One year. 100 articles. So we're having a Reader's Party. Come along to Upsidecrown.
I've seen the future, and it's feathered.
26 June 2000
"And the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts will
swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by
Locusts, the biblical napalm. My early education featured, in addition to the perhaps undeserved prominence of grandfather clocks and the wondrous mechanics of cold- blooded animals, locusts as the great Old Testament scourge of corrupt and stinking mankind. We didn't listen to the Lord, so we got a plague of alated animals as an afterthought to hail the size of beach balls. I'm not a great fan of whirring, leaping insects myself. But I wonder if the dread which the mention of locusts triggers is somewhat misdirected.
Rather, I think we should be turning our collective suspicious gaze on a farmyard friend and a staple of mine, Matt's and Jamie's weekly intake - the hen. Resist the mistaken temptation to equate the hen with the cockerel; they are two very distinct beasts. Only one of them made it onto the Flat 8 Page of Love. Forget all the poultry information you have gathered thus far: relearning your hen facts will prepare you for the possibility of your downfall.
This vicious and staggeringly mobile fowl is capable, in alliance with nineteen others of its kind, of bringing down a fully-grown and perfectly fit, though unsuspecting, human being. In matches staged to evaluate the respective fighting capabilities of the hen and the penguin it was noted that the former triumphed, despite the superior musculature of its opponent, because of its ability to kick, scratch and peck at one and the same time.
As far as most humans are concerned, our egg-laying subordinate is a nervous and timid thing, whose instinct is flight, not fight, and is only of interest in so far as it is able to run around "like a headless chicken" once decapitated. Both these assumptions are key issues in the resentment which will cause hens to turn on their masters. Not only do we despise them as inconsequential; we turn hen death into a laughing matter, the ultimate show of disrespect. The mistreated masses will rise up, and we will be unprepared and unprotected.
So why hasn't this happened already? Hens are startlingly thick. They are also team players. It will therefore take only one intelligent hen (itself an increasing possibility due to miraculous advances in the field of genetic modification) to turn the world upside clown. They already follow each other around for no ostensible reason and with no obvious goal. Imagine what will happen when a charismatic superior points in the direction of universal domination. What they need is a locust's organisational skill:
"Locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks;"
The locust knows army discipline. If these digit-sized first cousins of Disney's lethal Jiminy Cricket can bring us plague, despair and death, imagine the havoc the more robust, more powerful hen could wreak. While the locusts themselves may not be providing the manpower, right now one of their ancient Near Eastern number may be imparting their tactical knowledge to a hen with delusions of a sergeant-major's grandeur. Farmers, it's time to start being more vigilant in your own yard. If the hens appear one day to be strutting in formation, cull them all. You could be our only hope.
There's strength in numbers: this both locusts and hens enjoy. The crucial difference between the two is that, whereas we've been trying desperately to exterminate the former with various strains of death-dealing chemicals, we've been breeding the latter, engaging in hen proliferation. We think that they're serving us. But in decreasing the locust population and increasing the poultry base we have rendered the hen more of a threat than the biblical plague (I'd really like to know the respective totals of locust and hen populations worldwide - if anyone out there has the figures please email me).
So what is my conclusion? We need to re-evaluate the threat posed by the animal kingdom. Those "damned dirty apes" caught out Charlton Heston and Orwell entertained the possibility of a farmyard revolution. Notice that the pigs, not the hens, led that one. Where were they, then? Biding their time, letting the pigs make all the mistakes.