope you never have to go through this nastiness. It left me so bereft of my beautiful white feathers, I even heard one of the other humans call me scruffy. I was left rather upset by that, let me tell you. Humans can be very careless with their words, especially to someone with such a pedigree as I.

I heard one of the humans was called ‘Hunter’. Well, that put me off him straightaway. I showed him what I thought when he had the cheek to lift me up. Does he not know who I am? He had to change his t-shirt afterwards. Hah! And then he approached me again another evening when I had gone to bed, with a big light thing shining in my face. I pecked his hand. Leave me alone to sleep, I told him.

When I told Dottie what hunters were, she shook herself in fear. Surely not, she said, and he seemed quite nice.

Don’t trust appearances, I warned her.

Florence wouldn’t have any of it. But then she sees the best in everyone. Our humans are lovely, she tells me.

She even says the two white loud hairy monsters with four legs aren’t too bad.

I find them highly sinister. They shout obscene abuse from a distance. They have a competition amongst themselves, who can shout and swear the loudest. Thankfully they are banned from coming anywhere near us.

Nasty creatures. Common of course.

My two chums tell me I am too suspicious. But when one is born a princess and having to mix with the commoners, one has to always keep in mind one’s pedigree. My mother told me a strange tale once. She insisted Dottie and Florence, as indeed the other girls I lived alongside as a youngster, were the same breed as I.

Impossible, I told her. IMG_20171026_084637

I tell the girls we should go to bed early during winter. Early to bed, early to rise makes us hens healthy and wise, I proclaim to them. It can be hard sometimes though to get a word in between Dottie’s complaining about the hotel service (it’s not quite five star it has to be said) and Florence’s chattering.

Goodnight Dottie, Goodnight Jemima…

Night Florence, night Dot, I sleepily respond from my dizzy heights (as top hen, I should be the highest) on top of the straw box.

Sometimes she tells us stories before we go to sleep.

Shut up, I tell her.

But did you hear the one about the big red human with a furry face flying through the sky with deer?

What’s a deer? I mumble, drifting off to sleep.

To be fair, the Hunter did call me wise. And my personal human, the one who provides the board and lodging, thinks me quiet, calm and confident. They know me well. And if someone gives you the delicacy of mealworms, which both those humans have done, well, they can’t be so bad really.

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Of course, I expect five star treatment but this establishment isn’t so bad really. And my roommates may not have high breeding as I but actually, I rather like them.

My human tells me about Christmas, a lot I don’t listen to. Like Florence she rambles in her speech, talking nonsense. But I pick up the word present. Yes, I would like this Santa human to give us girls presents.

Mealworms please. Lots and lots of juicy worms.

Merry Christmas dear readers, may your days be full of tasty worms and warming corn.

🐔🐔🐔

 

 

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A Day in the Life… Looking after chickens

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Before the hens arrived, I always assumed they would be hard work. Touch wood, so far they haven’t been.

But they are a responsibility and a regular routine is needed. I need to see them every day – and if  away, someone else needs to pop in to check on them, their feed and water. But this is the case for all animals, including my guinea pigs.

But hard work? No. Not really.

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My daily routine goes like this – get up about 7am (my alarm call will get earlier and earlier in the summer and vice versa in the winter. There is also the option of keeping the pophole door open). I’ve not had a summer with the girls yet so have had a reasonable wake up time. So far anyway!

Open the pophole/open the coop door  to let them out into their outside run. Check they have enough grain in their feeder, clean water in their drinker and grit in their grit tray (to help them digest food).

When they first arrived they seemed to kick a lot of debris and muck into these containers but for whatever reason, this appears to have stopped.

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Replenish if needed.

Take out the cleaning bucket and, using a brush and shovel, take out any poo/dirt/uneaten food lying around in the roosting area, coop and run. This means the coop is always relatively clean and there is no build-up of smell or dirt. It take 5 or 10 minutes and easy enough to fit in before work. A proper clean can take place less frequently.

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The hens enjoy scratching the ground for grubs and hopping onto my herb pots where they nibble the parsley or mint. All the while keeping an eye out for extra treats.

