Corvid Wisdom: Natural Balance

“You got a probwem, ven?”   WIth what appears to be half a slice of meat pie hanging from his beak, the crow looks his least prepossessing.  He also mumbles.

“Don’t talk with your beak full,”  I rebuke him.  “It’s not a problem, exactly.  More a question of timing.”

Dropping his gravy-laden  prize onto his lamp post perch, Crow deftly stops its fall with one claw.  He stares in at me through my office window suspiciously.   “Timing what exac’ly?”

“The two bird feeders in the back garden – when to stop refilling them.”

“Oh, them!  Not one of yer life-changin’ dilemmas, is it then?”  He returns his attention to his fragment of pastry, pecking at it reflectively, “Never bothered me much, them.”

It’s true; they don’t.  In the days before his seaside interlude, he and a couple of his mates on a boys’-day-out raided the feeders, which finished up in the flowerbeds, emptied but otherwise unharmed.  Once a seagull (Crow swears it was a seagull) flew off with an entire feeder.  Mostly, though, Crow’s diet comprises higher things; to wit, one meat pie,another beakful of which is his current focus for ingestion.  

“Stop fillin’ em.”  

“What about the sparrows?   What will they eat?”  I reason.

“Sparrers?!?  Bleedin’ sparrers??”   His expostulation is so violent crumbs of pie reach my window, spattering the glass;  “Bugger the sparrers mate, fink of Monty!”  

“Who’s Monty?”

“Monty?  Yer mean yer don’ know?  His fam’ly been livin’in yer garden fer years an yer don’ know?  Well, I tell you what, mate.  You find out ‘ho Monty is an’ you ask ‘im what he finks abaht sparrers!”  Crow’s pie resource is exhausted.  “Time to go!  I got places ter be.  You ask Monty!”

Watching him fly away I ponder his challenge.  Crow doesn’t understand that our duologue is my only communication with a bird, or any animal species, come to that.  Whatever or whoever ‘Monty’ is, in order to have value in Crow’s eyes he must be other than human, and therefore beyond my capability to converse.

It is a doomed abductive exercise.  The creatures that frequent my garden include a hedgehog, at least one urban fox, the odd cat and several species of bird.  I fall at the first fence because I have no means of knowing which of these enjoys the sobriquet ‘Monty’, and no way to ask.  Nevertheless it is Crow’s opening gambit when he returns to the lamp post later this morning.

“Know ‘oo Monty is yet, then?”   I confess my ignorance.  “Well, mate, that’s ‘ow yer treats yer residents, innit?  Yer got no sense o’ responsibility, have yer?”

“All right, I know you’re dying to tell me.  Who is ‘Monty’, how am I failing him, and what has that to do with the feeders?”

Have you ever seen a crow shake its head?  It’s at once a marvellous and incongruous gesture.  “Monty,”  He says with triumphant emphasis  “Is yer resident blackbird.  Black-bird, see?”

I can’t help smiling. Giving a name to the frantic little creature who spends his life in hopeless pursuit of garden domination doesn’t move me to sympathy.  The crow’s tone is one of reproof:

“Yer don’t fink much of ‘im, then?  Yer don’t fink he deserves respect?”

“And I suppose you’re going to tell me he does?”

I’m treated to one of Crow’s censorious frowns,  “He lives off yer garden, don’t he?  I mean, winter and summer he lives from yer land, drummin’ fer worms, keepin’ them unner control for yer, eatin’ pests, an’ ‘at?  ‘E’s a resident, mate.  Isn’t that worth nuffin?”

I protest:  “He’s not nice to the sparrows. He spends half his life trying to chase them away. He’s aggressive!”

“Wouldn’ you be?   That bay tree you got, that’s where ‘e ‘as ter build ‘is nest, innit.  Its fick enuff ter disguise a nest, an’ somewhere to ‘ide his kids under when they’re learnin’ ter fly.  ‘An’ Monty – ‘im – he’s clever see?  ‘E knows there’s on’y room fer one blackbird nest in yer garden ‘cause there’s on’y enough feed fer ‘isself an’ his missus, so ‘e chases off any uvver blackbirds, don ‘e?”

