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9 April 2013

Trivia is what newspapers tend to print when they need a space filler. Some items are information, others are odd items, and others are plain incorrect. There’s a sub-set of these which celebrate the really peculiar laws that have been enacted at some time or another in various countries, states, provinces, or counties. And one of these caught my eye recently. It states that it’s a law that, citizens may not enter Wisconsin with a chicken on their head.

The average person reading that simply snickers and passes on. I’m a writer and we’re noted for our curiosity. We don’t just read something like that and pass it by, it starts us thinking, asking questions and wondering about things. What I wondered first is exactly what event would get legislators to enact that law? Who entered Wisconsin wearing a chilcken on their head and caused so much strife or so many problems, or such huge civil disorder, that lawmakers decided this should never happen again? After all, the average lawmaker is unlikely to wake up one morning, wash, dress, go down to breakfast and over bacon and eggs, coffee and toast, and out of the blue remark to his wife that, “This morning I think I’ll see if I can get a law passed to stop people entering Wisconsin with a chicken on their heads.” No, if you pass a law about it, this has to have been triggered by an event.

Then too, the law as given seems very stark. A Chicken? Not a duck, a goose, a pheasant, or a partridge, just a chicken. And how far will such a law go? If a man is driving into Wisconsin to attend a major Fancy Poultry show, and one of his Buff Orpingtons successfully escapes its cage in the back of his car, flutters forward and lands on his head, does a police offivcer immediately leap from the roadside, turn on his siren and hurtle in pursuit? What lattitide would there be for a claim that while the law was broken in fact, it was not deliberate in intent? Or would the driver be still deemed accountable since he should have adequately secured the cage? And according to the web, Chicken – a domestic fowl kept for eggs and meat. But a duck could be so described too, as could Guinea fowl. Are police officers in Wisconsin given training in this important area so that they can distinguish one domestic fowl from another? And does the law mean an actual common hen or rooster, or is it concerned with the wider area so that entering Wisconsin with a duck or guinea fowl on your head is also illegal? What about wearing a small stuffed chicken on a hat intended as either a costume or for a fashion line-up? Does it count if you’re in a full chicken costume advertising KFC or a similar franchise?

What standard of proof is necessary? If I plead ‘not guilty’ to such a charge, must the police officer bringing it produce a photograph? Are speed camera photographs in Wisconsin also monitored not only for the speed at which the driver is travelling, but also to check whether the driver may be crowned with a domestic fowl at the time of his or her passage past the camera. Then there is the question of why anybody in their right mind would be entering Wisconsin (or any other State) wearing a chicken on their head. Of course, they may not be in their right mind since they may be a) non compos mentis. In which case if the charge is proved they could be remanded for a psychiatric report – the psychiatrist possibly to report in medical terms of a ‘chicken fixation’. Or they could be b) drunk. In which case the charge would have to be expanded to – “entering Wisconsin with a chicken on their head while intoxicated.” Or further, “entering Wisconsin with a chicken on their head and driving while intoxicated.” Or perhaps if on foot and rowdy – “entering Wisconsin with a chicken on their head while intoxicated and causing public disorder.”

The real question is, is this law still on the books and if so, is it enforced? Don’t laugh, because the following US laws were still on the books, and – as I understand it – could be enforced as of 2005 – if the local police chief/sheriff wanted to make a complete prat of himself/herself. So – in LA you may not lick toads. In Boulder, Colorado you may not have a couch on your porch. You may not enter the State of Tenneessee with a skunk. (Leaving aside why anyone would want to, a friend of mine would like to raise the issue of her ex-boyfriend…) In Washington you are required to phone the police and report your intention to commit a crime ahead of time. (And do they add it to the charges if you don’t? Your Honour, my client is charged with assault, robbery, kidnapping, murder, and failing to tell the police in advance that he planned to commit these offences….) In Fairbanks, Alaska, it is illegal to serve alcohol to a moose. And to go full circle, in St. Croix, Wisconsin, women are not allowed to wear anything red in public. (Er, does that count underwear and how would they know?)

And before anyone mutters that the United States has some silly laws, take thought for the UK, which has had a few of those in its time. Such as – It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament, (and I’d like to see how they prosecuted that one) It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen’s image upside-down. It is illegal for a woman to be topless in Liverpool except as a clerk in a tropical fish store, (Why, I wonder is it legal there?) If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, you are required to let them enter. (Without exception? What if he’s carrying a gun and the police are in hot pursuit, would you still be charged if you refused to let him in?) The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen. (Still in force, I think.) It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing. (Work that one out!) And – It is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow. (Toxophilists beware, if you must carry a bow and arrow in York, it might also be safer to wear a T-shirt stating in very large clear letters that you are not a Scotsman.

And the rest of the world where – In Switzerland, a man may not relieve himself standing up after 10pm,( is that an assumption that if he’s drunk after 10pm he’ll probably be prone anyhow?) in Milan, it is a legal requirement to smile at all times, except during funerals or hospital visits. (Boom city for doctors dealing with aching faces, no doubt.) And in France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon. (And before anyone in New Zealand laughs too heartily at that one,. I seem to recall a case in our own not so distant past in which an MP took a monkey owner to the court for apparently naming her monkey after him.) So, you may not enter Wisconsin wearing a chicken on your head, and if you do, and are charged with that offence, will you please let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

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