Crow Diplomacy

The crow is there when I draw back my blind this morning.   Perched atop the lamp-post outside my window, preening himself with all the same self-importance and conceit I remember.

“Hello, mate,”  He cocks his head to catch me squarely in the eye,  “Surprise, yeah?”

“Surprise?  I thought you were dead!”

“Yeah?  Dead?  Oh, that’s nice, innit?  Nah mate, I been down the coast for a coupl’a years.  Got meself a bit of a taste for the old fishes, see?  Never been fitter, me.  See the shine on these?”  He stretches his flight feathers for effect,  “That’s what fishes does for yer!”

“So, what brought you back here?”

“Ah.”  He shifts uneasily.  “Watch this, look!”   With a dive and a spread of his wings he is gone, finding himself some rising air to soar above the common which skirts the further side of our road.  I watch him go.   Larger than my recollection of him, his flight is masterful, as though he owns the air he rides upon.  It is a freedom I always envied in him, yet I am glad for his return.  Regretting the brevity of our renewed acquaintance, I settle down to work.

An hour later he is back, alighting on the streetlamp once again and bringing a piece of paper which he pins beneath his left foot.  .  “It was the gulls.”  he says, staring down at it.

He is always gathering trophies of rubbish from one source or another, so I dismiss it as having some tasty morsel on it that he likes.  “Gulls?”  I query.

“On the coast.  I was doin’ alright dahn there, new Missus, more kids.  Them gulls, though…  See, when they comes up ‘ere – inland, when it’s windy, like – they’re behavin’ theirselves, ‘cause there’s more of us than there are them,  but dahn there, on the coast…”

Herman

“Were you getting bullied?”

He fluffs his feathers.  “Nah, mate!  Nah!  Bullied?  Me?  No bleedin’ gull bullies me, no-how.”

“But?”  I coax him.

“Well, it never stops, does it?  Mob, mob, mob all the time.  They got this leader, this Blackback called Herman.  Nasty little bugger.  He organises it all.”

“You offended Herman?”

“I might just of won an argument over a nice bit of ‘erring.  It was nuffin, was it?  He reckoned it were ‘is, but it never were…”  Crow clacks his beak:  “Don’t matter, anyway.  Back here now.  Even got me old nest back after a bit of argy-bargy.  Pizza place has closed. though, ha’n’it?

“You’ll be missing those bins!”

“What, me? No chance!  Good provider, me.  I know me dustbins, don’t I?  Yours is a good un.”

“Thanks for reminding me; I must remember to close the lid.  The Pizza place has gone.  Its owners couldn’t survive this Covid thing.”   And I add quickly, in case he should misunderstand,  “That’s Covid, not corvid.”

“I should fink so!  I should fink so, mate!  Us corvids gets accused of enough of it – this and that.  So that’s why the pizza place is closed.  Bat-poop.”

“Oh, you know about that!”

“Yeah!”  He fluffs out his feathers;  “I got internashun’l connections, I have. Larf, innit?”

“Well, personally I take it pretty seriously.”

“What?  I mean….’ere, look, let’s get it straight.  These bats, they’ve all got a touch of the Covids, right?  So they poops on these Pango…whatsits.”

“Pangolins.”

“Yeah, them.”  

“That shouldn’t be so sensational.  You and your mates are pretty expert in the excretia-targetting department.  I’ve received a few direct hits myself.”

“Yeah, well.  Once by me personally.”

“What??”

“”You’ve got a big head.  Anyway, don’ interrupt.  Then these Chinese blokes from Wotan eat the Panga-whatits and they catch the virus, an’ then they spreads it all over the place? Like I said, larf, innit?”

Why is it funny?”

The crow begins to dance from foot to foot on the lamp-post top, in the way he always does when he has a point to make:  “Well, first fing, see – first fing, these Pangy-whatsits is very scarce, right?  Not many left ‘cause the Chinese eat them all the time, and they use their scales, an ‘at.    So I’m guessin’ yer average bat don’t score many direct hits on many Panga-whatsits, see?”

