The box of half a dozen eggs bought at a farm shop had, “lovingly laid by hens” hand-written on the lid. At £1.30, it was 30% more expensive than the £1 boxes to be found at many garden gates this time of year,
“Lovingly laid by hens:” it seemed an odd comment. It was not the sort of thing a country person would have written. Such anthropomorphism would militate against much of farming life, what next? Rashers of bacon with, “pigs lovingly slaughtered?”? Milk labelled, “brought to you by courtesy of calves taken from cows at a day old?” Farming is not a sentimental activity, if it was there would be empty shelves in the supermarkets.
Opening the box, I realised it was definitely not a country person who had packed them, they were dirty with dung and straw, each one had to be individually wiped before they were put in the rack in the fridge door.
My grandmother would have been appalled if a box of her hen’s eggs had left the farm in such an unpresentable state, she would have been equally unimpressed by the size of the eggs, some of them were closer to the size of bantam eggs than the hen eggs that came from the hen coop behind the farmhouse.
My grandmother’s free range hens laid big brown eggs, these were collected each day and carefully wiped clean before being placed into cardboard trays, each holding two and a half dozen eggs. The filling of the trays demanded hours of caring for hens and collecting and cleaning eggs. Every so often the egg man would come and collect the eggs, presumably to sell to them on to someone else who would then sell them at retail prices. My grandmother would never have said how much she received for her hours of work.
There would have been many people who grew up in rural communities like our own who would have been familiar with earning a few shillings in various ways. Keeping chickens would have probably guaranteed a more regular income than growing vegetables, or trapping rabbits, or making cider.
At various times during my years as a student, I earned money doing jobs like selling vegetables at a greengrocery, painting chicken houses at an egg farm, pumping petrol, cutting plants and hoeing fields. There were plenty of moments when an extra £1.30 in the pocket at the end of the week would have been welcome, but I wouldn’t have been paid for dirty eggs.