Jackdaw And The Magpie; My Life And Death Struggle

So, the saga of the life-and-death struggle began at 6.30 in the morning. First up, I showered and came downstairs, opening the blinds to see this in our front garden:


If you look carefully, you will be able to make out a magpie on the grass. It’s stood beside a state of the art water feature, or, as you might better know it, a plastic Tupperware container. I put it out weeks ago during our unexpected heatwave, to provide drinking water for the birds. It’s gratifying to see it being visited and used by the local wildlife. I kinda expect an OBE nomination, you know?

Around an hour later I looked out to see presumably the same magpie in definitely the same position. Later my wife came down, preparing to go to work. “See that magpie-it’s been there now for nearly two hours.”


I shrugged. It’s times like this I wish I had Chris Packham on speed dial. “Maybe it’s defending its territory, staking a claim for this much needed water source.”

“What every bird wants,” my wife replied, “an old butty box!”

She left for work, the magpie stayed for the morning. It was only when a joiner arrived, due to do some work for us, that I began to suspect something was wrong with it.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” he asked.

I tried to find out. Several times I slowly approached it, getting within a foot or so before it would hop beneath the shrubbery by the wall. From this, it was the joiner that prompted the ensuing struggle: “If it can’t fly a cat or other maggies will get it. It will be on my mind all day.”

I looked at the motionless bird. A new back gate, shed door, decking in the back and a guilty conscience, all included in the price.

I tried a few more times to test it, seeing if I could provoke it to take to the sky without me racing forward and giving it a heart attack, all to no avail. It’s tail feathers, essential for balance when flying, appeared to be damaged.

Not sure what to do, I went back inside but kept a watchful eye on it through the window. Then the first cat turned up.

I shot outside and chased my feline foe back out of the gate and resumed my vigil. Within a couple of minutes the same cat returned and I chased it back out. It was like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Thats it,  I thought, I can’t let it be killed on my watch. Time to call in the experts. I still didn’t have Chris Packham on speed dial, and Bill Oddie had blocked me on Facebook when I got carried away in my wasp-sting descriptions, so I rang the RSPCA. They said they would send an officer around, but in the meanwhile could I catch the bird in a box or something? I explained that whenever I got near to it it fled to a sharp-thorned bunker, so they asked me to keep watching it to make sure it didn’t disappear before they arrived.

How long was I to wait though? I couldn’t stand at the front door for four or five hours. And I just knew that, as soon as I went indoors, two cats would carry out a daring attack in a pincher movement, forcing me to shamefully profess my dereliction of duty and death of my ward to the joiner.

The RSPCA were good though, and I was next informed that an officer was on the way around. Soon I would be passing the bird onto them and be able to relax.

The magpie had been rooted to the same spot in my garden for the last ten hours, but then, of course, when the RSPCA van was twenty minutes away, the damn thing decided to go walkabout.

It crossed the lawn to the gardenpath, heading determinedly for the gate.

“Whoa! No-where you going?!”

Throwing a deaf ‘un to my desperate pleas, it went up the path, through the gate, a few yards up the street and then through next door’s gate into their garden, with me close behind, trying to stop it with ineffectual calls in my stern parent’s voice.

I had to catch it, but, with nothing to hand, I ran back inside to get the perfect wildfowl-and-small-animal-snaring contraption: our student’s pink laundry basket.

SPOILER ALERT: here is the magpie in our student’s pink laundry basket.


Clutching the basket, I ran back to my neighbour’s garden, my emerging neighbour Rob and my son James having cornered it behind a small rose bush. I went to the opposite side and on the count of three between us we flushed it out. It bounded across the garden like a Velociraptor in Jurassic Park. It got as far as our dividing garden fence and I caught it in the perfect spot, shaded from the summer sun. It could remain there now safely beneath the basket until the RSPCA officer arrived.

I breathed a sigh of relief and went back indoors. Imagine the RSPCA officer coming all this way only to find we’d lost the bird. Then I heard my neighbour’s partner Pam shouting: the RSPCA inspector was coming all this way and we’d lost the bird.

Loving soul that she is, she’d soaked some bread in water to place beneath the basket  for it to feed on and the magpie had saw its opportunity and took it. Pam should have known: in Jurassic Park raptors can even use door handles.

And so the chase began again in earnest. This time it picked some denser undergrowth at the far side of the garden. We tried a pincer movement of our own. I climbed over my next door-but-one neighbour’s fence to come at it from behind, while Pam and James waded through prickles and twigs to force it back out into the open.

