People turn to the internet for all kinds of reasons: to learn something new, to be reminded of something old, to confirm what they already believe. To kill time.
Of course, some just want to know the chemical composition of lipstick or what time it is in Tanzania when it’s 6:33 p.m. in Latvia. But never mind all that, what I want to talk about is a search that led someone to my blog: It read (reproducing the lower-case style that all good searches hold to), “if you never chased chickens then you don’t know village life.”
I should stop and explain, for anyone sane enough not to know this, that some of the search questions that lead to a blog show up on a page the blogger can find if she’s obsessive enough to care, and I’m going to take a wild and irresponsible guess and say that most bloggers are at least that obsessive and probably more so. But not all the questions show up. Most, in fact, show up as Unknown Search Terms. Unknown to who(m, if you like)? No idea. Why are they unknown? Even less of an idea. It would drive me around the bend if I let myself think about it for too long, so let’s move on.
The comment about the chickens—it’s not really a question, is it?, she said turning a statement into a question of her own—is the most interesting one I’ve found to date. So instead of merging it into one of my periodic posts on how people find a blog, I’m dedicating an entire post to it, and if anyone types it into a search engine again (as surely people must, day after day, hour after hour; think an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters eventually reproducing the works of Shakespeare, although not necessarily with the words in the right order). Let’s start over, because I got lost there and I’m going to assume you did as well: If anyone types that into a search engine again Notes will be number one on the list of places addressing this very important question.
Since it’s that important, I need to fill in my background: I have never chased chickens—not in the village and not in either Minneapolis or New York, the other places I’ve lived. One of our dogs, Minnie the Moocher, did chase a chicken in an incident that involved both feathers and (a mercifully small amount of) blood, but I dragged her off in disgrace and the chicken wisely took herself off to her own side of the fence. (That was a friend’s fence and his neighbor’s chicken, so yes, our neighbors are still speaking to us.)
I have chased cattle. I’d tell you whether it was a cow or a bullock but the truth is that I didn’t look. I’m a city kid at heart. I do understand the difference, and if I look I can spot the signs, but noticing isn’t second nature. I mean, if it’s not something I need to know, why do I need to know it? So I’m using the plural, cattle, even though it was only one animal.
What’s the singular for cattle? Cat?
The incident with the, um, beast, didn’t happen in our village. Wild Thing and I were tourists then, on our first visit to Britain, and we’d gone to Avebury, which is near Stonehenge and has a big stone circle running through the middle of the village. The stone circle doesn’t have those impressive cross-pieces that Stonehenge brags about, but it’s still breathtaking, and you can wander into the middle of it and lean against the stones, which they don’t let you do at Stonehenge anymore.
We were wandering around being suitably amazed when a couple of guys ran up, trying to herd a—for the sake of simplicity, let’s say cow—into a field. She was young and spry and not interested in going through that gate, and every time they got her close she broke off and ran in some other direction. There weren’t enough humans involved to hem her in.
Wild Thing once co-owned a small farm in northern Minnesota, and they rented their field to a neighbor who ran cows on it. She swears the cows thought of nothing all day long but how to get out of the field and stand either in the yard or the road, so she knows a thing or two about herding cattle. By my standards, that makes her an expert. Besides, her grandmother spent her honeymoon cooking on a cattle drive, which gives Wild Thing all kinds of bragging rights.
Talk about romance.
So without being asked we posted ourselves where we thought we’d be useful. Wild Thing waved her arms and whooped when the cow came in her direction. I did what she was doing and I sounded like a New Yorker trying to sound like she knew what she was doing. We didn’t have a lot of cows on 75th Street. The cow jogged right, jogged left, saw an opening, then decided it was too small, what with all these humans jumping around. She looked for a different one, didn’t like the look of it either, and eventually she gave up and ran through the gate. One of the guys closed it, the other one gave us a wave and a nod, and that was it. We were tourists again. The life of contemporary Avebury snapped shut and was once again as distant from us as the lives of the people who’d wrestled those massive stones into place some 4,500 years before.
End of story. Beginning of questions: 1. Do we get extra points because a cow’s larger than a chicken? 2. Do we lose points for not living in the village where the chase took place? Or 3. do we lose all our points because the chase didn’t involve a chicken?
Since we moved to the village, we’ve seen and sometimes chased, all sorts of loose animals: one ewe with her two lambs who were on the road and terrified; a small herd of bullocks grazing happily in the Methodist cemetery; assorted wandering dogs. The best thing to do in these situations isn’t herd them home but figure out where home is and let the farmer (in the case of the sheep and cattle) know. This usually involves either knocking on doors or getting on the phone, and sometimes both.
We’ve also looked for lost cats—sometimes ours and sometimes other people’s. And I did watch a bus chase a peacock very, very slowly down the road. The peacock had his tail fully fanned out and was cursing in peacock, but the bus was bigger and he eventually gave up and went home, screaming all the way.
