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GOBLINPROOFING ONE'S CHICKEN COOP
And Other Practical Advice in Our Campaign Against the Fairy Kingdom
By REGINALD BAKELEY
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2012 Reginald Bakeley
All rights reserved.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF FAERIE
The Pernicious Pervasiveness of Faerie The Brownie: A Misunderstood Fairy Its Ambitions The Boggart Finding Its Lair and Motives Methods of Routing A Sample Letter Maelstrom
Seen from the outside, the life of a dashing country gentleman such as myself must look like an endless parade of pleasure. Whilst I'll admit that this observation is fundamentally true, there isn't a single activity—no pheasant shoot, no cricket match, no afternoon of riverbank angling—that is not saturated with potential interference from that most ancient and insufferable people, the fairies. Perhaps the most unsettling quality of these so-called "goodpeople" is how they have insinuated themselves into every aspect of daily life. Far from being content to contain their caperings to the sylvan grove, nor to halt their march at the front gate or flower bed, these bogeys of childhood nightmare and adult paranoia are to be found nearly anywhere one might cast a glance. In my own life, the fairies and their mischievous pranks have caused me no end of trouble, scaring off my entire household staff, souring many of my closest friendships, and exacting unwanted expense and worry until all I'm left with are a few tattered scraps of sanity. These I raise as war banner against the fey. I beseech you to rally beside me.
Of all the innumerable types of fairies, the one most commonly encountered, yet also the most commonly misunderstood, is the brownie. Here is a nocturnal fairy "helper" who stands no taller than the spout of one's teapot, yet is able to single-handedly carry out an astonishing number of household tasks. Renowned historically for its knack for churning butter and grinding wheat into flour, the modern brownie has mastered a repertoire revolving around pressed laundry and freshly brewed cups of tea. In exchange for its labour, it might skim a dram of milk from the bottle or gnaw the occasional simple crust of bread.
It sounds pleasant enough, having one of these magnificently industrious creatures scampering about, but the household harbouring a brownie would do better to consider itself not blessed but beset.
I say "beset" because in truth the brownie is nothing but a ruthless social climber. In the mists of antiquity, brownies were simple spirits of the earth. Yet as civilisation grew, these ambitious fairies hitched a ride, haunting hearthstones and lurking in linen baskets, biding their time until they themselves could have proper houses of their own. Now these jealous creatures live in a limbo-land between the Fairy Kingdom and our own world, residents of both places but full citizens of neither. By serving us endless cups of tea and pressing our clothes into immaculate crispness, they hope to ingratiate themselves upon us. They hope to become, in a word, men.
This is a preposterous state of affairs.
Even though the brownies are ignorant of their rightful place, I could almost be persuaded to adopt them into the fold; they're that fantastically useful. What stays my heart, though, is the brownie's fatal flaw—bitterness. Eons of toil have built up a terrible supply of enmity in them, and this much rage, condensed into the brownie's tiny frame, is little more than a powder keg, one sporting the shortest of fuses. The brownie is a learned scholar of its own twisted version of etiquette, and the slightest affront to its sensibilities can send it into a murderous rage, twisting its form into that of the monstrous boggart, as destructive as the brownie is helpful. Whilst a home hosting a brownie lodger may be the picture of comfort and peace, the coming of the boggart is the undoing of all of this and is as disquieting as a herd of wild boars let loose in the parlour.
So should you awaken one morning to discover an unexplained cup of impeccably brewed tea atop your kitchen counter or slide open your dresser drawer to find a stack of perfectly ironed handkerchiefs, rejoice not. Instead, I urge you to commence with the following sequence of proven countermeasures. The brownie depends upon your gratitude, and the more of its ingratiating favours you allow yourself, the more difficult it will be to rid your home of the sycophantic squatter, who will inevitably transform and throw into turmoil all you have worked so hard to achieve.
Firstly, you must locate precisely where in your household the brownie has set up residence. Brownies are at the bottom of the barrel figuratively and quite often literally. Upturn your entire home until you find its hidey-hole. Open all the kitchen cabinets and pull out their contents, especially from seldom-used cupboards. Worry not about upsetting the brownie in his lair. If he hears you coming, he will flee in modesty and shame, hoping that you will overlook his home.
The purpose of this search is not to catch the brownie but rather to see exactly what his aspirations are. A miniature dormitory set up in the back of a cupboard may be recognised by a doll's house bed and tiny grass mat arranged in mock domesticity by the brownie. Once you find them, look more closely. What you are after are details. A framed Queen'shead postage stamp or a coronation tea cup now employed as a bathtub indicates you've got a miniscule royalist in your midst. A preserved dragonfly or a stuffed shrew shows up the work of a budding naturalist. Quickly take a series of mental notes and be careful not to disturb anything you chance upon. You wish only to observe and depart, before the brownie musters the courage to return and sees what you're up to.