“You’ve not let that bird get out have you?” Rob called from their doorstep.

“Don’t ask stupid questions!”  spat back his sweating partner. After five minutes of cut and thrust the magpie emerged, running around the garden like a bantam chicken. We ran, we pounced, we missed. The magpie went back into the undergrowth.

At this point I recieved another message: our rescuing RSPCA officer was seven minutes away!

We employed the same tactics again, and, after several desperate minutes the magpie emerged again, running across the garden with us all in pursuit. It shot past Pam and Rob’s open door (it would have been preferable for us if it it had gone inside, door handle savvy or not) and turned into their back garden, leading us still on our merry dance. A startled Rob stepped aside as I blundered into the back with the basket held high above my head like some crazy laundryman, only to see the bird squeeze through the privets into my back garden.

James slapped his forehead. I slapped the basket. Rob didn’t slap Pam. It was fast becoming the Keystone Kops.

Back through the back gate and over the front fence I went, our fugitive in sight, but as I advanced on it it discovered the only hole in the whole of our fence, the whole of our perimeter, and slipped through into yet another neighbour’s back garden.

“That’s it!” Pam declared, “it’s gone!”

I rushed to the new dividing fence, tiptoeing to peer over the five foot something high panel. Of course, this neighbour had a cat. Of course, this cat was now in their garden, thinking all its Christmases had come at once. It was poised two feet away from the magpie, both staring at each other, motionless in a deathly confrontation.

“Pam, there’s a cat!” I shouted.

“No! Has it got it?”

“It’s about to!”

Pam’s head appeared over the opposite fence just as the cat pounced. They rolled over the ground together, hissing and spitting, red in tooth and claw.

“I can’t watch!” Pam declared.

“Don’t let it eat it!” James implored.

Helpless, I raised the basket high above my head and the cat retreated, slightly. When all else fails, fall back on a fearsome pink basket. While Pam ran around to knock on the front door of this house, I tried to intimidate the predator again with the basket and a yodelled cry.  The cat came again.

At this point the house-owner and Pam emerged from the back door, the former grabbing the cat and the latter grabbing the bird.

A bird in the hand is worth two dead neighbours in the bush.


Forthwith back to my front garden, after James had a little stroke of its chest, we put the magpie slowly, CAREFULLY, back beneath the basket. We all emitted a loud sigh of relief. At that moment the van pulled up.


“I’d never have forgiven myself,” Pam said, “if that cat had killed it. I’m going inside well away from the thing!”

“Can we keep it as a pet?” James asked. “We’ve got a joiner here who can build a cage.”

What do you reckon my answer was?

James stepped forward for a closer look, stood on the rim of the basket causing it to tip up like happens with a garden rake!


Luckily the magpie must have been subdued by its encounter with the moggie (I’m thinking now I should have called this post The Maggie And The Moggie) and didn’t move as I pounced forward and dropped the basket over the bird again.

“James-keep away! Please-keep away!!!”

The officer came into the garden and expertly took the bird from us. She said it was one of this year’s brood and pointed out a wound to its chest along with the damaged tail feathers we’d noticed, probably from another skirmish with a cat.

It had been ‘kill or be killed’ while I’d been buttering my toast.

As the saga drew to a close, I requested that no sad messages of the bird’s fate be sent to us, if, after all this, you know, it didn’t make it.

And so, for the creature’s own health and for my beleaguered sanity, the magpie was taken away.

It was then, as the van turned the corner at the end of the street, that I saw the blackbird, standing next to the Tupperware box.


It’s All Greek To Me

I travelled into Manchester on a warm and stuffy bus, the heat only adding to my lethargy. I’d had only four hours sleep due to the late arrival of the student due to stay with us. (Don’t ask. No really- don’t ask! My WordPress word count couldn’t take it.)

After delivering him safely to the academy I called for a quick early lunch at the food court in the Arndale Centre. Sporting different stalls offering food from many different countries, I opted for a  halloumi pitta from Zorba’s.

Don’t worry this isn’t a food post, I’m not that kind of blogger.


I took a table and began to eat while reading the book I was currently in the middle of, maybe not a good idea whilst making a mess of myself with yoghurt sauce. A voice reached me from a neighbouring table: “Do you like Greek writers?”