“Yes,”  I acknowledge cautiously,  “I think I see.”

 And second fing; there’s a lab’raratary…”

“Laboratory.”

“One of those.  There’s one of those half a mile up the flippin’ road from this Wotan place where they makes viruses all day, like?  An’ no, you’re sayin, nobody slipped a few dishes o’ this Corvid stuff out o’ there?  No, much more likely you caught it off a bat that pooped on a pangolin what somebody ate?   Oh, my gawd!   It’s a larf!   They’re tuggin’ yer wire, mate!”

“That’s a terrible accusation!”  I accuse him.  “You’re saying these people are deliberately poisoning the rest of the world?  Why?”

The crow lowers his head to stare at me with such intensity I almost imagine, for a moment, that he is wearing those rimless half-lenses my maths teacher so often used to pinion me in my junior year.  “Now that’s a very good question, that is.  That’s the best question you’ve asked me all morning.  Yes.”

I recover myself.  “And does it have an answer?  Thousands of people have died.”

“That won’t matter to ‘im.”  My friend cocks his head.  “You didn’t expec’ me to say that, neither, did yer?  I knows about ‘im, too ‘cause I’m an internashun’l crow, me.   I got connections!”

“Yes, so you said. I don’t doubt it.”  I stare at him interrogatively, doubting it.  “Who’s ‘him’”

“This Chinese bloke, Xi Jinping – ‘im.”

The crow has always had the power to surprise, but this astounds me:  “The Chinese leader – how the hell do you know about him?”

“Like I said, connections.  Crows fly across seas, y’know, if there’s somefink good to eat on the uvver side.  We chat a lot.  Sven, he’s from the place wiv all the mosquitos…”

“Sweden?”

“Yeah, there.  Well, he’s got a mate, Ivan, from the big land – Russia, I fink you calls it, an’ Ivan knows a crow from Mongolia.  He was nestin’ wiv ‘er for years, an they still get on, an’…”

“Right!  Alright, I get the picture!”

  From what they’re tellin’ me, he’s ‘avin’ a bit of argy wiv this cockatoo feller, yeah?”

Amazed by my old friend’s apparent grasp of world politics, I decide to enlighten him further.  “If you mean the American President, I suppose so, yes.  He says China has been stealing American intellectual property and copying their technology for years, you see, and…”

“An’ this Pingy bloke, he says old Cockatoo’s lot ‘as been sendin’ work to them in China ‘cause they can produce it cheaper, then buyin’it back for a tax dodge.”  The crow nods sagely and looks down at his feet.  He seems to be looking at his feet a lot.  “Yeah, I get it.  I get it, mate!”

“So, go on then!”  

“Go where?”

“Give me your solution to the problem!”  In my past experience the crow always comes up with a solution. Maybe this one is a little too complicated, even for his innate common sense to unravel. I shouldn’t have doubted.

“Well, I sees it like this;”  The crow looks up to the sky as if in search of divine inspiration, but I realise almost immediately that his attention is being drawn by a seagull circling overhead.   “Do you hear that?  Do you ‘ear what that clam-shucker jus’ called me?

“Any’ow, your little difficulty.  Let’s see.”   He injects a scholarly pause.  “The way I looks at it, this Pingy bloke an’ the Cockatoo, they don’t share the same tree, do they?  They don’ get on.   A bit like me an’ Herman, yeah?   If we’d thought about it, we could ‘ave shared that bit of ‘erring, but we didn’t ‘cause we jus’ don’t like each uvver; an’ I has to back off ‘cause there’s more of ‘is lot than my lot down there, an’ Herman knows it.

“Which is not so true in this case,”  I point out, “because both sides are about equal.”

“So there’s yer answer, then!”  The crow sounds triumphant.  “What do yer do?  Nuffink!  Nuffink!   Hah!”  I must be looking dense, because he amplifies this conclusion:  “See, neither of ‘em can’t do nuffink ‘cause they needs to nest and feed, an’ Pingy’s lot won’t really want ter do that in Cockatoo’s tree, wiv all the mobbing an’ ‘at, an’ same goes for Cockatoo’s bunch.  They jus’ sits in their own trees an’ peck at each uvver’s feathers for a bit.”

