Ambivalent About Birds…

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Although I welcome birds to my garden – and sometimes my house, usually courtesy of Lily – as part of my wildlife-friendly environment I have endeavoured to create, I have decided I don’t really like them. They’re quite rude.

Alex had a budgie, who was a much loved and sadly missed family member, but even he had issues – a small yellow and green bird with the heart of a lion and the temper of a wolverine.

But yes, birds outside. I was planting some dianthus and violas in the back border when I heard a scream of raucous laughter.

Rude,” I thought, “I’m just minding my own business.”

I heard the laugh again and looked up, prepared to make a cutting remark like “Go away!” when I saw a magpie, perched on a tree branch above my head watching me. It opened its beak and gave another yell of unrestrained laughter at my gardening efforts and flew away.

Then the other afternoon, I was calling Ting. Every time the word “Ting” left my mouth it was echoed by a chuckling rasp, like nails down a blackboard. I looked up, and sat in the ash tree on the park was a jackdaw. It cocked its head on one side and laughed derisively, glaring at me with its pale blue eyes.

Ting! Hehehehehe!” it bellowed, and flew off in a flash of silvery black feathers.

We have a park at the back of our house and I can look out over it from the one of the back bedrooms, and I often see crows and seagulls diving and whirling like fighter jets, executing such tight turns and spins a Red Arrows pilot would be envious. Usually they battle each other, but sometimes they will unite in the face of a common foe and mob the peregrine who flies across every so often in search of food, screaming and laughing like demented banshees.

I don’t mind the little robin, Mr.Gibbs, who is part of the Avian Quality Control team in my garden. He will sit in the honeysuckle and make politely encouraging remarks. I also have a pair of little wrens, charming tiny brown birds that flicker in and out of the hedges, although they have a terrible, booming alarm call if one of the cats wanders too near their territory:

Cat! Cat! CAT! CAT! CATCATCATCAT!”

Now. I have a herb garden, which I planted earlier this year, and I am quite proud of it, not least because I recently introduced my partner to the pleasures of cooking with herbs. I was gazing absently out of the kitchen window – the back door was open – when I heard the most terrible scream.

Uh-oh, Lily’s got a bird!” was my first thought.

I ran outside to find the source of the enraged screaming and fluttering, fully expecting to see Lily at least dragging a pheasant, when a black feathered ball of rage shot past me.

There, in my lovely herb bed, was a battle royal. Two male blackbirds were having a massive punch up, going at it like professional wrestlers. One seized the other by a wing tip and flung him into the parsley- which was flattened by the force of his landing. He rebounded off the sage and dived for the other, grabbing him by the leg and upending him into the lemon balm. The other one retaliated with a solid body blow that knocked him into my thyme – I’m very fond of my thyme as it has therapeutic benefits as well as flavour – and that was when I decided enough was enough.

Oi! Get out of it you little b$%*&@*s!” I shouted – most unladylike, I know, but I had glimpsed what they had done to the chives.

They turned and looked at me.

Fair cop guv!”

And fled.

For such little birds, they fought with surprising ferocity – easy to see they’re descended from dinosaurs!

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Now – butterflies I like!

The Seagull

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Thank you Alex for the use of your beautiful photo x

I saw a dead seagull today and it upset me more than it should have done, or perhaps more than I thought it would.

A big herring gull, crisp white feathers and smooth grey wings. Strong, curved yellow beak, but greyish filmy lids closed over fierce proud eyes.

Still and silent in the middle of the road, carelessly crumpled and neck bent awkwardly back on itself and legs outstretched.

You should be flying free and wild, soaring over the sea, screeching your savage call to carry on the wind. Not here.

You should look down upon seas churned with foam, waves crashing towards the land. Not here.

Not dusty tarmac. You should blink fiercely out of existence into magnificent nothingness.

A dirty city street is no place to die.

Ghostly Guinea Fowl…

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Spot the birdie… 

I’m being haunted. And I don’t really know why – my conscience is relatively clear… although I was thinking about writing about my terrapins that my sister accidentally murdered when we were kids.

It began a couple of years ago, when I was walking back from the chemist at the top of the road, rather than my usual one. I crossed the road – safely – and went towards the cut through where I saw something totally different. And extraordinary.