Treat time! They love corn but corn is something I try to give them as late as I can as it reportedly keeps them warm at night. Lettuce and cabbage they enjoy, preferring me to hand feed them as it’s easier for them to grab (and they do grab, no pleasantries here!). I intend to get something to hang up the greenery. Porridge is another nutritional titbit.

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What’s their favourite? Mealworms! I used to walk past packets and buckets of these in the wild bird food sections of shops, thinking my wild birds will have to put up with fat balls and coconut feeders. I didn’t like the look of them at all.

But now I know it’s the girl’s top treat I give some every two days or so. Especially as they demand it, keeping an eye on me when I open the shed door and squawk to me, ‘we want our worms’. When they hear them rattling in my scoop and see them falling onto the ground, they come running and squawking excitedly amongst themselves. Florence even pokes her head through the netting in eagerness for the tasties.

 

‘Worms, glorious worms…’ They sing.

Before I go to work, they go back into their coop where they can scratch the ground (they get excited about clean wood chip on the floor), eat grain, drink water, look for grubs, and eat any treats – corn, mealworms or greenery – I have scattered. My parents sometimes kindly come to see them and let them out in the afternoon, giving them corn. But during winter time, they will head for bed earlier and earlier. In December it will be about 4pm, maybe 3.30pm. When I get home from work, they are already tucked up in bed.

Time to close the pophole and let the girls sleep.

And then the day begins again tomorrow. 🐔🐔🐔

 

When in St Albans… Do what the Romans do

DSC_0246For the weekend, my friend and I were ladies of leisure… with a hefty dose of culture, history, luxury and relaxation.

It’s rather apt that the Romans enjoyed their Baths, St Albans is synonymous with that era and we stayed at Sopwell House, a spa hotel on the outskirts of the city.

The hotel obviously wasn’t around in that era (although it’s fun to think of the Romans in their togas mulling around, eating grapes in the spa area), but it still has a fascinating history.

Dating from the 1600s (the earliest reference is 1603 in the deeds as a newly built house), it was later leased and developed in the 1700s by a master mason who worked on St Paul’s Cathedral. Two centuries later, in 1901, Prince Louis of Battenberg leased the country home – his daughter Alice later became mother to Prince Philip.

Fast forward to present day where it is now a hotel.

We travelled by train from Preston, changing at London Euston. One stop on the tube from Euston took us to London St Pancras and our third and final train to St Albans City.

There are two train stations in St Albans. City is a 10 minutes walk from the city centre. St Albans Abbey is situated between our hotel and the city centre, about 15 minutes each way.

We had a pleasant wander into town, stopping for lunch at Gail’s Bakery (lovely soup, very busy) and passing through the bustling street market, and then to our hotel. The route from City station to city centre to residential suburbs to countryside takes about 45 minutes altogether. But to drive or take a taxi will only take 15 minutes or so.

The country road took us to a sweeping driveway and a grand white building. We had arrived. Even as we walked into reception, our senses were captivated by aromatherapy aromas from the spa. A doorman politely greeted us as he held the door open, the ladies at reception were very helpful and attentive, and our first floor room was easy to find.

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And oh the room! What a room. It was a twin room, beds were spacious and comfy and there were the usual TV, wardrobe, bedside tables…

… And a settee, two armchairs and a table with a plate of two slices of marzipan cake, a bowl of strawberries and a bottle of water with two glasses. This was the life for us!

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Overlooking this scene was a window facing a picturesque country scene of fields and a large house.

The bathroom was clean and modern. To remind us we were in a spa hotel was, hanging up in the bathroom, a robe and slippers.

Our dinner that evening was in The Restaurant (no, I haven’t forgotten the title, that’s its name 🙂). When a pianist is playing, you know you’re in a classy venue. We had two waiters, a sommelier (wine) and food waiter. Both were very attentive and we didn’t have to wait too long for food. 🍷

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We had delightful little canapés and a cheese mousse with a French name I cannot remember. I had a white onion and thyme veloute (a little like a soup). My main course – Gloucester Old Spot pork slow cooked belly, cider jus, mousseline potato and glazed parsnips was delicious. C had pan fried halibut, broccoli puree, tender stem broccoli, nori gnocchi and herb emulsion. To finish off, I chose homemade ice cream while C opted for warm almond and pear tart.

