Catchphrases from TV sitcoms have become such common currency that British English is in danger of becoming a totally separate language from Canadian English. If anyone in Britain asks you, “What do you think of my new XXX?’” the stock reply is “Rubbish” (from the British comic duo Morecombe and Wise). People with ambitious plans say ‘This time next year, we’ll be millionaires” (from the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses).
The Mclean catchphrase “A Cunning Plan” came from the Blackadder series, with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry as incompetent officers and Tony Richardson as the simple soldier Baldrick, who always had a cunning plan to rescue the army in 1914. A “Cunning Plan” is always destined to fail but only after tremendous effort and time have been lavished on it by the incompetents who conceived it.
One of Ted’s colleagues had bet him that grouse couldn’t be raised in Normandy. Why not? People were starting to raise quail and wild boar and salmon. It was time for a “Cunning Plan”. Another of life’s challenges! Pourquoi pas?
We found out that a British government environmental research project, studying life styles of capercaillie and grouse, conditions for reproduction and possible combination feeds of grit and grains, was being conducted up near Aberdeen. We contacted the boffins. They offered to reserve us some fertilized grouse eggs, telling us to bring a big Thermos lined with peat to transport them. We had to prop this up in the car in such a way that we could turn the eggs every few hours.
Before speeding off to Scotland in the company Mercedes, Ted spent hours planning and building a bird cage/hen house, more of a Lord Snowden type aviary really, attached to our garden shed. On the instructions of various hen-raising locals, he completed the interior with little triangular hatching huts which just fit neatly over broody hens and eggs.
We drove all the way up to Aberdeen and all the way back to Normandy in great haste and excitement. Ted had to rush back to work while I negotiated with a neighbour, Mr Capon, to lend me a couple of broody hens. I transferred the little eggs carefully into the hatching huts, plopped the hens over the eggs and left them to it. They could just get their heads out to the little feed bowls nailed on the front. I failed to notice ominous cracking sounds as I backed away.
A couple of days later, I went out to see if any progress was being made. The broody hens were definitely looking defeated. I picked up the hutches and the broody hens staggered forth, feet covered with raw grouse egg omelette. Apparently, I should have used Bantam hens that, as every boxing fan knows, are considerably smaller and lighter than the Rocky Balboas I had landed on the eggs.
I managed to rescue some of the eggs which had simply been buried under the earth by the weight of the hens. I raced over to return the heavy-weight hens to the Capons. Mrs.Capon, covered her mouth and giggled and Mr Capon, controlling his spittled mirth, just shrugged his solid shoulders at the waywardness of nature and the stupidity of townies everywhere.
He suggested I buy an electrically controlled hatching box which turns the eggs every so often and controls the level of humidity. I rang around farm supply shops.
“Yes, Ma’am, we have one of those. How many hundreds of eggs do you have to hatch?” When I admitted I only had a dozen or so the salesman stifled a laugh and recommended another shop. It all got set up eventually and I waited hopefully. After week or so, I realized our “Cunning Plan” had come unstuck. I finally broke open the eggs which were black and stinking inside, having never ever been fertilized.
Brambles branch up and over the coop, weeds invade the inside and the hatching huts fall apart and I just haven’t the heart to start again. Well, as Robbie Burns said, ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.”
Obviously, this time next year we are not going to be millionaires! Time for another “Cunning Plan”!
All photos by Julia McLean