As career lowlights go, dancing to Whigfield while dressed as a dolphin has to be right up there. But believe it or not, things could have been worse…
It was 1994. I was living in Coventry, on the dole and pretty fed up. Having blown my shot at further education and not having any useful qualifications there wasn’t much point looking at the high rent jobs down at the Job Centre. No, my browsing was restricted to the crappier end of the market. Menial, poorly paid stuff that I’d done before and didn’t want to do again. Then an advert caught my eye. It promised decent money and the chance to learn a skill. It didn’t actually say what that skill was, but when I rang the number a nice man told me that I would be collected from a specific location and given £5 towards my travel expenses. That was more than enough for the bus fare plus a packet of fags, so I said yes. Ok, there was a slight possibility of being sold into slavery as a rubbish gigolo but the air of mystery intrigued me. Besides, gigolos made good money, right?
On the day I was met by Brian, who explained what the job was and why it was all so cloak and dagger. His company bred chickens. Thousands of them. The cloak and dagger stuff was because animal rights extremists might target them. The job? Sexing the chickens….
The reason for visiting the breeding unit was so that I could have a practical trial. I was transferred from Brian’s stewardship to the Head Sexer. I can’t remember his name, but he looked…beaky. In fact, he looked exactly like a chicken. According to him, sexing chickens was more than just a skill. It was an ancient art, a mystic technique imported from Korea known to a scant handful of Western adepts. I had just an hour to see if I could pick it up.
To sex a chicken you first need an ice-cream tub. In front of you is a tray of fluffy day old chicks. Look at them, peeping and bumping into each other. So cute. To the left, a tray for boy chicks, to the right a tray for the girls. In front of you is the ice-cream tub. Lifting a chick very carefully, using a specific grip (short nails are essential, you don’t want to split your chick) you squeeze the chick, very gently, over the ice-cream tub. This expels the remains of the yolk. Then, inverting the chick, you part it’s bottom. Chickens don’t have the dangly appendage/bosky cave genital arrangement of mammals. No. They have….nubbins, just inside their bottoms. By reading the nubbins you can determine the sex of the cheepy fluffling in your hand. I spent an hour working my way through the tray of chicks. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. In fact, according to Chicken George, I had a gift. My hands were those of a natural born chicken sexer. I don’t have many talents, but that’s one of them.
The job was mine, if I wanted it. But after an hour there were still a few chicks left in my tray. They were the cuttles. Poor, malformed things with wonky legs, misshapen wings, things that were wrong. With no commercial value as grown birds they were destined to be turned into pet food, via the gas chamber. I could just about cope with squeezing chickens all day, for a handsome salary, but I couldn’t cope with those floppy cuttles. I can’t claim any great moral high ground, not when I had KFC for my tea today, but I’m soppy. So I declined the job, pocketed the £5 and left.
Being a sexer of chickens would have been a great ice-breaker at parties, but probably not the most satisfying of careers. Besides, I was scared of ending up looking like a chicken myself. If there’s a lesson here it’s probably that we all have undiscovered talents, but not all of them are useful, unless you like staring at chicken’s bottoms.