Once you have determined to your satisfaction the particular longings of your household's ambitious stowaway, you are ready to take real steps towards its removal. And how is a brownie infestation such as this best handled, you may ask? Perhaps with poison, traps, or dogs? These are all perfectly effective methods against lesser vermin, but none of them are sufficient to withstand the wrath of the boggart. What this situation calls for is tact, cunning, and above all, kindness, even if it is the sort which is only feinted at.
The way to deal with any such freeloader is to thank him overmuch, to play on his insecurities and let him know, in a roundabout way, that he has no hope of ever escaping his Faerie origins and joining the world of men, at least not in this household. Get thee to a tailor, my friend, and take a brownie-sized doll with you. Commission a suit of clothing perfect for your brownie's interests, the more formal or comprehensive the better. Does he fancy himself an equestrian, for example? A hacking jacket and a pair of riding breeches are required. If your brownie possesses mountaineering leanings, a Tyrolean sports coat and a tidily spooled length of twine are the beginning elements of a smart Alpiner costume.
Once complete, the outfit should be brought home wrapped in paper so as to be safe from prying brownie eyes. Keep it within view as you prepare the second half of your remedy and the clincher: the effusive letter of thanks.
I'll admit that the composition of this letter calls for some strength of will in order to keep your writing hand from going into spasms, but remember there are times in life when sentiment trumps sincerity and this is one of them. Aim to flatter, yes, but with full indication that you recognise the brownie as a brownie, not as the man it wishes to be. I give here an example of how to compose one such letter. Use it as you will, or not—I'm sure your own situation will call for a letter with its own particular flavour.
Estimable House Brownie
My dear Mr. Brownie,
Since you've come to stay, the house has positively gleamed with cleanliness and good cheer. Oh, to think I've got my very own fairy! It's such a pleasure to know you're around. I must be imagining the wee tinkle of bells, so unobtrusive are you as you prepare such unparalleled cups of tea. And the pocket handkerchiefs! Never before have they enjoyed such crisp creases.
I've told everyone I know what good fortune it is to have a little fairy all to myself. My only regret is that I can't repay you with more than this new suit of clothes for your days off, when you are free to trundle about and play at your little "man" activities. So charming and quaint! Thank you, thank you twenty times over, you diligent and amusing creature!
Yours sincerely, Reginald Bakeley
In my experience it is easier to write such a letter whilst biting into an old belt, although this can get in the way of the oft-consulted whisky tumbler. I trust you'll find the way that works best for you.
Fold the letter into an envelope addressed to the brownie and place it, along with the wrapped suit of clothes, just outside his lair. Then hurry, because the clock is ticking and you have only until nightfall to secure your home against the coming tempest. Swing open the front door of the house and stow any fine china or irreplaceable heirlooms in your bedchambers. Lock yourself in there as well and try, just try, to get to sleep that night. I venture to say you'll have a devil of a time drifting off, as at any minute the brownie will emerge from his hidey-hole to try on the clothes and read the letter. It is then but a matter of seconds before the reaction. The astute brownie will realise it has no chance of ever being anything but a fairy in your eyes and, transforming into the boggart and hurling invectives and whatever household objects are not tied down, will storm out the open door, never to return. Should your brownie not be bright enough to understand your meaning, he will delight in the gift and simply set off on a new life with his dashing set of clothing, confident he has at last "arrived."
In either case, the bounder is gone. Restore your house to order, throw out all the little furnishings in the brownie's lair, and give the cupboard a proper scrubbing. Your life and your home are once more your own. Brew yourself a cup of tea and smile, for you have reclaimed the first crucial piece of territory in your fight against the meddling antics of the fey.
GOBLINPROOFING ONE'S CHICKEN COOP
The Gentlemanly Art of Chickenry What Are Goblins? The Vileness of Changeling Eggs Goblin Migrations Ley Lines and Ley Markers De-Sanctification
Surely there is no pursuit more rewarding than the gentlemanly art of chickenry. For a minor initial investment an individual can provide boundless meat and eggs for himself and his family, and will reap the benefits of a natural alarm clock in the form of the rooster's crow at dawn. The dark forces of the fey never truly let man rest, however, and the threat of a goblin intrusion into the hen cottage is a danger which can destroy a fine coop, its residents, and the very will of the farmer. But a few simple checks and alterations to your existing chicken coop can keep it and its plucky cluckers secure against this unbearable prospect.
Goblins are the marauding vagabonds of the Fairy Kingdom, roving alone or in mobs from town to town. They relish upsetting the sensibilities of man and fairy alike with their crass ways. Goblins love to eat eggs and delight in using them in pranks, and they are known to lodge in chicken coops in two ways: as willing tenants or as changelings. The former either wander into the hen cottage and decide to stay or in some instances are trapped, the mechanics of which I will explain shortly. The latter—changelings—are swapped during their goblin infancy for a hen of your own. Both types of goblin are hazardous, as they will grow into warped versions of your hens if left in the coop. Aside from the peril presented by their eggs, which they do indeed begin to lay after a short while, goblin hens are notorious for their tempers, which are nearly as quick as their razor-sharp beaks.