It stepped out of a hole in the hedge in the manner of a gracious lady descending from her carriage and stopped to look at me. It was one of the weirdest looking things I’ve ever seen… scaly pink legs ending in powerful feet equipped with long, strong claws, and a plump, pear shaped body smartly clad in black and white checked feathers… a spindly neck, leading to a little head, turned to one side so a beady eye could examine me imperiously in return, with an air of faint disgust.

It looked as if it had had a fight in a clown’s make-up bag… powdery white teardrops and cracked red lipstick… a strange bony up-do and a blue wattle like an old lady with blood pressure problems. Bizarre. It decided I was no longer worthy of scrutiny and turned away – but I wanted to take its picture! Whilst fumbling for my phone, I slid cautiously towards it, too close for comfort, the creature decided and popped back through the hedge.

I rushed back round the other side, it looked sneeringly at me:

Damned paparazzi!”

And fled through the other side again.

Not before I managed to grab a somewhat blurry photo on my phone, which quite frankly, could have been anything. I was forced to abandon my quest for the impossible bird as two mothers and their children were approaching – then it came to me:

Guinea fowl!”

The passers-by looked alarmed at my avian exclamation and hurried away, as did I, in the opposite direction, turning back hopefully just in case the guinea fowl had re-emerged, but of course it hadn’t. A minute later, there was a rushing sound and a creaky wheezing, like an asthmatic old door right over my head and I saw the impossible bird fly away… I’m sure it was laughing at me.

Since our initial meeting, that cold winter’s morning, I’ve seen the guinea fowl quite a few times. Sitting in the middle of the roundabout. Laughing derisively at me from a roof top. Most recently, I was bending down to check on the alliums’ progress, when peering back at me through the fence was the spectacularly ugly face of the foul fowl. It “churred” mockingly at me…

YOU…You…!!!”

I don’t know if it’s real… or a figment of my imagination… but every time I’ve seen it I’ve been alone. And I don’t think people quite believe me…

Ooh…’er at the end there… bin in t’ catnip again she ‘as!”

Blogposts And Birds**t…

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Bizarre combination, I know, but trust me, it’ll work…

Firstly, I must both apologise and thank everybody who has wished my son well and given him support since he was introduced here on my blog. You’ve wished him luck in his “A” levels, then for his Theatre Foundation Course, and now university, which he left for on Wednesday. Thank you, everybody, for your love and support – it means a lot.

I must apologise for being hideously BEHIND on my comments, replies and followed sites – there has been a number of personal issues with my older son and my mother which have left me feeling quite drained, and to be honest, unwell. Still, not going to dwell… and then, of course, there has been the sorting and packing of eighteen years’ worth of things that my son decided needed to accompany him, from Gino Baboo, his very first special stuffed toy, to his camera and God only knows how many crystals and clothes. Add to that things like duvet, pillows, saucepans… I am extremely grateful to his father’s brother-in-law who helped us convey all the essentials of student life to university for us.

Thank you, everybody, for bearing with me during this time of change here at CrystalCats.

Now. A little confession. Alex – my son – used tolook after the technical side of the blog for me, as tose of you who know me well know that I’m a bit… technically challenged. I do the writing, and I mean writing, good old-fashioned pen-to-paper stuff, and typed it and painstakingly learned how to save it to a memory stick; but Alex used to take the pictures and add them to the text, transfer the text to the WordPress site, schedule etc… (imagine me gasping for breath and wiping away a panicked tear…)

So. I have had to learn how to use WordPress properly too… Yesterday’s post was done mostly by me with a little prompting… so please bear with me, I’m learning all the time, although the picture quality and content may go downhill… expect photos of fur blurs running away… startled looking shots of me…my feet… I am now on Instagram which has helped my erratic photography skills. I do tend to get sidetracked a little with all the fab crystal and cake pictures, not to mention the life hack and cake icing videos. So please, bear with me…I’m learning and Alex has very kindly written out instructions for me in words of one syllable that I can easily understand.

