There’s a ferret on the loose.

The hen shed is dark and quiet. I like going there. The hens are friendly and cluck as I walk through them, most are outside.  I look in the boxes along the wall for eggs Mammy will collect, clean and pack later. I help her take care of the hens. There’s one that’s clocking. It’s in deep tea chest and sitting on dummy eggs. Funny, it’s furry today, I lean in and stroke it. It’s very soft.

The brown hen in that box is furry, Mammy.

Feathers, hens have feathers, son. Says my mother, busy in the kitchen.

Soft and furry, I was stroking it.  

We’ll go up and have a look, and collect any eggs.

Ivor and author with our mother, Ena and father, Tommy at Carniny Road at a garden birthday party. circa 1958

The wooden house for about 150 hens is on higher ground at the rear of the bungalow, its floor covered in loose peat. Carrying a basket for eggs we go in and over to the clocking hen.

When a ferret’s head appears from under the dead hen, Mammy screams and drops the basket.

I’m swept from the ground and she rushes back into the house, the eggs now forgotten.

Did it bite you? Did it bite? Mammy cries urgently.

I’m speechless.

Did it bite?

I shake my head slightly, unsure of what the right answer is.

Frantically my hands and arms are inspected, my clothes quickly taken off, looking for any sign of a bite.

This goes on for some time and I’m crying now wishing I’d never seen a furry hen.  Ivor stands close by taking in it all in.

There is always a story going around of a rat biting a baby in a buggy or in bed and it scares the wits out of any parent, that must have been it.

I am hugged and soothed, and with no bites to be found we all settle.

Mammy goes down to Sammy’s house, a neighbour who keeps ferrets and greyhounds, we know him well. He lives at the end of our lane a short walk away. Ivor is in a buggy.

The cottage, behind a rough privet hedge, has a corrugated tin roof and small cobbled yard in front. There are a few of low outbuildings. Sammy is a general handy man, particularly helpful to Daddy who is still new to rural living, even though he was raised in a terrace house not a mile away and tended an allotment garden. Sammy has all the tools, knows how to mend and fix things, he’s our first call when there’s a problem; but now his bicycle is missing from its usual place against the wall of his house.

Sammy Linton (?) with Mrs Kerr, Aunt Martha and author at garden birthday party. circa 1958

Sammy! Sammy! One of your ferrets is up in our hens! My mother calls as she wraps on the door.

His brother Michael greets us brightly.

Hello Misses. Sammy’s not here.

Mammy hurriedly explains the death and panic of the past hour.

The cottage is dark and smells of a mild sweet mould, though not unpleasant. There’s never any sign of heat from the black range but neither is it cold.

Sammy’ll be back soon. I’ll send him straight up. says Michael as we leave.

An hour later Sammy comes up to the bungalow on his bike with a small box strapped behind the saddle.

Sorry Missus. Sorry about the hens. Says Sammy at the back door.

Aye it’s one of mine, been on the loose since yesterday.

He’s a small, capped man with a hunched back, but agile all the same.

A hope there’s not too many kilt. Michael says it’s killin all around it.

Mammy laughs.

He’s havin you on Sammy. Just the one, I hope. Let’s go up and you’ll take care of it.


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