Eggs

A mate of mine is a farmer.  A while ago we discussed a series of stories for kids about “Where food comes from” after realising how many ‘city kids’ really have no idea.  Here’s the first.  Tell me if you’d like more!

“Do you know where eggs come from?” the cook asked Nicky.

“Mum keeps them in the door of the fridge.”

“Okay, before they go into the fridge – where do they come from?”

Nicky thought for a moment. “Umm… the supermarket.”

“Do you know where the shop gets eggs from?”

egg-1803348_1280 “From a farm,” said Nicky, remembering something in a book.

“Yes, often they do. How do the farmers get the eggs?”

“Does they grow them? Is that what an eggplant is?”

The cook laughed. “No, that’s a type of vegetable. Eggs come from chickens.”

“Oh! Um… how do the chickens get them?”

“They lay them.   Female chickens start to lay eggs when they’re about twenty weeks old…” the cook started to explain.

Nicky interrupted. “Wait… what do you mean, ‘lay’ them? Where does the egg come from?”

“Well, er, out of the chicken’s bottom.”

“What? Like poop? Ee-uuw!”

“Eggs and poop do come out of the same hole, but that’s okay – they come from different places inside the chicken and don’t get mixed up together.”

“Okay… if you’re sure about that,” said Nicky, looking uncertainly at an egg on the kitchen bench.

“Definitely!”

“So why do the chickens lay these eggs?”

“Something inside the chicken’s body makes it produce eggs regularly…”

“How regularly?”

“It varies between chickens. Some might be once or twice per week. When a chicken is young and healthy it might be about every 25 hours.”

“There are 24 hours in a day, right? So the chicken lays an egg every day almost!” Nicky was good with numbers.

“Yes. If she lays her very first egg at ten o’clock on a Monday morning, the next will pop out at eleven on Tuesday, then noon on Wednesday, and so on. But most chickens only lay eggs during the daytime, so when that pattern gets to when it’s dark she’ll stop, and lay her next egg in the morning when it’s light.”

“Okay, that’s when – but why is she making them?”

“If there’s a rooster spending time with the chicken, then some of those eggs might get what’s called ‘fertilized’. That means that a chick grows inside the egg. That’s how we get new chickens. But most eggs don’t get fertilized, so there are lots more eggs than chickens.”

“Otherwise we’d have dozens and dozens of chickens in the supermarket instead of all those eggs. Do white eggs come from white chickens, and brown eggs from brown chickens?”

“Not necessarily. Black chickens don’t lay black eggs! Different breeds usually lay slightly different coloured eggs, and each individual chicken will produce pretty much the same colour. Sometimes a bit darker or lighter, or with little speckles – depending on what they’ve been eating.”

“So… if chickens make eggs to make more chickens… where did the first chicken come from?”

“Or, where did the first egg come from? I don’t think anyone has ever quite figured that one out! Now, would you like a boiled egg?”

“Yes please. With no poop in it!”

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The Clicking Thing

200 years ago Mary Shelley wrote a wonderful novel called Frankenstein.  There was a competition to celebrate the anniversary.  The challenge was to write 1000 words or so on “The relationship between creator and creation.”  Here’s what I did.  (I set up this post on what would have been my Dad’s 96th birthday.  I know he’d have gotten a kick out of it.)

A remarkable inventor was Professor Thaddeus Plumpton-Green,

The man who was responsible for a most unique machine.

It turned out to be one of the best the world had ever seen.

 

He wasn’t very popular with other scientific brains.

They thought him odd, old-fashioned, and not up with modern gains

And in return he thought them trapped in unimaginative chains.

 

How things should work was what the Prof and his colleagues most would clash on.

Electronic new technology and computers may be fashion

But he didn’t care – gears and springs and clockwork were his passion.

 

He worked with cogs and wheels and springs and widgets made of tin.

Rack and pinion joints, and spools, and wire he’d coil around a pin

And the hammering of metal sheets that created quite a din.

 

The sound of his constructions could be as loud as you’d predict

So he lived and worked outside of town where the noise rules weren’t so strict,

And in that lab he called his home, he built the Thing that clicked.

 

Although he lived all by himself he seldom felt alone.

So much went on inside his head – a heavy traffic zone

But the Thing that clicked was company, in a way he’d never known.