The following morning’s breakfast was one of many choices – cereals, cold meats and salmon, toast, rolls, fruit, cooked breakfast buffet… (I chose melon and a small cooked breakfast while C had a cooked breakfast).

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After breakfast, we ventured out, walking to the city centre, past the intriguing remains of an old nunnery. Sopwell Nunnery is believed to have been where Anne Boleyn secretly got married to Henry VIII.

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The cathedral had a service on so we only saw part of it, namely the 85 metre nave (the longest one in England according to the cathedral website), the nave statues and the medieval wall paintings dating from the 1100s to 1500s. The cathedral dates from 1077 and you can see the Norman influence with the archways. Alas, we missed out seeing the shrine of St Albans.

There was a Christmas Market outside with wooden stalls, fairly small but very seasonal and cosy with festive tunes in the air. On our way back we each drank a mulled wine – the first of the year!

Now let’s head to Verulamium. A trip back in time, even further back than the cathedral. Our route took us past some of St Albans’ olde Tudoresque black and white houses, the pretty village of St Michael’s, complete with former water mill and parish church. The Verulamium museum in the village looked promising but alas, closed on a Sunday – or certainly this particular Sunday. The nearby park and the museum is actually situated on the site of the ancient Roman town of Verulamium – one of the first Romano-British towns to be built and, by AD250, the third largest in the country (London and Cirencester being larger) but we decided to go to the theatre instead.

We crossed a main road, entering the rural estate of Gorhambury. At the ticket booth, it cost £2.50 to enter what was an intriguing archaeological site. The path to the theatre – the only example of its kind in Britain – follows the edge of Watling Street, the main road built by the Roman army joining London to Chester. We could see the foundations of the dressing room (AD160), a town house, the base of a pier from an arch, the shops (the Romans enjoyed a bargain too), the stage… With the mind’s eye we could conjure up the sights of the Greek plays and pantomimes (actors dancing and miming rather than Cinderella and Aladdin) and, less charmingly, fights of the gladiators.

Our minds crammed with this new-found knowledge, we ventured back to 21st century luxury and enjoyed a pot of tea and sandwich at the hotel’s comfortable cocktail lounge. By the looks of it, it’s a popular venue for afternoon tea.  I thought the price for a sandwich looked a little expensive (£9) but what a sandwich. We chose salmon and cheese and they were on ‘doorstopper’ chunks of bread. And so tasty… And the crisps were not the standard potato crisps but vegetable ones. Crisp, crunchy, red-tinted beetroot varieties. Yum.

Later in the afternoon (after a rest from our massive sandwiches and our culture-packed time-travelling morning), we tried out the spa. Two warm, bubbly Jacuzzis, a hot dry sauna and steamroom and a swim in the pool (Sunday afternoon was a good time for us to come as it was relatively quiet so plenty of space to swim)… Bliss.

It was cocktail time, again in the, now candlelit, cocktail lounge. My Candlemaker was a Sopwell Signature and was ‘in memory of Sopwell Cotton Mills’, with brandy, port, cinnamon stick and caramel. C opted for a strawberry mojito. Both were delightful. By 8pm we were ready to eat in the Brasserie which is the same venue where breakfast was held. Two courses later of, yet again, sumptuous food, we simply had no room for dessert.

Unfortunately, the next morning our weekend as ladies of luxurious leisure came to an end and it was back to work and the real world. It was delightful while it lasted!

So long Sopwell House, St Albans and Verulamium! Until next time!

Visit http://www.sopwellhouse.co.uk for latest prices and deals.

Thanks to Sopwell House for our little taste of luxury, The Roman Theatre of Verulamium by Dr Rosalind Nibley for being so informative and St Albans for being a fascinating city.

I’ll be back – I haven’t explored the cathedral properly so a good reason to come back! 🙂

Facts of the Day – St Alban

1. St Albans is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr.

2. It is traditionally believed he gave shelter to a priest fleeing persecution.

3. He was beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium in the third or fourth century.

Historical information also from St Albans Cathedral and Sopwell House websites