As for birds**t. We have a budgie, Lucky, (Alex has left him with me. Yay.) so I am reasonably used to being crapped on. However, Alex and I were going to the shops the other day when a passing bird, possibly an albatross judging from the resulting splatter of yuk, crapped so copiously on his head that a piece rebounded and hit me on the sleeve. Fortunately, I am usually well-equipped with tissues, wipes and sanitiser so we were able to clean ourselves up. Apparently though, being crapped on by a bird is considered good luck…

Right. I’ll go with that. Good luck Alex, in your university career, I have every faith and confidence in you. And of course, love. Always.

A Lucky Save

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It was one of those perfect late summer mornings, where the sky is sapphire blue, gently cradling a few fluffy clouds. My oldest son was away with the Army Cadets so my younger son and I decided to take the dog for a walk, and meet up with my mother, who had two dogs at the time. My little dog, Lulu, was sister to Mum’s dog Rebel, and she also had her beautiful German Shepherd dog, Rowan.

It was one of those mornings where there was just a hint in the air of Autumn ahead, a crystalline quality to the light that showed the sun was nearing the end of the Summer Equinox. There was a light breeze, just enough to necessitate a thin jumper, with pockets, loaded as always with dog biscuits, tissues and poop bags. Most of the regular dogs knew I had a ‘magic pocket’ and I remember being alarmed yet pleasantly surprised, one day, when an extremely large Rottweiler raced towards me one day, then stopped abruptly in its tracks to sit at my side politely, yet hopefully, nosing the ‘magic pocket’.

The biscuits were both a bribe and a reward for my dog. She was elderly and a little dog, so she tended to wander too far ahead. Consequently she had already had one trip to the vet to remove a blockage from her gut as she had run ahead and eaten a dirty tea towel someone had left. As I could not rely on her to not eat rubbish, I had to muzzle her, not the very tight sleeve types, but the basket ones, that allowed her to move her jaws freely, drink, and eat a biscuit posted through the front. Just not rubbish.

It was a lovely morning. The temperature just right, not too hot, not too cold, with a gentle breeze to lift our hair and stir the fur on the dogs’ backs. As we strolled, my mother and I chatted amiably about what to have for dinner, and noticed the strands of blackberry bushes, prickly cages that held imprisoned orbs of dark purple sweet juice. We would have to come back without the dogs, we decided, to go blackberry picking, as they got bored and couldn’t really see the point of what we were doing in the bushes for so long. They weren’t even particularly interesting bushes, as far as the dogs were concerned… just fruit smells and spikes, not even a hint of fox or mouse.

A few leaves on the trees were starting to turn yellow at the edges, and slide from the trees to the floor, to gather in little groups at the side of the path, along with the discarded and empty husks of beech nuts, thorny on the outside, yet lined with the softest golden velvet on the inside, to cradle the precious seeds. We were walking past a stunted little apple tree when one leaf detached itself and fluttered to the floor, about ten paces in front of me.

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“Oh look!” my son cried eagerly. “It’s a little bird!”

“Don’t be stupid,” I replied, making a mental note to get him to the optician’s before school started, “It’s a dead leaf!”

“No, no, look!” my son said, more definitively and darted off ahead. Lulu, noticing his sudden interest was way ahead of him and beat him to the spot where she pounced, and held the yellow leaf between her paws. Luckily, she was wearing her muzzle, or she might have had a bonus bird on top of her normal biscuit treats…

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The two other dogs approached Lulu with interest, wanting to see what she had found, and my little dog, normally the gentlest and most fun-loving of dogs, growled fiercely, hunching aggressively over this dead leaf. But was it? No, my son was quite right, it was a little bird, a budgie. A budgie? We were accustomed to seeing sparrows, blackbirds, wrens and even a few jays, but a budgie was absolutely not your usual resident of this park.

“It is a bird! It’s a budgie! Can we keep him?” my son asked hopefully, face alight with excitement at this added twist to a pleasant dog walk.

“Well, I really don’t know, you’ll have to let me see if I can catch it first…” I replied somewhat reluctantly. I had previous experiences with budgies and had learned to my personal cost that they are not the sweet, cheerful companions of dear little old ladies; rather, they are feathered and feisty balls of fury, only too ready to lash out with curved beak and hooked feet…

I retrieved the dog, and passed her lead to my mother to hold, while my son danced about anxiously, keeping a careful eye on the budgie.

“Hurry up! We can’t leave him here… he’ll DIE!” my son stated with suitably dramatic emphasis.