“He’s not entirely effective in doing even that!”  I sense a rant, so I try to get my scruffy black friend to elucidate; “He’s trying to keep a natural balance, is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah.   That’s it.  But what do you do? Yer comes along wiv yer bleedin’ feeders, don’t yer, an’ yer hangs ‘em just up the fence from the bay tree, an’ before yer know it the bay tree’s full o’ bleedin’ sparrers.  

“Sparrers ever’where!  No manners!”

“What about the starlings?” I remind him gently.

“What abaht..?” He arches his wings in a gesture of restrained impatience. “We’re not talkin’ abaht no starlin’s, matey, oh no! Starlin’s, they’re jus’ like raiders, see? They comes and they goes, they don’ build they’re nests nowhere ‘ere. But them sparrers, they moves in, don’ they? They nest there ‘cause it’s a short ‘op to free food.  They don’t care nuffin fer yer garden, mate.  They don’t care if their noise draws every cat in the neighbour’ood to Monty’s tree, ‘cause they know the biggest bird in it ain’t them – it’s Monty.  Any cat’d go for ‘im first. They trample his turf so ‘e can’t hunt his worms, an’ they flock around the place like they own it, but shall I tell yer somefin’?”

“Something else?”

“Yeah!” The crow’s in full spate now, neck extending, wings punching his sides. “They don’ give a toss, mate, them sparrers.  Soon as the bes’ of the food goes, they go.  They aint goin’ ter starve – nah, not them!  They’ll just move to the next garden and strip that.  Af’er they finished wiv’ Monty they go an’ look up some of his cousins!”  

Crow fluffs up his feathers to adopt what I’m sure he believes to be an imitation of a human pose.  He clearly intends to mimic me.  “When ter stop refillin’ the feeders?  Stop now!  Maybe Monty‘ll have more chance of gettin’ his kids into the air before the cats get ‘em.”

He raises a foot to scratch at his neck,  “Or I do.”

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

‘Summer’ is here!

 

I’ve been away for a while, so I’d better explain some stuff.

My ‘write as you go’ serial stories (two so far) have proved popular reading on this blog and I want to do more, but time management is a problem.  I want to prepare those finished titles;  ‘A Place that was Ours’ and ‘Nowhere Lane’ for publication as books, revamp my Kindle page and to start experimenting with a vlog – three projects which, against the background of other summer commitments, demand rather more hours than my day can provide.  So…

Up comes the serialised version of my book ‘Hallbury Summer’!

‘Summer’ is a thriller that has enjoyed very little exposure, yet it is one of my favourite pieces of work and deserving of more.  Here is the ‘blurb’:

Beneath the blistering sun a village sleeps, while unheard and 
in a dark place a woman is ritually murdered.
Hallbury will remember the day Joseph Palliser came home.
Emma who loved him when he left ten years ago would discard her marriage to be with him; the furiously independent Sophie could so easily fall victim to his feckless appetite. But Joseph has secrets neither can know, and he has only to turn over a stone or two to find the village has secrets too; secrets that are dangerous to learn.
Hallbury Summer is a tale of a serene English village, a village with a primal, lethal heart. 
It is a place where Joe Palliser perfectly belongs.

Beginning from tomorrow, an episode a week will be available to read here, completely free.   I will be serialising the whole book, so I hope you won’t think of this as a ploy to persuade you to buy the original, but there will be certain differences in the blog edition; I will not, for example, be able to follow the original book ( bit.ly/Hallbury ) chapter for chapter – the episodes will be adjusted so each provides a hook to the next.   There are also one or two semi-erotic passages that will have to be moderated a bit!

So, tomorrow, then!  Barring computer crashes or other natural disasters, ‘Summer’ will be here.   I do hope you’ll join me!

A Word in Tune

owl 2Alright, I know I haven’t posted!  It’s been far too long.

I could make all sorts of summer excuses, like; ‘it’s too hot, man’, or; ‘there are too many other things I need to do’.   But that wouldn’t be honest.  I live in Durham.  It’s never hot.   It is wet, but I’m a writer – I like to think of it as ‘moist’.

Maybe I am experiencing ‘writers’ block’ for the first time ever.  I wouldn’t know.  What are the symptoms?  In my case it’s a severe dose of  Piecus Incompletus., which is in danger of metastasising into terminal Self-Doubt.   There are slivers of word files spread all over my desktop, un-homed particles of articles I only just starticled.  My current output, like world peace, is unresolved.