 

Of course it could do more than click, if given half a chance.

It could nod and bow, and smile and wave. It could walk and run and prance.

When it was moved a special way the Thing would even dance.

 

That delighted old Prof P, who’d dance when on his own

To foxtrot records, classic jazz, on his wind-up gramophone.

If he tripped, or didn’t keep in time, the Thing would never moan.

 

Its clicking fitted with the jazz, in rhythm with the beat.

A dance partner who did not complain was, for clumsy Prof, a treat

For the Thing, it didn’t feel a thing if he trampled on its feet!

 

Once he told his Thing a joke and it gave him back a wink. It

Startled Plumpton-Green. He loved his animated trinket

But to call it ‘life’ was just too much – best not overthink it!

He hadn’t made a monster, of that he was quite certain.

The Thing was all of clockwork with no feelings to be hurting,

But Plumpton-Green still fretted as he peeped out round his curtain.

 

He went into town as he sometimes did to buy food, supplies and tools

When he saw some children as they walked to playgrounds or to schools.

“If they like my Thing I’m safe,” he thought, “For the young are no-one’s fools!”

 

Back in his lab he made more Things – just a few at first to share.

No monsters these, but playmates, each made with skill and care.

“If these kids like them I’ll make more for children everywhere!”

 

He took the new Things into town and gave them out for free

They clicked as they ran and danced and played and filled young hearts with glee

And parents seemed quite satisfied with his safety guarantee.

 

As children played with their clicking Things two men in suits walked by.

The fun the children clearly had caught one shrewd man’s cold eye.

He nudged his pal, said: “The next big thing! Let’s get rich, you and I!”

 

The men in suits were already rich from selling other stuff

But the funny thing with money is for some, there’s never enough.

When Professor P. said, “Not for sale!” they left him in a huff.

 

They found a boy who swapped his Thing for a computer game and sweets.

The lazy lad would rather play inside than on the streets

And the company of friends was less important than his treats.

 

So the men in suits had got their Thing and hardly spent a penny.

They had plenty cash, and grand ideas, but morals? Hardly any.

“If a few of these are such big hits, what dough we’ll make with many!”

 

“We can make more faster, cheaper, better too when we understand the trick!”

So their smart guys took the Thing apart to see what made it tick.

They even found the little bit that had given it its click.

 

They built a grand new factory with machines all big and fine,

Even automated polishers to give a brilliant shine

To New Improved Things by the thousand, off a huge production line.

 

Professor Plumpton read a press release of what the men in suits would do.

They’d flood the market with new Things, click-free, and cheaper, too.

He sighed and patted Thing the First and said, “At least I’ve still got you.”

 

But the New Improved Things didn’t sell – no-one wanted them as toys.

“What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?” the men asked girls and boys.

The answer came, “They’re not the same. We liked the clicking noise!”

 

The men in suits were horrified at what the children spoke.

The factory, sales plan, marketing had all gone up in smoke.

Their production line of monsters left the men in suits quite broke.

 

The men in suits sold all their Things to the sheikh of a far-off land

Who used them as cheap labour to construct his buildings grand.

But alas, they didn’t last for long as their gears were clogged with sand.

 

Tastes change quickly nowadays and novelty wears thin.

Even those few Things that clicked were soon no longer ‘in’.

But the Prof back in his lab still wore his quiet contented grin.

 

For he still had his Thing the First to proudly call his own.

They’d stay up late and dance to jazz on the trusty gramophone,

As years went by old Plumpton-Green never had to be alone.

 

When the old Professor passed away, the Thing it couldn’t cry.

It didn’t have the means for tears, however it may try.

It hadn’t been designed to weep or mourn or even sigh.

 

It held his body to its breast and danced a gentle sway.

The music stopped, the Thing still moved in a tender, loving way

Until the gears at last wound down, and the last click died away.

 

 

TAKE ME AWAY

We should all have the right to die with dignity, on our own terms. Visit www.dwdnsw.org.au if you’d like to know more, or show your support. 

Imagine the sound of a bullfrog whispering.

That’s what Lander’s voice reminded the staff of, whenever he’d manage to make them hear him say, “Take me away, please…”

He didn’t manage that often. Not any more.

