Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Great Chicken Robbery

Stoodley Pike (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoodley_Pike) was the scene of the crime. This symbol of public veneration for the defeat of Napoleon in Paris dominates the skyline above our old UK home in Mankinholes - 1000 feet above the valley town of Todmorden. The serene calm of a warm summer day conceals a deep and dark crime the like of which had never before been experienced in the sordid annals of UK criminal history. Forget Jack the Ripper. Discard the Great Train Robbery. Jettison the great Brinksmat heist. What I am about to describe...what became known as "The Great Chicken Robbery"...eclipsed them all.

I introduced the perpetrator a few weeks ago. Innocence personified, this cunning and sinister creature chose a New Year's Day run to wreak his havoc.

I need to explain some details for context otherwise none of this will make any sense. On first meeting, many Americans, realizing I am English, attempt to establish a rapport through their shared experience of the Monty Python comedy TV series of the 1960's and 70's. This outrageously funny program successfully created a whole cadre of supporters and aficionados. It exploited the whole concept of "upper class twittery" of the kind the current Prince Charles has effortlessly turned into a vocation. Long before the "Jackass" movies vulgarized and debased slapstick Monty Python defined the genre. What made it so funny was how close it was to reality - there really were upper class idiots and they really did behave like that...well, almost...and sometimes. They were referred to as "Hooray Henry's", and they wore their badge of ridicule with pride.


The weather conspired to welcome in this particular New Year with a display of sheer petulance...brutal rain, wind, fog and cold...so nothing unusual there. It was a miserable day. Not being a drinker of alcohol I did not have the excuse of a hangover to prevent me from taking the dogs running and as early morning turned into late morning it became inevitable that the running shoes would come out, shorts and tee shirt would be donned and I would be off into the inclement gloom with Jet and Andrew eagerly in tow.

These were the years when I would run 30 to 40 miles on a Saturday and then take a breather on a Sunday by running 20 or 25 miles. The equivalent of two marathons in the hills, on rough ground, on consecutive days was ideal. I was in pretty good shape and the dogs were outstanding.

I won't bore you with the buildup. It would be too tiresome describing the first 28 miles of fog enshrouded moorland, running in a persistent rain and strong winds. The mud was thick, water was everywhere and I looked in much worse shape than my two bedraggled dogs who gave every impression of having been hauled through a hedge backwards. All three of us were in a disgusting state.

For just about all of my runs I liked to finish over Stoodley Pike. There was something final and fulfilling about cresting the ridge under the huge monument and then rapidly descending the 1.5 miles home. When the weather was kind and the ground firm I could cover this distance in just under 11 minutes, but on this particular day...the day of the crime...it would take a little longer.

The funny thing is that right up until it happened I had no idea a crime was going to occur. I have thought back over the moments before it happened and can't detect the point where it became obvious or inevitable. Maybe the effect of the weather had dulled my senses even more than usual, perhaps confirming my wife's oft stated view that I left what brains I had at work when I came home.

I first caught site of the Hooray Henry's as I approached Stoodley Pike from the west. I knew they were complete upper class idiots long before their faces came into focus and I could actually determine what they were doing. What I saw was a Range Rover...illegally driven onto moorland...a dining table with six chairs, each occupied by a first class twit dressed in either a tuxedo or a posh frock (broadly, I think, in lines with traditional gender)...and a spread of food and drink that would have fed a poor and deprived family for a month. To the background of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" playing on a sound system, grossly exaggerated gesticulations and language was interspersed with false laughter and loud guffaws. I can almost imagine their discussion that preceded this trip - "I know, let's have a celebratory New Year's Day picnic at Stoodley Pike"..."But it's pissing down with rain"..."Well that will just make it all the more special and memorable"..."Oh. Allright then. What a jolly good idea"..."Spiffing stuff"..."Let's pack a bottle of Daddy's best Beaujolais". You get the picture.

The chicken...as in "The Great Chicken Robbery"...was center table, at least for the moment. Ready cooked, it was huge and it was still intact - the buffoons hadn't got around to dismembering it yet, satisfied for the moment with guzzling significant quantities of alcohol and belching loudly. I wasn't too concerned running by them at this point as it was evident they weren't going to cause themselves brain damage...there being no brain in sight. Even Andrew, who I'll come too in a minute, was a veritable Einstein in comparison to the assembled twits. However, what I thought was going to be a brief and noisy distraction took a wholly unexpected turn.

I should have realized the potential for a criminal act when I saw Jet, running infront, veer off trail and head for the table. But Jet was wired to please and a stern call from me brought her back into line. Why had she run towards them? The answer seems obvious now, but at the time, after 28 miles of physically draining exertion, I wasn't exactly joining the dots. By the time I thought about Andrew, who typically wandered along 200 yards behind, it was too late. The crime had been committed. I looked down at Andrew. He looked up a me. In that split second we knew exactly what had happened and the braying and mayhem from the Hooray Henry's was all the confirmation we needed. Andrew, standing next to me, had his nose buried right up the chicken's...and the Hooray Henry's weren't happy.

Andrew couldn't believe his luck. He'd tasted chicken before and loved it...which dog wouldn't? But the small scraps he was typically given were nothing to the booty he had wrapped around his muzzle. Not only did he smell chicken, but he could smell it everywhere he turned. This is as good as it gets for a hungry and tired lurcher.

I don't know who was more surprised at the opportunistic theft, but the shouting and bellowing from the diners suggested that they switched from surprise to anger pretty quickly. As I rapidly exchanged more glances with Andrew I hastily processed our options. We couldn't easily return the chicken in a fit state for human consumption - Andrew had already dropped it in the mud a couple of times and he was slobbering all over it excessively in anticipation. Could I wipe off the slobber and mud?...no. I couldn't exactly pay for a replacement because I didn't have any money and that would be an awkward conversation...as though any conversation at this point would be easy!! It was at that point that I realized that becoming a criminal accomplice was the logical choice. It was Andrew's lucky day. All those occasions where his thefts from the kitchen were removed from his mouth melted away - he had stolen something...and could keep it...he got to celebrate Christmas twice in a week.

We hastened our escape over the ridge and out of sight when cruel irony stole Andrew's delight. It was a heavy chicken and jumping downhill caused Andrew to try to tighten his jaws to get a better grip. In the slight loosening that preceded his jaw tightening the chicken was free and in a second it had bounced down the steep incline and out of sight. The problem for Andrew, who was slow to react, was that he could still smell chicken everywhere. Whether he turned left or right, up or down, he could smell chicken. The coating of chicken entrails that encrusted his muzzle turned everything he touched into chicken and he ran around in circles like a demented marionette. It was both pitiful and comical...indeed, it was hilarious.

Jet and I left Andrew in a state of confused fecklessness and we picked our way down the steep. muddy trail. A mile and 400 feet of descent later and Andrew caught us up. In between his panting he was sweeping each side of his muzzle with elongated tongue strokes - having lost the chicken he was trying to maken the best of the entrails all over his face. Poor Andrew. Even the booty he had been allowed to keep - the only booty he had been allowed to keep - had eluded him. I glanced back up to Stoodley Pike and could see vague tuxedo-clad shapes wandering from side to side. were they seriously looking for the chicken? And if they found it, what were they going to do with it?

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