Three stories unfinished; comments on Islamic thuggery, Republican bombast and NRA fatalism, all made more than adequately by others and not needing my ‘help’.   Bits and pieces, pieces and bits.  ‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’?

So, I thought, let’s do a writing ‘bit’.    After all, I haven’t done one of those for a while.   The last was concerning description and oenamata – onomata – Ernamotor… word pictures.   It was called Eyes Half Closed and if you missed it you were probably fortunate.

So today it’s the popular song – the way we work with words.   We are writers, the blank page is our instrument, how we fill it testifies to our ability to play.  Just as any reasonably astute child can bash out notes on a piano in recognisable fashion, most people can make a cogent sentence (other than myself, it seems) that will be readable.   But something extra is needed to make the listener want to come closer, the reader to turn the page.   Something raises Paganini above the crowd, something makes a Wordsworth stanza unforgettable.

Words are like notes.  Creating those memorable, pleasurable reading moments begins with stringing them together, knowing the function of each dot and comma, having a reasonable vocabulary, understanding parsing and clauses and allegory and metaphor.  There are bales of tutorials all over the internet that impart these essential rules, as there is plentiful resource instructing you ‘how to write’.

I’m not going to presume to tell anyone else how to write.  I can only pass on models I follow that one day will hopefully make me a better writer, and may, perhaps be useful to you.  Like musical notes, words have a value.   There are demisemiquavers, semi-quavers, quavers,  crochets, semibreves and so on.  It isn’t hard to string them together, although it is a little more effort to make them a tune, while to create a song that will be on everyone’s lips demands familiarity and love of the instrument.   It takes just one misplaced note to destroy a whole melody, and the English language is full of misplaced notes.

There are words I consider criminals in themselves.  Some are born and pass with fashion, like ‘snog’ or ‘basically’; others were always there and you wish they weren’t:  ‘interject’ and ‘nice’ for example.  Use at your peril, or only in dialogue where they fit a character.   Then again there are others, I think, that enhance the language with a poetry of their own:  I personally like ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘blood’ (as a term for a close relative).  The most shameful pirate of all, the robber of the deeper meaning in your work and the destroyer of the natural rhythm and the flow of the message is that b****y word ‘the’.  Arguably each of the ‘the’s in that sentence could be redundant.  Rhythm and flow are vital:  they take the reader to the next sentence, and to the next page.  Yes, we have to use them sparingly (I just did) but they lionise our rhythm and interrupt flow.

I admit it puzzles me why so many would-be writers advocate reading the works of others as a means to improvement.   I rarely read.  Why?   Not because I don’t enjoy reading, I do when I have time, but because to me, all I am likely to learn is how to write like Thackeray, or O’Brien, or Pullman, and I want to write like Anderson!   News for you, blood – the word dies as it leaves the page.   It is reincarnated inside you, the reader, as a piece of a jigsaw you find easy to assemble.  It isn’t a word anymore, it’s part of a song playing inside your mind.

Besides, what was successful for others won’t work for you.   I am a great fan of Honore De’Balzac – his descriptive writing can drive me to a deplorable state of ecstasy, but the way he drives off for his conclusion in his last chapters is badly sliced, at best.   He would not get published, or even un-slushed, today.  I could name other victims of many a double bogey, others still who were defeated prematurely by the rough.  Me, I’m in a pot bunker somewhere, hacking away and getting my eyes filled with sand.

So how do I like to write, and why do I do it?  Too big a target.  But, when I arrive at my keyboard, the character who entered my head maybe an hour, or a day, or a year ago will be there waiting for me, and he (or she) and I will have a conversation. And between us we will talk to the page that is our instrument, and we will hope we reach our audience.  We hope they will believe.  We don’t slavishly adhere to rules (you’ve probably noticed) but we hope we will have created a song they will love to sing, with surprises or revelations about themselves along the way.

That is what writing represents for me.  That is why I turn up here every day.  I do it for myself, and a few others who might wish to read.  Hitherto I have been unconcerned with media and sales, although with the compulsion of age that may change.    It would be nice (ugh!) to think someday someone somewhere will hear my tune, and pause to sing along.