It wasn’t anything wrong with his throat that was the problem, although people hearing him lately for the first time tended to assume he was another victim of too many cigarettes.

Truth: the deep gravel voice was natural – he’d never been much of a smoker, other than a brief flirtation with a pipe in the mid-Sixties when he’d first been recognized as A Writer.

Scott William Lander. Creator of the Morton the Lunatic series of novels. The eponymous Morton was a teleporting hero who operated from a base on the moon, hence the ‘Lunatic’ tag. Scott couldn’t resist a pun.

He was never quite a darling of the critics, especially in his early career. He was dismissed as a bit too populist, perhaps, at a time when science fiction was meant to be intellectual, deep and meaningful. Lander’s work had seemed almost a throwback to the pulp fiction heroes of the Thirties, like Tarzan and Doc Savage.

But Scott and his hero were made of sterner stuff than the critics realised. When Armstrong and Aldrin kicked up the moon dust in ’69, some thought that would end Morton’s adventures. After all, anyone with a television now knew what the moon looked like. Nobody could really live there. NASA or the Russians would know if there was any sort of base there, wouldn’t they?

Lander saw it as an opportunity, though. In his next book, What The Eye Doesn’t See, he referred to how Morton used his own advanced technology to keep his base from the prying eyes of the space programs. It raised gentle questions about how trustworthy those agencies might really be, long before any conspiracy theorists proposed that the whole Apollo XI landing was an expensive hoax.

Scott had smiled in quiet delight when he read a magazine article headlined “DID ‘LUNAR’ LANDER GET IT RIGHT?”

That had all been a long time ago. Although his book appearances had become fewer and further between Morton had learned to overcome time as well as space. Alas, the same could not be said of his creator.

Scott Lander had fallen prey to Alzheimer’s Disease. It was insidious – slow and progressive. That had been the most distressing aspect of all for both Scott and his son William – both of them knew what was happening to the older man, and neither could do anything to prevent it.

After his diagnosis Scott had broken the news to Will, also an aspiring author, in a discussion about writing.

“Writers never retire,” Scott had observed. “We go in and out of fashion, and in and out of passion with our muse, but writing isn’t a job you can retire from. It’s a compulsion.”

“A need,” said Will, nodding.

“Like a driving force,” agreed his father, who then sighed deeply. “But I’ve realized I can’t steer.  Then I forgot and kept trying. And kept on realizing, and forgetting, and realizing again. I spoke to the doctor about it, he did some tests, and now he’s told me why. It’s only going to get worse.”

Continue reading TAKE ME AWAY

A Long Dying

I don’t normally post other people’s writing on this site.  But this is different.  Special. It’s written by my mother-in-law Maggie, about her mother.  And what it says has particular resonance for me.  There are people I’ve cared about who’ve died too long, and without the dignity they wanted.  Like Maggie, I don’t want to be among that number.  And especially not because someone else – politician or any other ‘authority’ – denies me my choice.

My mother was 84 when she had a stroke, 88 when she died.

A woman who loved to talk, she became aphasic. Her greatest fear – that she wouldn’t be able to communicate verbally – became reality. She could speak, but what she said made no sense. And she knew it, knew that the words coming out of her mouth were gibberish. She used to beat the arms of her chair in frustration.

I watched when she refused food and drink in a rehabilitation hospital, trying to kill herself, trying to control the end of her life. That wasn’t allowed, and so a naso-gastric tube was forced into her trachea; a second attempt, under xray, managed to get the tube down her oesophagus.

Then I was told I should allow her to have ECT, somewhere between eight and twelve sessions,  “Because her kind of depression responds well to ECT.” When I refused, I was told ‘the case’ would be put before the Guardianship Board which might grant the permission I was denying.

My mother decided to eat and drink again and I never knew just what it was that made her change her mind.

I watched her in the nursing home as she shrank, physically as well as mentally. After four years she was bedridden, curled up like a foetus, her hands like claws. Following multiple admissions to a hospital for treatment for pneumonia I was told I could write to her doctor asking for ‘no more active treatment’. I wrote that letter, feeling both relief and horror. And resentment.

My mother had a long dying.

I don’t want to face a death like my mother’s. I want to be able to choose the time and place of my dying. Surely that’s not too much to ask?