I call them a flock of turkeys, but recently, I was corrected. ‘It’s a rafter of turkeys’, a naturalist friend told me. ‘Also, a gang of turkeys, but not a flock.’ I took him at his word, because I love the poetry of the collective nouns: a murder of crows, a parliament of owls and, a particular favourite, a deceit of lapwings. In this mild spell, my young turkeys are more gang than flock, chasing, squabbling, fussing. When I hear the racket, I march out and tell ’em if they don’t behave, they’ll be pan-smoked over vine prunings and served on a bed of grilled polenta. They stop instantly. Another thing I love about turkeys: they listen.

In fact, if I had my way, I’d call it a congregation of turkeys. They stick together. This is true of wild turkeys in America, where sometimes as many as 50 will show up in a rural backyard in Georgia or Maine, and it’s true of domestic turkeys. And they pay attention. When I feel the urge to set the world straight, I go out to the apple orchard, their preferred territory. As soon as they see me, they gather round. These genial creatures have patience and powers of concentration that chickens and peacocks lack, and as long as I address my thoughts to them, without pomposity or hostility, they’re as attentive as a flock of Mormons.

Not that I know a great deal about Mormons. They are a mystery to me, although I’m learning more each day as the campaign for the Republican candidate continues. There are things about Mitt Romney that fascinate me. That he married his high-school sweetheart and they have five sons, who all have one-syllable names (Tag, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig). That, in the Mormon tradition, he spent 30 months as a missionary. In France. Where you’d think that a religion that forbids coffee, tea and wine would not have a very high conversion rate.

What amazes me most, however, is that one of the richest men ever to seek the presidency will not be castigated because he only pays a tiny 15% tax on his $20 million a year income. What’s much more likely to deprive him of the high office he yearns for is Crate Gate, the true story of a family vacation that involved a 12-hour drive from Massachusetts to Canada, with five boys in the back seats and Seamus, a red Irish Setter, put in a crate and strapped to the top of the car.

Details of this story make dog-loving Americans faint. That halfway into the journey, a chorus of ‘Gross! Stop!’ as Seamus suffered an attack of diarrhea that cascaded down the back windows. The conscientious Mr Romney did indeed stop, at the nearest gas station, where he hosed down the car and the dog, then put Seamus back in the crate and back on the roof of the car. There are many people who believe that this story shows that Mr Romney is not fit to be President, folks who aren’t
worried that he’s too rich, but that he’s too weird to be Commander-in-Chief. It does suggest that the man is auto-cractic (I bet that the maternal Mrs Romney thought this was nuts; I bet Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig wanted their dog inside with them, even if he took up three laps). The saga brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘car sickness’.

That Crate Gate could hand the Republican nomination to another man, who left one wife who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and another wife after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, says a lot about the sensitivities of the American voters. I’m not a Republican, but I feel sorry for my friends who are. I think they deserve better than what they’re being offered. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’re being offered a rafter of turkeys. They should be so lucky.

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