John’s relationship with chickens started on a sunny spring day in 2006. John was 18yrs old. It was his first visit to Wirral Autistic Society’s Raby Hall site, to prepare him for the transition from school to the society’s day service programme. He was to spend half a day accompanied by support staff from his school, having a good look around and to get used to all the new sights, sounds and smells. This is a big challenge for an autistic person and the process is never rushed.
It is a fabulous facility with amongst other things, a kitchen garden, a landscaping/gardening site with lots of lawnmowers, tractors and diggers and a small farm with many animals to care for. John had up to this point never shown the slightest interest in animals apart from horses which he loved and had no fear of.
Which reminds me of a little tale:
In primary school John would go riding to a local stables with his class and he loved it. He rode a small fat white pony called Snowy and they adored eachother. John’s legs would to stick out sideways as she was so round…a real Thelwell pony. John would rattle the reins, yell “On On” and off she would go waddling around the indoor school with John bobbing about in the saddle, his riding hat falling over his eyes. Snowy would snort and fart her way around the school with gay abandon, while John shouted ‘tump’ every time she lifted her tale and released yet another gaseous blast.
Anyway one day little snowy was extremely sluggish and even by her own standards she was farting like a buffalo with every stride. At the end of the lesson she headed back to her stable dragging her groom with her and immediately lay down. She lifted her tail, her groom made a dash for the stable door not wanting to be in such an enclosed space with another fart brewing, or worse. Snowy promptly gave birth with not so much as a grunt. None of the staff even knew she was pregnant!….Who’s the daddy?! As far as I know John’s name wasn’t in the frame.
Right lets get back to Raby and the chickens….
As John walked around he was mesmerized by the chickens, he loved them running around his feet, pecking and clucking. The lovely girl who was showing him and his entourage around asked John if he would like to feed the chickens, he jumped at the chance. The feeder is a large aluminium bucket with a flat bottom and holes for the feed to come out evenly. John was given the bucket and shown how to swing it gently to allow the seed out. The chickens alerted to the sound of the feed bucket all ran over to him and John got very excited, jumping up and down and slapping his head with his spare hand. The more excited he got, the wilder the bucket was swinging. A very brave chicken got a bit too close and as John swung the bucket it caught the chicken under the chin, it was catapulted into the air and fell back to earth with a bump. The chicken tried to get up but kept spinning round on one leg before falling flat on its back again, like an old prize fighter who has finally met his match. John thought this was hilarious, while all the other chickens had clucked off, running for their lives from The Crazy Chicken Killer.
Mercifully the chicken soon came round, dazed and confused it weaved its unsteady way back to the chicken house where it received a hero’s welcome.
And so began the love affair between John and all of the chickens except one…she kept a respectful distance never again wanting to inadvertently upset The Crazy Chicken Killer.
John was so much in love with his chickens that he dreamed of bringing them home. Each night he would come home with yet another picture of his beloved flock…what is the collective noun for chickens?… I dunno…anyway he would say “Mummy, chickee, home, please” and like the well mannered boy that he is, always adding the signs for ‘home’ and ‘please’. He may be autistic but he still needed to be taught his pleases and thank yous.
He would leave the pictures everywhere, on my pillow, in the fridge and for some reason in the bread bin…never could work that one out…incase I could not fully understand his passion.
‘Look John, I know you love Chickens but it’s not possible to have them in the house’ I reasoned.
‘Yes! Yes! Chickees ouse’ pleaded John flapping his elbows to demonstrate that chickens have wings. ‘No chickens John’ I replied shaking my head and for some reason I started flapping my wings too as if this would make a difference. We both stood there, wings flapping in a stand off of the fowlest kind.
John sulked and wouldn’t speak, the only word he would say was ‘Chickee’ followed by a heartfelt mournful moan. He carried a picture of his favourite chickee everywhere and slept with it under his head. It was clear to John that I had a heart of granite.
So a plan was hatched and ‘The Chicken Rustler’ rode into town…not on a trusty steed but in a black taxi cab with a partially deaf driver called Billy.
Each day John was transported to Raby and back in the cab, as he was and remains, fearful of mini buses. He loves to look at them but not travelling in one.
During the day John would lovingly tend to the animals and his chickees. He was observed a couple of times picking his favourite chicken up near home time and walking towards the taxi with it under his coat.
Fortunately he is a gentle giant and was very careful when he picked them up…see the picture in the gallery at the top of the page.
Billy the cab driver and John’s support worker always ensured that the chicken was safely put back in its run. John however was playing a patient game. If you have seen Oceans Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and so on…Danny Ocean has nothing on John, the man with a plan.
John and his chickee spent many hours practicing the manoeuvres needed to execute the heist; until finally the day arrived, everything had come together perfectly. The weather was clement, clients were busy, support workers were supporting and John was keeping moving and not drawing attention to himself. This must have been the most difficult bit as John is so noisy, happy and full on that he always draws attention to himself without trying.
John waited until one of the other clients caused a diversion, the chickee sidled over and John picked it up, put it underneath his coat and walked calmly to the taxi. The chickee played a blinder, wings folded tight against its body and head stuffed under John’s armpit, it became invisible. John, the chickee and an Billy all climbed into the cab. John put his seat belt on, the chikee breathed in and an unsupecting Billy closed the cab door. Had he not been a bit deaf he might have heard a muffled cluck coming from Johns armpit.
John was bursting with excitement, his beloved chickee was going home and he would be able to sleep with it under his head all night instead of just a picture. He obviously hadn’t really thought that bit out.
The taxi trundled down the lane like postman Pat’s van. John pulled the chickee out from his coat and sat with it on his knee. The chickee was wondering what was to happen next, as DannyJohnnyOcean hadn’t told him the rest of the plan. Little did the chickee know, there was no further plan.
DannyJohnnyOcean hadn’t thought beyond getting the chickee in the taxi. John was getting distracted by Billy asking him questions about his day. The chickee hopped off John’s knee and was scratching the floor of the cab looking for stray corn. Billy looked in the mirror to check John was ok, John looked back at Billy and started to bob up and down hardly able to contain himself. “You alright John?” shouted Billy.
“Chickee” yelled John not able to stop himself, accompanied by double slapping of his head and a crotch grab. ”Chickeeeee Yeeeeehaaaaaa”
“Hey?” shouted Billy, remember he’s a bit deaf… “You OK Mate?” He asked again.
“Chickeeeee Chickeeeee” screamed John laughing hysterically. “Hey?” shouted Billy.
All the shouting startled the chickee and it jumped back onto John’s knee flapping wildly
“What did you say Johnny Boy?” said Billy stopping the cab and looking over his shoulder. He was met with the sight of a big chickee flapping around inside the cab with John, completely beside himself with glee, roaring with laughter and yelling “Chickee. Home please Billy. NOW” flapping his elbows and hooting with delight.”
“I don’t clucking think so” said Billy, or words to that effect.