A pandemic is sweeping the nation. No, not that one – this one is avian flu. People with poultry are advised to keep their stock under cover. Chez Gee we have a number of semi-retired and fancy hens (that is, they haven’t laid any eggs for ages) but despite their largely ornamental purpose we have to follow DEFRA instructions.
The hens are kept in an area beneath the skeleton of a small polytunnel, the plastic cover of which has long since rotted away. Last time there was a bird flu scare we covered the whole thing with a tarp. This time I ordered some plastic sheeting so at least the birds could have some light.
Then we had some very high winds that detached the plastic sheet. I repaired the damage — but the next day the high wind tore the plastic sheet to shreds. I went out in the teeth of the worst weather I can remember in 14 years of living in Cromer and covered the hen run with a tarp. Not realizing that this wasn’t the same tarp as I’d used previously (are you keeping up here?) it didn’t seem to fit, and it too me three tries to achieve decent coverage, with the help of heavy-duty clips, cable ties, and as much bailer twine as I could scavenge.
Later on that day I discovered the tarp I’d used previously and covered the entire caboodle with that. Trying to do this in a high wind was rather exciting, as the tarp flapped angrily all over the place until I could secure it. The result looks rather like an air-raid shelter/refugee camp, but at least the hens are covered, and out of the wind.
During the course of this exercise I became severely chilled, despite wearing a balaclava, hood, four layers of clothing, two layers of gloves and stout boots. After half an hour or so I could no longer feel my fingers, which was problematic, as I was trying to tie knots and attach cable ties.
When I went inside I immediately suffered the symptoms of shock – panic, nausea and feeling like I was going to die. Going outside before breakfast was probably not a good idea. Mrs Gee (who is diabetic) let me into her stash of Emergency Jelly Babies and after snarfling about a dozen I felt a bit better. It took the rest of the day for my fingers to recover full sensation.
It was all down to the wind chill — for the air temperature wasn’t really that low — just a degree or two below freezing, in proper grown-up Centigrade (not that namby-pamby Fahrenheit nonsense).
Once I recovered and in the warm I recalled a book I’d read just a few days earlier — Erebus, by Pythonesque Explorer, TV Personality and All-Round Nice Chap Michael Palin. This tells the story of a warship which, decommissioned after the Napoleonic Wars, found new fame as a polar exploration vessel — first in the Antarctic under James Clark Ross, and then in the Arctic as part of Sir John Franklin‘s ill-fated expedition to find the North-West Passage.
Back in the day, ships that sailed in polar waters were regularly stuck in ice and had to stay there for the winter, in conditions which make my privations look like a summer barbecue on the patio. At one point, Palin tries to conjure what it must have been like to be on the tilting deck of a ship in a blizzard; or knee-deep in drifting snow; with temperatures well below zero; a wind-chill making it even colder; and trying to handle flapping sailcloth or tie knots in ropes that were frozen solid.
Hardly bears thinking about.