We were well-established in our pub of choice watching Ireland salvage a tiny shred of dignity by beating Italy when one of our men leaned in.
Would it be better to fight a bear-sized chicken or a hundred chicken-sized bears? Tom wanted to know.
It’s a thing, said Tom, by which I assumed (correctly) that he was referring to an internet meme.
A hundred chicken-sized bears, said our other friend, Jack. What kind of chicken? What kind of bear?
Jesus, said Tom, an ordinary chicken like you have running around a farmhouse. A fucking chicken.
What kind of bear? A brown bear? A grizzly? A panda? If it was a panda I’d fight it any day. And a hundred chicken-sized pandas would be so cute!
A bear! snarled Tom, trying to look menacing. Just a bear. A big bear with claws and teeth.
A polar bear? They’d murder you for fun.
A fucking bear!
I thought a giant chicken would probably be a worse proposition than dozens of tiny bears scratching and nibbling at my ankles — even polar varieties.
A French friend once told me about his peasant-farmer grandfather in Brittany who had a direct and brutal way of dealing with misbehaved dogs if they followed the chickens in the yard. All he did was shove the dog into a sack along with a chicken and tie it up for five or ten minutes. If the dog came out blind, he shot it. If it emerged with at least one eye, it never chased a chicken again.
Chickens can be nasty.
But on the other hand, I ventured, bears are more or less human while chickens are basically insects. Wouldn’t the chicken-sized bears get together and gang up on you?
Bears are solitary, said Jack. You’re probably thinking of wolves. Chicken-sized wolves would be a big problem.
It would be much worse if you had to fight a hundred chicken-sized aliens, said Tom. If you injured one of the little bastards, his molecular-acid blood would eat through the decks until eventually it ruptured the hull and then we’d all die due to catastrophic decompression.
True enough, everyone agreed.
It was then that a thought crossed my mind. Tom, would this giant chicken have the same proportions as an ordinary chicken?
Of course, said Tom. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a chicken.
Good, I said. In that case we might be on the wrong track.
I could see I had their interest because they both stopped watching the Italian match which Ireland led by 500 points.
You see, I went on, if you scale an animal up, let’s say to twice its size, its bulk increases eight-fold, but the cross-section of its legs only increases by a factor of four. That’s because volume depends on the cube of the dimension while area is based on the square. It’s why elephants have fat legs and spiders have skinny ones.
Now, I’d say that a bear might be eight times the height of a chicken, and therefore a bear-sized chicken would be about 500 times its original weight. But its legs are only about sixty times their original cross section and that means they’re carrying eight times as much stress.
It was clear that Tom and Jack could see where this was going.
You mean ..?
Precisely, I said. The giant chicken’s legs would snap under the weight.
But it could still peck you, said Jack.
It could indeed, I replied, just like the Black Knight in the Holy Grail could still bite your legs off.
We all fell silent after that apart from the occasional desultory woo-hoo as Ireland ran in yet another meaningless try against Italy, until a man sitting near us interjected.
If there was a three-sided war between chicken-sized bears, chicken-sized aliens and actual chickens, who’d win?
I looked at Tom. Tom looked at Jack. Jack looked at me and I looked back at Tom.
We all stared at the stranger.
Are you mad? Who doesn’t like delicious chicken?
So it would bring peace between aliens and chicken-sized bears? he asked. If you kept a constant supply of chicken?
It was hard to argue with his logic.
And that makes me think, he went on, if we dropped millions of chickens on the Middle East every day, would that stop ISIS and Assad killing people?
It’s unlikely, I said.
It is, he agreed, but it’s probably better than dropping bombs on them and it would be a lot cheaper than missiles.
If arms manufacturers bred chickens, I said, Syria would be knee-deep in them.
Didn’t arms dealers breed aliens? asked Jack.
No, said Tom. That’s in the future. Keep up.
That was when Ireland ran in their 75th try against Italy.
It was time for another pint.