Ian McMillan: The chicken sped down the runway of the roof

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I was walking through a small Yorkshire town which I won’t name in case the person I’m writing about recognises themselves here and gives me a clip round the ear next time they see me slouching down the road. Let me say in my defence that I was only trying to help.

I sauntered by a car park and saw a young woman piling her shopping, in loads of bulging bags, into the boot of her car. She was obviously a seasoned shopper-and-packer because she had all her bags in one hand and, amazingly, a takeaway cup of coffee in the other. Not only that, she had her mobile phone clamped to her ear. When the time came for her to transfer some of the bags from one hand to the other she put the coffee on the roof of the car, and that’s when alarm bells rang in my bequiffed head.

It was raining and there were midges everywhere; we’d been to a small supermarket and bought a nice cooked chicken for our tea.

I remembered the story that became known, in my wife and I’s folklore, as The Chicken That Flew. We were newlyweds in the late 1970s and we were on holiday somewhere in Scotland. I can’t remember exactly where, but there were midges involved, and rain, so that narrows it down a bit. In fact, the midges and the rain are central to the story. Let me explain.

It was raining and there were midges everywhere; we’d been to a small supermarket and bought a nice cooked chicken for our tea. We were planning to have it with salad and perhaps some new potatoes; I’m only telling you this to show how modern and sophisticated we were, or how modern and sophisticated we thought we were. We put the shopping away and I bet we were both thinking about how lovely the chicken would be when we ate it later. I bet I smacked my lips. I bet I imagined myself tearing at the chicken leg like a Barnsley version of Henry VIII. With more than a hint of sophistication, of course. I bet, in fact I know, during a pause in putting away the shopping, I put the chicken on the roof of the car, as though the car was a shiny metal nest. It was raining harder and the midges were attacking my English flesh with glee and we were desperate to get away.

So we got into the car and drove off. And the chicken flew. Like a chicken crossing a road in a joke it sped down the runway of the roof as we changed gear, and it glided down to the pavement, where it sat like a broken cooked chicken that had been half-made from a kit.

It was my fault, of course, and I admitted it immediately, which didn’t help. I put it down to the excitement of being newly-married and of wanting to be sophisticated. I put it down to the unrelenting drizzle and the hungry, angry midges. I walked over to the chicken but there was nothing that could be done. I left it for dead, which was fine because it was dead. And cooked.

So that is why, many years later, I paused in my stroll and said to the young woman, who by now had almost finished loading the car with shopping, “Excuse me, you do know you’ve got a cup of coffee on the roof, don’t you?” She looked at me like I was a cooked chicken. “Of course” she said. “Who’d be daft enough to leave summat on the roof?”

Who indeed?