Monday, 11 May 2020

The BIrds

The one thing that we have gained temporarily from the current lockdown is the sound of silence. Gone is the everyday background noise that constantly invades our lives. Here in the heart of London we can enjoy the birds singing in the late Spring sunshine.

The early morning walk across to the allotments is now filled with the sounds of the many songbirds that live on the Mudchute Park and Farm. We may not be able to distinguish all the various songs and their singers, but Britain certainly has got talent.

The bench on the plot is under a fir tree and today you can hear the pinecones cracking open in the sun. At first you wonder what the noise is as you will have never hear it normally. Then the Goldfinch who is sitting on top breaks into a song. He misses a few notes and does an excellent key change, but it’s a bit on the rock style for me. Robin sits in the middle of the bed with his wings over his ears complaining about the racket and as if he were on the panel of judges he proclaims in his black and red fronted tee shirt and LA tan, ’That’s not singing. Next!’

I never thought of the bird songs competing like some X Factor contest, but many are similar and distinguishing them and naming that artist and the song can be tricky.

We are blessed with Robin, a Song Thrush and Wren. I am sure I can detect the Nightingales distinctive and mixed notes and hammering percussive sounds but it is hard to pin them down when, like an orchestra warming up, they sing at the same time.

Not all birds are blessed with ‘The Voice’. The button is not always pressed, and chairs don’t always turn around. Some birds do not even make the auditions and their talents lay elsewhere. Take the Magpie; his plumage is both distinctive and attractive, but he cannot sing. Like his carrion brothers he rarely ventures onto the plots as they have more business on the farm since we do not service their dietary needs. So thankfully we are sparred their macho squawks.

There are of course the Pigeons. They just waddle around pecking and pretending not to be there but can’t stop cooing on and chattering to each other. A bit like Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough’s Cissy and Ada chattering clutching their handbags, they talk a lot and saying nothing and here there are no punch lines. Their eyes are for ever searching out the next meal and they love their veg and can strip a bed in no time at all. Fortunately, they don’t like performing in front of crowds so if the plots are being worked, they go and find another spot to have their natter.

The Farm has many working birds and occasionally you hear a cockerel making his morning cry. You look at your watch and realise it’s 11am and wonder if he has had a long lay in or missed the early morning alarm call. Hang on, he is the early morning alarm call! Some obviously work harder than others!

‘The Birdman of the Mudchute’ works on the upper plots and like Burt Lancaster in the film he is devoted to feeding the flying minstrels. He probably, unlike me, knows them all by their first names and like Gareth Malone has his own choir and practice times. Now, what will that TV show be called?

Among his choir are the latest new band to hit the streets with their new sounds. They are like the punks of the 70s, the new wave of the 80s or the hip hop rap stars and introduce their sound with aplomb. It’s not some much singing but a continual chorus of grating high-pitched caws. Enter left stage The Ring-Necked Parakeets. They even dress differently and have gone for a kind of glam rock bright green outfit. If you cannot hear them you can certainly see them. Apparently, they are making it big south of the river but still to have a big hit up here. Fortunately, they haven’t taken up residence on the Mudchute and are busy taking over nearby neighbourhood estates and residence in their large Plane trees.

Walking down some streets is quite an experience as you hear them cawing above you. You see their massive communal housing squat at the highest point of the tree, step over the rejected nest twigs and guano and try to avoid flying deposits. The roofs and bonnets of the cars on these streets resemble a paintball target. Now it may be fertilizer to some but we don’t want that on the veg at the allotment do we! 

So, after the auditions, the semi-finals and the final, can we promote the songbird choir and celebrate their songs and singing and look forward to their Christmas number one.