The budgie, meanwhile, relieved from the grasp of dog paws, was pecking about listlessly in the dust at the side of the path, fluttering a few aimless steps, then dropping to the floor again. I gathered my courage, crept forwards, leaned down and – carefully cupped my hands around the despondent little bird.

I stood up. The budgie and I regarded each other, suspiciously. He made no attempt to bite me, or claw his way out of my hands. I knew he was definitely a “he” as the cere at the top of his beak was just starting to turn blue, a sign that the bird was, indeed, male. Now what was I supposed to do?

As if sensing my indecision, the bird made one last attempt to regain his unlooked-for freedom, pushing his feathered head between my fingers with some force, then subsiding as if too weak to put up much of a fight. That decided me. My mother’s house was nearer, and she had a cockatiel. The budgie could stay there until this afternoon when we could pick him up, having gathered the essentials, like a cage, seed…

“Oh PLEASE can we keep him!” My son cried, dancing in anticipation at my side.

“Well, I suppose so, I’ll have to ring your father, but let’s take the bird to your grandmother’s until this afternoon.”

Leaving my mother with three dogs and, a bewildered air, “You can’t have a budgie, Samantha, the cat will eat it!” (despite the fact that my cat at the time, Walter, was gentle and somewhat elderly and had never caught a bird in his life, caged or otherwise.) Nevertheless, we set off, budgie carefully enclosed in my hands back towards my mother’s house. The cockatiel actually belonged to my oldest son, and lodged quite happily at my mother’s, screaming every so often in some sort of avian rage… He seemed quite pleased to see the budgie. We poured some bird seed into my son’s hand and he pecked desperately at the seed.

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“Poor thing, he was starving!” my son cooed tenderly, before leaving to find a suitable water dish. We left the bird safely enclosed with seed and water, the cockatiel screaming amiably at him every so often, to return to my mother and collect the dog.

I rang my partner. “Hi, it’s just me, we found a budgie on the dog walk and Alex wants to know if he can keep him.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, A BUDGIE?”

“You know, one of those little caged birds that tweet.”

“YES I KNOW WHAT A BUDGIE IS! WHY HAVE YOU FOUND IT?”

“It was lost, and it just came flying out of the trees, and it just came flying out of the trees, and the dog – oh never mind, I’ll tell you when we get back.” Having explained in great detail exactly how we found the budgie and yes, it was definitely a budgie, I, too knew what one looked like, and no, we didn’t know who he belonged to as he was in the middle of the park, my partner agreed my son could keep him.

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Cage, sandsheets and all the avian paraphernalia duly purchased and installed, we returned later that afternoon with the budgie and introduced him to his new home. That was eight years ago. During his residency with us, this bird has cheated death no less than three times… The stray cat we adopted, Billy, decided one day, to pad his cat kibble ration with a little meat on the wing, so to speak. There was a loud crash from my son’s bedroom so en masse, my partner, two sons and I all rushed upstairs to see the bird cage lying on the floor on its side, the budgie half out the door, half in the cat’s mouth, my youngest son screamed in rage and fright at the cat who released the budgie and left hurriedly…

“Really, gov’nor, no need to take on… but when a bloke’s hungry what is he supposed to do?”

The budgie was soothed and checked, no injuries other than a somewhat chewed tail. Next my partner in a fit of thoughtless ‘kindness’ gave my son’s budgie to his mother, while I was out, without asking me or my son, just assuming, that it would be fine to give my son’s pet away to entertain his mother. I was enraged.

“BUT I CAN’T TAKE THE BUDGIE OFF ME MAM! SHE’S LONELY!”

“Not my fault and not my problem.” was my retort as I comforted my son. A week passed. His mother gave the budgie nothing but millet. The budgie had diarrhoea and looked poorly and thin.

“Oo, ‘es gone right miserable ‘e ‘as. ‘e don’t tweet, he bites me when I want to take him out the cage…”

I replied somewhat sharply:

“He’s probably dying , because he misses my son, he was his pet and his father had no right to give him away.”

I got the budgie back. My son was overjoyed, as was the bird, he sat on his shoulder and murmured confidingly into his ear about the terrible time he’d spent away from home…

Another close encounter with a cat, this time just the cage was pulled off the stand and upended, seed and feathers everywhere, alarmed cat, angry budgie:

“Woman! What have I told you about those fur beasts! Keep them out of my room!”