Chickens, though? We know a few people who keep them, but they (that’s the chickens) don’t seem to wander. For a while, M. had one lone chicken. She’d had three but two died and the survivor was so lonely that it followed M. whenever she worked in the garden and tapped on the window when she went inside. Was that chicken going to wander off? Not a chance.
T. kept chickens in a pen. They never got loose. J. and Co. kept extremely free-range chickens and they took themselves home, thanks, until the fox saw to it that they didn’t need to.
I can’t leave the topic without mentioning the things that have chased us. I’m still hoping to earn points here. One was a leg of lamb that Wild Thing had ordered from A., the owner of a local café, who raises both sheep and cattle. When Wild Thing went to pick it up, though, A. had already sent it up the hill to us with J., who was headed in that direction. It would save us a trip, she figured. Only we weren’t home—we’d probably gone to pick the thing up—so J. left it with a neighbor, another J., who didn’t notice us coming home so she didn’t turn up on the doorstep with it. Instead, we called the first J. and she sent us to the second J. and eventually we claimed and cooked the damned thing.
Have I mentioned that I’m a vegetarian? Even when the leg of lamb’s gone free range, which this one clearly had.
We’ve also been chased by bullocks. They get bored standing around in fields all day with nothing interesting on TV, then they see someone walking through with a dog and think, Ooh, that looks like fun, and over they trot, rib to rib to massive damn rib. They’re big animals, just in case you haven’t spent any time with a herd of them gathering around you. If you’re inclined to be intimidated, they’re intimidating.
This happened a lot when we had an elderly and by then somewhat demented cocker spaniel who we couldn’t let off the leash because he’d developed a habit of turning around and running back where we’d come from. And since by then he was pretty nearly deaf—. So, yeah, we kept him on a leash. We left more than one field with me in front, leading the dog on a fast march, and Wild Thing behind, walking backward, brandishing her stick, and giving them a shout or two when they didn’t take her seriously enough. She’s the daughter of a woman who took on a snorting, pawing bull armed with nothing better than a broom and won. In a showdown between Wild Thing and a herd of restless bullocks, my money’s on Wild Thing.
This was back when her ankles allowed for this kind of carrying on. We miss those walks. More than I know how to tell you.
Until last Wednesday, we were being chased by a blue banner that says “Save Our NHS,” but that was chasing us around the entire county, not just the village, so I’m not sure it counts. When I wrote the first draft of this, it had reached the outskirts of the village. By the time I did the final edits, it had reached us.
Since I’m getting increasingly tangential, I might as well tell you that I was chased by—well, something bovine, but we’ll get to that—when I was too young to remember it. My family was in Vermont on vacation and my father walked across a field with my brother and me and we were chased by what he swore was a bull. He lifted us into a tree and heroically held it off with a stick (which probably would have broken if he’d hit anything with it). It became one of those family stories that are told repeatedly. And at this point in the story, my mother would say, “Peter, that was a bullock.”
“It was a bull.”
My parents were also city kids. Whatever chased us, it was bovine and male, that’s all I know. All three of us lived through it. My parents were an exceptionally loving couple, but they did have a habit of arguing out the details of each other’s stories. At length. I think they enjoyed it.
So do I know village life? It’s hard to say. I’ve lived here for ten years, but I’m an incomer with a funny accent and a better understanding of subway trains than of chickens.
Does the person who typed that statement into Google know about village life? Are they looking to confirm an existing belief or to challenge one? I don’t know, but I did type it into Google myself to see what I could learn. First, Google suggested that what I really wanted to know was “if you ever chased chickens then you don’t know village life.”
Nope. The original statement said “never” and it makes more sense that way.
Google then led me to a hunting magazine which would be mortified if it knew it was promoting chicken hunting but that ran an article containing the words if you don’t know and chickens. Close enough. Notes from the U.K. came second and third on the list because I have a category called Village Life and because I use the phrase don’t know (as in I don’t know) a lot. I never noticed how often.
One of my posts also used the word chase.
If you’re an SEO-hound (and for those of you pure enough not to know what SEO is, please stay that way; it means search engine optimization, and bloggers can get obsessed with it), then you know that appearing second and third on a Google list is almost as good as appearing first, even if it’s in answer to a question (or in this case, statement) as obscure as this one. After this post, I expect to come first, second, and third. So please encourage all your relatives to type “if you’ve never chased chickens you don’t know village life” into Google. It won’t do me any good, but it’ll give you all something to talk about at the next family party.
But to go back to the sites Google offered me: After Notes, I found blogs about village life in England, in Spain, and in Turkey. They used the words village, life, know, and you. One used the word never. Clear candidates. Horse and Hound used the word never and cockerel in close proximity. Google seems to recognize cockerel as a variant on chicken.
I stopped after Horse and Hound, no wiser about either village life or the person who so hauntingly googled it. Whoever you are (she typed plaintively), if you happen to read this, I’d love to hear from you. What were you really looking for?