To keep goblins from approaching your hen cottage voluntarily, it is advisable to keep the place as tidy as possible. A thorough cleaning every two weeks will maintain your chickens' happiness and health, and will repel potential miscreants from calling the little house their own, as goblins prefer dwellings similar to the murky, filthy caves of their own kingdom.
Nothing spoils a carefully prepared breakfast like the cracking of a changeling egg. Whilst so many of these dangerous ovoids look and feel perfectly normal, they possess repulsive qualities seldom noticed until mealtime. Some are filled with maggots, others with blood. There are reports of changeling eggs as hard as concrete and others which explode when broken. A few have beautiful shells which hatch tuberculosis and smallpox.
The Ungerslud family of Shropshire was the unlucky recipient of a goblin curse via changeling eggs, for the morning after the eggs were eaten, the lot of them awoke with their legs on backwards, as they remain today. Young Ettie Ungerslud went on to become a source of local pride by clinching the National Backwards Hopscotch Championship later that year, but surely you can imagine that life is not all fun and games under such a curse.
In all honesty, it's not always the goblin's fault when it becomes trapped in a chicken coop. Being a stubborn and rather stupid lot, goblins are not able to change their course unless sensibly advised. And so it is not uncommon that, when travelling from place to place, these nomadic scoundrels enter into structures from which, according to their own obstinate logic, there is no escape. A small crack between the planks of the east-facing wall of the coop, for example, will trap any goblin coming from that direction unless there is a corresponding gap on the west side.
A chicken farmer in St. Leonards Grange, on England's southern coast, once discovered a goblin in his coop. When the surprised rustic asked the goblin whence it came, it responded, "From the far, far north." To the question of "And where are you going?" the inmate replied, "To the far, far south." Indeed, upon inspection the farmer found a minor crevice in the northern wall of the coop and none in the south. Wise to the goblin's ways, the farmer kindly offered to pry a plank from the south wall to free him, but warned him that there was nothing in that direction but the cold dark sea. The grateful intruder admitted that he had no idea he would have leapt into the ocean with his next steps and asked the farmer if there was anything he could do to repay the favour.
The simpleton thought for a long while, as one does when granted a fairy wish, and finally decided that the goblin should marry his daughter, who was very ugly and more trouble than she was worth. The goblin agreed happily and took the horrified, screaming girl with him on his way back to the northern coast. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that life would be good from then on, his breakfasts safe from repulsive changeling eggs.
Ley lines are channels of energy which run along the surface of the earth, tracing connecting pathways between stone circles, burial mounds, and other particular geographical features and man-made edifices. Fairies of all sorts, including goblins, use them as a network of highways, and if your chicken coop happens to rest upon one of these channels, then my fine fellow, it's only a matter of time before you acquire your first changeling hen.
Every chickener should check his hen cottage's location and ensure it is not built on a ley line. On a cloudless day, climb to the roof of the coop and point the tail end of its weathervane in the precise direction of the nearest site of ancient and mysterious origin. If there is no such place in sight as you stand atop the roof, get down and, with the help of a map and the following list of ley markers from Alfred Watkins's The Old Straight Track, find the most significant example nearest your farm.
Watkins's List of Ley Markers, in Descending Importance
Mounds (burial mounds and similar earthworks)
Stones (megaliths of various description)
Road Alignments (especially those longer than 1½ miles)
Tree Groups (particularly those atop named hills)
Ancient, Named Trees
Camps or Hill-Forts
In his Mythology of the British Isles, Geoffrey Ashe notes that hillside figures such as the chalk horses of Uffington and Cherill have recently been added to the bottom of the list. As such, these are fine for you to use, at a pinch.
Return to the roof. Once the weathervane is positioned with tail feathers pointing towards the ascertained ley marker, squat down and align your gaze in the opposite direction, along the path of the weathervane's arrow. If along its line you see or note on your map anything listed above, be it well or moat, notch or mound, then you are advised straightaway to fashion for your coop a doormat which reads, "WELCOME, SPRITES!" for you will soon be entertaining such guests. Researchers have concluded that ley lines can at times be quite broad, stretching miles across, and dowsers have determined that ley lines sometimes have a slight curve to them. Allowing an extra ten degrees to either side of your weathervane arrow's path may therefore give you a clearer sense of your coop's susceptibility to changelings.
Excerpted from GOBLINPROOFING ONE'S CHICKEN COOP by REGINALD BAKELEY. Copyright © 2012 Reginald Bakeley. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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