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And yet he developed a fondness for Charlie, my cat. When, accompanied by me, she was little, she would come and play in Alex’s room. The budgie, perhaps enchanted by her antics, edged closer to the bars so he could see her better and made an odd creaking sound, which I assume to be his version of a laugh. She is the only cat he will not scream an alarm for, and if I lift her up to look in the cage, he will come closer and tweet to her.

This budgie is the bane of my life sometimes, with the tweeting and screaming, the seed throwing and careful directing of crap up the walls, but my son loves him. What else can I do but put up with it….

The name of the budgie? Why, Lucky of course!

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Hedges and Herons

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When we first moved into our present house in 1999, it had an eight foot high privet hedge running all along one side, between us and the park. I quite liked it, as it gave us a degree of privacy from people using the park facilities, and also acted as a shelter and windbreak.

I remember, when I was a little girl, privet hedges were not quite so popular, and, of course, we had stick insects … my sister went on regular forays to “borrow” from the neighbours’ hedges to supply sustenance for our pets. My father had planted Lleylandii, a quick – growing type of conifer tree that very soon became the bane of his life as he tried to trim and shape them. They remained resolutely wild and … hairy, smelling of cat pee and harbouring small brown spiders with white markings on their backs, like hot cross buns …

What is it with men and hedges? Eight years after moving in, my partner decided it would be a good idea to rip all the hedge out and replace it with climbing roses, fuchsias and the like … I tried my best to persuade him not to do it, pointing out it would take years for the cover to be replaced. Faced with the answer:

WELL, I’M NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER AND I CAN’T KEEP ON TOP OF IT!”

The hedge’s days were numbered and, much to my regret, it went. I insisted we kept half.

img_6630-2My back garden… I wish!

Apparently though, this is one of the things that has led to flooding where I live. People are ripping up their hedges and their front gardens to make way for paved patios and parking. The natural soakaways are gone and some areas are now prone to flash flooding when it rains, causing damage and misery.

These front gardens were such a bonus when these houses were built. A little patch of earth to plant some bulbs and nurture a lawn, a treasured symbol of going up in the world … hope, that after the slum clearances finished around the 1930’s, that things were looking up … promise, a young couple’s first home, away from the necessity of “Living with Mother”…

We are a nation of gardeners, after all. (My secret celebrity crush is Monty Don …) Perhaps this love of gardening bloomed with the prospect of owning our own little piece of land. Although I love the grandeur and glory of the gardens attached to stately homes, I also enjoy humbler, more accessible gardens.

At this point, I feel I must confess … I’m not the world’s best gardener. Possibly too impatient, as I like to dig things up to check on their progress, to compare them with pictures on the Internet and berate them for not behaving as they should … Despite this, we have a reasonable garden, filled with a variety of plants designed to encourage bees and butterflies.

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Not really herons, though. My partner has a pond, stocked with goldfish and shubunkins, home to frogs, newts and a pair of toads. Some of the fish are older than our sons, who are 17 and 22. Indeed, some of his fish knew him before I did. Justly so, then, he is proud and fond of his fish, and we have been lucky enough to have had several lots – litters? – of baby fish.

One morning, it, was an early spring morning, so still quite fresh, I went outside for the first cigarette of the day. I lit up, inhaled with relish and looked around the garden…

Have to cut the grass soon… that clematis could do with tying up… not sure what that heron wants, but it can’t stay there… WHAT!!”

Sitting on the hedge was an enormous grey bird. It was huge and splendid. I froze, somewhat afraid, actually, because it was the biggest bird I had ever seen in real life. It was sitting, quite unconcernedly, looking in the pond – oh dear – from the top of the hedge, and it turned to regard me with great, round, golden eyes.

I was at once struck by the elegant, yet powerful neck, the sweeping black eyebrow feathers and long, sharp beak. The compact, feathered body, neatly clad in business suit grey and long, scaly, greenish legs. It was Jurassic.

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Um, I’m afraid you’ll have to go elsewhere… you can’t have these…”

I stammered nervously.