“And that’s your solution?  They just go on skirmishing and hating each other forever?”

“Nah!  Nah, ‘course not!  This is all abaht time, see?”  The crow stares at his feet again.  “Cockatoo and Pingy, don’t they ‘ave mates?”

“Wives, you mean?   Yes, I believe they do.”

“There you are, then!”

“And…?”

“Wives, mates, partners – while me an’ Herman’s struttin’ about, we’re getting a right earful from our uvver halves, ‘cause we’re fightin’ over ever’fing.  I tell yer, mate, if I’d taken me missus from up ‘ere wiv me dahn the coast instead of pickin’ up a local bird I’d still be dahn there!  She’d ‘ave sorted Herman aht, no trouble!  See, us blokes don’ like losin’ face, but our missuses, they got more important stuff…”

“Like economics, and running charities, and so on.”  I suggest, with barely concealed sarcasm.

He looks at me archly,  “Yeah, alright – them.  Any’ow, bit o’ pressure, bit o’ time, and Cockatoo an’ Pingy both work out it’d be better if they got along and agreed on same stuff as before, an’ there you are, sorted!”  He flexes his wings.  “Now, if there’s nuffin’ else, I got to catch up wiv me local knowledge.  I’ve lost track of a farmyard or two, see?  Would yer believe it, Farrer’s Bridge ‘as stopped keepin’ ‘is chickens. No quick lunches there, no more!”

I watch as he soars into the low grey cloud that gathers over both our mornings, regretful of the time we’ve missed in these conversations, but glad to have his patent wisdom to ground me once more.  In his wake, the fragment of paper that he brought to the lamp-post in his claw flutters, discarded, to the grass below.

Consumed by curiosity, I descend the stairs and make my way out of doors to retrieve that fragment, which I probably see as litter.  When I examine it, I see something more – newsprint with the heading ‘US-China Standoff’ and a small picture of Donald Trump.  There is further text; beginning a characterisation of the major players in the trade war, and a few words of explanation of its causes.  It is a mere scrap with room to accommodate only a little information, but it might be enough to explain my friend’s grasp of an issue outside his normal understanding and to present me with a fresh challenge to my unbelief:

Can it be that the crow has learned to read?

© 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.

Picture Credits: Milkovi on Unsplash, Casey Horner on Unsplash

Referendum

I can’t avoid it.

All talk in UK this week is concerned with a forthcoming referendum vote – a choice to ‘remain’ with the European Union, or ‘leave’.   Still, at this very late stage, there is a thirst for information from those who want the element of chance eliminated entirely from their decision, which suggests there are large numbers who want to vote to leave, bbanker 2ut daren’t.

This nervous indecisiveness is, of course, prime meat for the ‘remain’ campaigners, who wade in with dire warnings of financial Armageddon, forfeit of international influence and a variety of other terrors lurking in the black chasm that awaits a friendless UK, condemned to wandering in outer lands.

Why, they reasonably plead, take that chance?  Why leave the safe harbour of your European friends and brothers for the sake of an experiment;  why follow where the inexperienced shepherd leads?   Is it not safer, more prudent, to remain obediently within the fold, where nations may work together for a brighter future?  The EU will progress, will improve and prosper, with you or without you:  why sacrifice your part in that process?

It’s a challenge I can’t resist.

Let’s question the position if the ‘remain’ argument prevails in the vote.  If UK stays Brussels sees all 28 member nations coming under the umbrella of a federalist alliance which must, eventually, mean one government for all (presumably in Brussels, BTW) and one currency for all.  Otherwise any major step forward will be lost in a quagmire of conflicting interests.  28 separate governments, all with their own electorates to appease, already provide plenty of ready examples of this.

