Sunday, 14 June 2009

Kitchen sink dramas 5 - One for sorrow ...

A chattering pair of magpies has provided a dawn alarm call for the last few mornings, but the volume intensified today. Much of the birds' activity focussed on the elderflower tree by my garden shed as they made noisy dives into its thick foliage, alternating with preening and perching on chimneypots overlooking the spot. By early afternoon the cause of their agitation became visible as they were joined on a neighbouring TV aerial by a third magpie, which they proceeded to feed. Their single chick had fledged! One of the pair must have been the predator caught last week in the act of attacking and killing another fledgling - a swift or starling. If, as the RSPB site suggests, a typical magpie clutch is six eggs, then their chicks may have suffered the same fate as the unfortunate fledgling. Magpies feature frequently in myths and literature and are the subject of superstition still, but like their near relatives, jays, they are favourites of mine.

This was the magpie fledgling.

In my first job after university as the only French teacher and one of only two female teachers in a boys' secondary modern school in Essex (I thought Hornchurch was in London, which is why I went for the job), I designed and sewed single-handed all the costumes for the school play, which was 'The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew' by Robert Bolt. There were two magpies in the cast, Mike Magpie and Mazeppa, though they were played by the same character. I was particularly proud of the magpie costume design. The knights were rather less fortunate with silver painted string vests for chain mail and purple women's tights. Yet, amazingly, not one of the boys refused to wear them.

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