What was I thinking? With a beak that size, it could come in the house and I’d make it a cup of tea if it wanted … It looked somewhat contemptuous at my words and shook its wings out, with a sound like flapping sheets, then slowly rose into the sky.

I was transfixed. As it flew steadily and majestically away, I was reminded of nothing more than its prehistoric relatives, the Pteradactyls of years past, its snake – like neck folded in, legs tucked underneath and massive wings beating.

My partner was horrified. And at once purchased a net to cover the pond, although I drew the line at a plastic deterrent heron. Now our hedge is gone, the pond is not such an enticing sheltered fishing spot. I still see the heron, though, as there is a large country park to the West of us, where I presume it has better fishing grounds.

Its silhouette is unmistakeable in the sky, a remnant of our pre – history, sailing monstrously against a skyline of houses and taller buildings… out of place, somehow, as if its backdrop should be huge trees, ancient forests and old times…

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All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe

The Rehabilitation of Crows

Sight_2016_05_12_115649_622 (3)My son took this, couldn’t find a crow willing to pose, but the window lent a suitably Gothic tone…

Think of crows, and you think automatically of the large black birds, perching menacingly amongst ruined castle battlements, cawing threateningly from deserted churchyards. They are a traditional Gothic symbol, hopping through the pages of literature, their larger cousin immortalised in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’. Ravens have resided at the Tower of London since around the time of Charles II, the legend attached to them being that if they leave, then both Tower and monarchy will fall. However, their wings are clipped so they are physically unable to fly away, which seems a little unfair to me…

Crows, ravens and magpies are all members of the Corvidae family, a common trait of this species being their intelligence. Perhaps this is what some may find off-putting about them, the gleam of avian awareness completely alien in a feathered face. Crows can and will hold grudges (not unlike cats, actually) and have a brain capable of reasoned thought processes to achieve a goal. I’ve had several brushes with magpies, bold and dapper in their black and white outfits – I was quite annoyed with one, as it systematically pulled the lining from my mother’s hanging basket; yet amused as I watched one clearing the guttering of the house opposite: “Honestly, if you want a job doing well, do it yourself…”

I have been lucky enough to observe crows at close quarters, although I am slightly disconcerted by the fact that the crows in our area seem to have a predilection for women’s underwear as they fly about shouting “BRA BRA BRA!” A crow was an unusual visitor to my mother’s garden. He was beautiful, gleaming black from head to tail, feathers perfectly aligned and smartly kept. He marched along the garden path, turning his head left and right, as if to acknowledge the greetings of lesser birds. I was impressed by the strength of his scaly feet, and the dangerous, powerful beak as he stabbed up a choice morsel from the floor. Then as he spread his wings to fly away, a rainbow sheen coated his feathers, not unlike Labradorite, a seemingly dull little stone until it catches the right light, and then it bursts into kaleidoscopic colour.

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My son’s Labradorite, the colour not unlike the blue sheen of a Magpie’s tail…

One particular crow memory has stayed with me, mainly because I was helpless with laughter… my son and I first noticed him, just standing by the roadside, looking hopelessly down at his feet. I thought he was injured at first, such was his air of defeat, shoulders slumped, wings hanging listlessly. As we watched, he straightened up visibly and began pacing aimlessly back and forth, stopping every so often to poke about in the grass.

Where’s she put them, then? Rotten cow, she knows I need the car for work…” We could see the crow sigh visibly, as if in frustration.

Would she have left them here?” A momentary hope brightened his eye, as he spent a while searching under a particularly promising leaf… No joy. He rummaged around each wing in turn, one last search of his pockets, perhaps. No joy.

Oh, f*@k it! I’ll have to bus it then, but I am definitely going to the pub after work, I don’t care what Brenda’s got in for dinner, that’ll show her!”

With that, he ruffled his feathers and flew off, an aura of comic annoyance visible. We had to admire him for his persistence and share in his obvious dis-satisfaction with his place in life. So, next time you see a crow, don’t play the soundtrack from a horror film in your head or shudder as their flight path falls across you. Instead, just think… they have families and problems too…

I have two black cats, black as crows, with the same delicate rainbow sheen to their fur in the sun. They carry their Gothic stigma lightly most of the time, yet sometimes… yet sometimes… I wonder… 

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This is Lily looking demonic… or cute… hard to tell

All photos were taken by my son!