The UK is a major culprit.  The Westminster government has exemptions essential to its national interest in many matters, including that vital component, free movement.   The UK will not surrender the pound sterling, nor will it agree (it says) to the admission of further member nations.  Thus it is, in a sense, already halfway out.   It occupies precisely the ‘offshore island’ position Brussels has threatened it will have if the ‘leave’ vote holds sway.   And that is a position that would be untenable anyway, if the federalist plan comes to fruition.

But there is another pivotal question:  just how stable and secure is the EU?   Terrorist activity is on the rise, government response sluggish.  Growth within the EU is negative, decision-making is ponderous, its government unrepresentative of its people.  Greece, Italy and Portugal are treading close to the edge of liquidity, and the cost of living, especially in Greece and Italy, is prohibitive.  Unemployment, especially amongst the young, is outrageously high.  The immigration issue is seriously destabilising, with no prospect of diminishing in numbers in the immediate future.  To grasp the immigration issue the EU has to renege upon Schengen, to resolve its financial imbalances the Franco-German Alliance has to consent to a very much smaller slice of the cake.  Neither of these are feasible without the collapse of the EU.  So, how ‘safe’ is an offshore island tethered to this leaking hulk?  How long, indeed, will it stay afloat?

By contrast the UK scores highly in its ability to trade.  Unemployment is low, growth is positive, and where diplomacy and guile will secure a new market, or negotiate a lucrative deal, the British will succeed:  this is their history as one of the world’s great maritime trading nations.  Although the playing field may have changed, those innate abilities are never lost.  The UK also harbours one of the world’s great financial centres – liberated from EU constraints, its banking sector faces a profitable future.   So, fiscal chasm there is not: a process of levelling, maybe, a lot of sound and fury, maybe, but ultimately signifying nothing.

In making this case I have not emphasised the UK’s status as the EU’s largest trading partner, a market they will be unwilling to forgo.  Nor am I, despite your thoughts, a ‘Little Englander’.  I don’t harbour dreams of national glory, or seek to relive the days of Empire.  I do remember times before the EU, though, and I have some perspective upon all the UK has lost.   With others of my age (I, too, was young and optimistic once) I enthusiastically declared myself a ‘European’ when the clarion call came, and even absorbed gladly the sudden rise in the cost of living that came with it.   But now?  No.  For too many years I have watched various European interests – mainly French, German and Spanish, and more recently Eastern European – rape UK’s assets for their own advantage; and I have watched as the UK gave way, too many times.

The nation has a chance to begin to reclaim some of its own resources.  Maybe it can regain some of its plundered fishing industry by reasserting its territorial waters:  maybe it can subsidise and remodel its agricultural policy, begin to police its borders properly, deport the foreign criminals it is forced to detain here by EU law.

I am all for breaking down the insularity of nation states, all for the ideal of a united world.  I also see these are ambitions that can only succeed when component nation states refrain from using them as a tool for conquest, and show respect for the needs and views of people, rather than their own financial gain.

With regret I have to say of the European Union;  this has not happened – it will not happen – here.

GRANDPA, AM I A EUROPEAN?

 

When I am asked for my view of Europe (which is not very often) I always answer that I can’t see it from here. Any deeper significance in my reply is usually lost; but then why should it not be? I, after all, represent a passing generation. I am not, it is generally thought, in a position to judge.

But I am, you see. I really am.

I was among millions of Britons who voted for The Common Market, who agreed to suffer the idiosyncrasies of French agriculture and the ingress of Spanish trawlers as the price of a trade agreement that benefited the strike-torn economy of nineteen-sixties Britain. For a while I was an enthusiastic European. After all, my Liege-Lords for the last three hundred years had been German, had they not? And it was all so inspiringly liberal and democratic! I felt certain of the Euro, too, had we joined the currency in the early days. Not now, of course.

Oh no, not now.banker 2

Why? Well, gone are those democratic visions. The Euro has become a political tool of federalists who see Europe as one great nation (and for ‘federalists’ read ‘bankers’ and for ‘one great nation’ read ‘several component nations among which speculators may engage in uninhibited play’). Please, don’t misunderstand me: nationalism is dangerous, and there is nothing wrong with tearing down walls between nations: a common currency is a great way to start. But to the federalists the Euro-zone, and especially its outer fringes, is a chess board upon which to execute some particularly profitable moves. In short, even on a wet Sunday in a fog it would be difficult to find a bunch of more disparate nations to unite, and these people are simply not the ones to try it.