I looked across to him whilst frantically dabbing at my chin with a napkin. He did indeed look Greek, but I don’t think he was one of Zorba’s workers. Perhaps an expat with a craving for home cooking.

Emboldened by the name of the food stall, I replied “I’ve read most things by Nikos Kazantzakis.”

“He is Cretan.”

I conceded that he was, and that I’d actually seen the author’s grave in Heraklion.

“Crete is not Greece,” my neighbour said firmly. And then he glanced down at my plastic tray. “And halloumi is not meat.”
You had to hand it to the guy, he certainly knew his stuff. Again I conceded the point, and briefly considered asking him for both author recommendations and favoured meat dishes but decided to cut and run. For no doubt English would not be Greek and my wife’s cooking would not be his Mother’s.

I packed both my book and lunch into my backpack and said a hasty goodbye, bus to catch and all that, making  my escape through the adjacent indoor fish market. As usual with the fish market it is your sense of smell that registers before your sense of sight, but then Conga eels, live mussels and all types of fish parts catch your eye, including, at the end of the display, a sign for Cod Flaps.

Cod flaps? What part of a fish could that be?

Surely not?


My Role As Millie’s Chief Tormentor

Two conversations, within five minutes, with my eleven-year-old daughter Millie:


When seeing Amanda Holden on television.

Millie: “My friend Sienna has met Amanda Holden.”

Me: “So have I.”

Millie: “Really? You’ve met her?”

“Me: “Yes.”

Millie: “Once?”

Me: “More than once.”

Millie: “Really?”

Me: “Yes, I’ve met Sienna lots of times.”


Followed by:


Feeling the gap caused by a recently lost tooth:

Millie: “You know like I’ve lost a tooth? This girl in America was on YouTube and she put a tooth under her pillow and got a hundred pounds off the Tooth Fairy.”

Me: “No she didn’t.”

“Millie: “Err yes she did!!”

Me: “I bet you she didn’t.”

Millie: “Okay-shake on it then.”

Me: “Alright. If that girl in America got a hundred pounds I’ll give you fifty quid. If she didn’t you have got to do every job I give you for a week.”

Millie: “Deal!”

We shook hands on the wager.

Me: “In America they don’t have pounds they have dollars.”


Yes goodnight Millie! Sleep well!

(He)art of the City

In the wake of the Arena bomb, the city drew the creatives to itself, as though, in some act of self-healing catharsis, beauty was brought to counter the ghastly.

Along the city’s highways, and especially in St Anne’s Square which was fast becoming the focus for the people’s outpouring of grief and defiance, artists could be seen hunched over easels and pavement flagstones, etching hearts, bees and other symbols of resilience onto the bones of her wounded body.

Even now, on the eve of the anniversary, we turn to art to express our deepest responses.






In the wake of the Arena bomb, musicians could be found playing the music of their fellow Mancunians; recognisable core DNA transmuted through classical, reggae and ballads of bleeding. Mourners broke vigils with spontaneous outpourings of adopted anthems.

Even now, on the eve of the anniversary, we quote the words of some of her favourite sons.





Tomorrow is twelve months. The healing goes on.




The conception of ‘(He)art’ was created by my fellow blogger Laura Bruno Lilly. http://laurabrunolilly.com/blog/

A Random Conversation In The Library

(Background information: this took place in my local library. I sometimes take part in clinical trials, and if a book I’ve ordered comes in while I’m away my wife picks it up for me.)


I called into Middleton Library today. Two librarians were stood at the desk, one greeting me in surprise:

L: “Hello! I’ve not seen you for a while! I was only thinking about you the other day.”

Me:”You thought I’d died, didn’t you? On a trial. Never came out again alive.”

L:“No! I saw that comedian on the tv . . .

Me:”Don’t tell me-Jason Manford.”



L:”No but . . . yes! You are like him!”

Me:”You’re the fourth person now to tell me that. Who was it you was watching?

L:”Peter Kay.”



Me:”Well thanks a bunch!”  I did that thing with my double chin.

L: ““I mean the way he tells his stories!”

The other librarian now joined in, thinking it an opportune moment to extricate her colleague from a conversation running amok.

L#2: “Didn’t I see your wife in here? While you were away?

Me: “With another man?”

L#2: No! With the kids.”

Me: “To be honest I’m more worried about her being with the kids than with the other man. She’s not supposed to have access.”


My book was overdue. They waived the fine.