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This past weekend, I went on a delightful family outing to Toronto (hard to believe anything is delightful in the crowded, traffic-snarled, stress-inducing city) with L’il Sis and Crazy D’s girlfriend. It was an adventure to see one of the films being shown at the ‘Hot Docs’ (documentaries) Festival. The film we saw was…wait for it…”Pecking Order”. The one regret we have is that Gill, being a lover of all things chicken, was unable to join us.

In truth, we kind of waited to the last minute to tell her about the film, fearing that she, despite her current levels of poverty (with all the traveling and hosting book launch events), would jump on a plane to cross the pond to join us. It would have been wonderful if she had, of course, but there are rare times in the life of this family when sanity does prevail. There was once in 2002, once in 2015, and sometime back in the 90s…I forget the preicise date or occasion.

The film, set in New Zealand (pleasing since I recently went there), centres around a group of devotees of chickens gathered together in what they call the “Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club”. At one point in the film, I swear I saw a sign that included canaries, but sadly, none were to be seen. Having seen the devastation done by recent earthquakes in Christchurch, I can see why people might retreat to the care and primping of chickens. But, as you’ll learn later, things are not all ducky!

The Board is made up of predominantly old people, many with missing teeth, some dottering their way to their possibly imminent demise, all with weathered skin from the intense N.Z. sun. They all exhibit a passion that borders on lunacy for these birds. (I will note, before Gill calls me on this, saying: “You’re not one to talk, Ma! You are known far and wide as the Crazy Bird Lady” that I cop to being the pot calling the kettle black.)

It seems there is an upcoming poultry show, akin to the Westminster Dog Show in which chickens are groomed, fluffed and buffed, and exhibited to determine the ‘Top Chick’, as it were. You thought the dog show was vicious and filled with back-stabbing , intrigue and venomous rhetoric? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the chicken guys (and gals) have a go! The Board of the organization is in a tizzy over replacing the current President. True, he appears at some of the meetings he chairs, to be a few lightbulbs short of a chandelier, but he feels there’s something unseemly about the ‘gang’ of ‘young uns’ trying to stage a rebellion against him. It gets ugly.

Meanwhile, back at the henhouse, the prize birds are being prepared for their show. A chicken is placed in a basin of water, scrubbed, patted dry in a towel, then blow-dried to unruffle (or perhaps ruffle back to magnificence) her feathers. Now, as a bird owner for years, I am not surprised by this. Gill will attest to the fact that we have had some birds that love bathing (or showering with their humans) and take special delight in the hair dryers. Others will try to peck your eyes out if you come near them with a squirt bottle (with gentle nozzle) of warm water in an attempt to rid them of the winter stench and dust. Others, like Mrs. Beeton and L’il Sis’s former parrotlet Pete, prefer their bathing to be done outside in the rain. Much like people, some of whom prefer tubs (me) to showers (apparently everyone in Australia), the birds have their ‘druthers’.

Puns abound…A Coup in The Coop, Fearing Fowl Play, Hatching a Plan, Feathers Will Fly, a true Chick Flick  and on and on relating to the political infighting amongst the humans and the battle for supremacy among the birds as Best Chicken. And featured in the Club was a young lad (yes, they do foster the next generation of poultry poobahs) who seems to be as keen on ‘WINNING’ as the Donald. I hope surrounding himself with chickens mellows the lad just a bit in his zealousness. Perhaps chickens would have helped The Donald…

The most wonderful thing about the show was that the theatre gave out chicken badges — as much as I love mine, a woman of my advanced age and decorous image (I know, who do I think I’m kidding?) should not try to wear such a thing.Gill, however, could pass it off with aplomb and wear it as a badge of honor. She may have a surprise in her Christmas stocking this year!

And, if the gods are with us (dubious), we might even win a small chicken (probably plastic, but you know, any chicken in a storm) statue — again a potential Christmas gift for Gill. So even though she wasn’t with us, she was in thought!