Their spores have spread like fungus in the decaying democracy of a group of member nations which not only have nothing in common, but do not share a common language, and in many cases are combatants in blood feuds centuries old. The pot of member states is now so large and political interests so diverse that conflicts are inevitable and insurmountable. No-one wins, nothing gets done.

The political engine of Europe is misfiring; its mechanisms are cumbersome and slow. It is going precisely nowhere fast.

Yet this is at a time when quick, decisive action is needed. Whether or not we are aware, a major migration is taking place, originating in Africa and sweeping across Europe. It is stimulated, maybe even motivated, by the ‘open borders’ policy said to be at the heart of Europeanism. And while that policy is in place we have Canute’s chance of holding it back.

Meanwhile, the engines of change in our own country have signally failed to leave the station. We still drive on the opposite side of the road to other member nations. We adhere stoutly to our Pound Sterling and yearn for all else that was Sterling. The mile, the yard, the ounce, the inch. Even after more than four decades of ‘Decimalization’ and ‘Metrication’ if I ask the Automobile Association’s route finder to calculate a distance for me it gives the answer in miles, with the kilometer distance in faint, small print underneath (for the foreigners, I assume). When I purchase wood from a wood yard, I am likely to be asked for my requirements in foot runs.

According to British law, road signs, speed limits and the speedometers that record those speeds must be quoted in miles or miles per hour.

Edicts from those very federalists who constitute the backbone of ‘Brussels Bureaucracy’ are deeply resented because they are measures conceived undemocratically, and by colleges of thought outside our own nation, who often calculate to satisfy interests that are of no benefit to ourselves.

At some point in the next year or so we will be asked to vote in a referendum – should we be in, or out, of Europe. But the decision will be taken long before then, as the spinners and grafters steer the argument. Our political engineers are masterful manipulators of public opinion and they will do their work. They have already scored some early points. There is much more to do and they have a lot of time to do it.

I am anti-Europe, though I may be open to persuasion. Our Prime Minister is seeking ‘concessions’ from the member states which may make continued membership practical. The trouble, if I may be frank, is my instinctive mistrust of our Prime Minister – well, no, it is more than instinctive. So far the promises he has broken outweigh the promises he has kept. He has far too many concessions to deal with: our over-run borders, our plundered fishing industry, and our disadvantaged agricultural interests to name but a few. Even if he told the nation he had resolved these issues I would have trouble believing him. But then, these are not the reasons why I am likely, on balance, to vote ‘no’.

I am British. I am a member of a fiercely independent nation which has few friends on the international stage, apart perhaps from the United States. Certainly we have no friends in Europe and make no mistake, were we ever to hazard the Euro as a currency we would be savaged by the same lupine pack that currently has its teeth buried in the neck of Greece, and will move on to Portugal or to Italy in their turn.

I believe our advantage and our future – our trading, our cultural and our political future – lies not within the turgid mire of European bureaucracy, but with the wide diversity of nations waiting outside our door. Nations ready to trade. My argument is that which applies to the majority of divorces: irreconcilable difference. We have tried to make it work, but we are an insular people whose relationships within Europe have always been adverse, perverse and sometimes downright abusive. English is our language in common with much of the free world, and very little of Europe. We are notoriously bad at learning other tongues, but, I’m sorry, that is something of which I refuse to be ashamed. As a couple we are fundamentally unsuited, and some things are impossible to change.

And we get to keep the kids! So, my child, though for a while you may be persuaded otherwise, rest assured you are not European, you are British. It was a nice idea while it lasted, this Europe thing, and maybe one day it will be so again, but in the meanwhile I hope and trust we will vote intelligently so your island can stay afloat in the storm to come. If we don’t, I’ll keep a place for you: third lifeboat on the left.