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A Day In Birds

Went out on a limb this week, and bought the mini-mealworms from Livefoods (your budget one stop for all live-feed for reptiles, bait and garden birds). They're more expensive by weight, I suppose because they're more delicate to handle?, but I'm sure they're what the bluetits in Kitty-next-door's nesting box need for their fledgings (box given to Kitty as a present when she was about five, her mums put it up on the wall just for the hell of it, and now, Kitty practically in college, suddenly it's in use). So, mini worms on the menu: if the starlings don't get them first, but I can't police that. Starlings are making a bit of a come back in Brighton, and they're all over our bird feeders. They're very social minded. The first to discover food sits and yells a special churling shriek about it to its mates, and waits like a good kid until everybody else turns up. Well, for several minutes anyway.

Such loud peeping from that nesting box this afternoon, the chicks have to be fledging soon. I wonder if we'll be on hand to see. And I hope the jackdaws won't be . . .

Three dapper little cock sparrows in St George's Mews, as I was meandering reluctantly to the gym. Just passing time together, up and down from the top of the wall to the pavement. I love sparrows, I have never stopped missing them since they disappeared from UK cities; from our pavements and our puddles, about 2001. Is their urban population bouncing back? I'd be very happy to see that.


The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey.

About a conservator at the V&A (by another name) whose lover dies suddenly and she has to mourn him alone, as she is only his mistress of 13 years. Lots of terrific reviews, mainly loving her torrential tears and orgy of grief. Actually I thought the grief bit was rather shallow, all she does is drink herself silly, and recall baby-names and tender sexual moments; very mistressy, of course. Plus, unlike many she is NOT alone, she has an absolute doormat of a boss who kind of abandons his own life to wait on her hand and foot & then when we eventually hear a word about the man's wife she's dismissed, in classic shallow mistress style, in half a sentence as a bad lot. Lazy, I thought. The real story (my rating of real, that is, not the rating of the novel's target audience) is about Victorian automata and fantastic computing-machines. I thought it was going to be about Charles Babbage (under another name) and the Difference Engine (under another name). But it isn't! The counterpart of the historical strand is set in Germany, the Black Forest, 1854 and It's about the childhood of Karl Benz (own name) as in Mercedes-Benz! Which I thought was pretty clever, and the weird German mystic thing about giving machines souls by sticking mystic objects inside them fine & intriguing. Unfortunately the "present" strand is set in April 2010, and in the end goes off on one about the Deepwater Horizon accident & it turns out that the Industrial Revolution spawned actual supernatural demons in the form of petrol-eating machines, wicked demons that are now destroying us, and we are helpless . . . Huh, what a despicable dodge. The internal combustion engine did it! I suppose that's why toffs admire this sort of thing. All told, the chemistry of tears (which only appears once, briefly) salted with emotion did not succeed in obscuring the fact that this little book has nothing coherent to say. But interesting, all the same. I may take up reading Booker Prize type fiction, as my next hobby after Chiclit bestsellers.

I'm also reading Proust, for the 6th time, and have got nearly to the end of La Prisonnière : the episode where "Albertine" is secretly living in Marcel's family apartment, his parents being elsewhere. I used to find this obsessive set-piece boring, improbable and far, far too long, but it grows on you after a few iterations. I read this passage, late last night:

"Meanwhile winter was at an end; the fine weather returned, and often when Albertine had just bidden me good-night, my curtains and the wall above being still quite dark, in the nun's garden next door I could hear, rich and mellow in the silence like a harmonium in church, the modulation of an unknown bird which in the Lydian mode was already chanting matins, and into the midst of my darkness flung the rich dazzling note of the sun that it could see . . ."

This suddenly thrilled me with delight, because I knew what bird that was. I recognise the song from Proust's description. I hear the same "Lydian" music every morning, from across the street, very early, while it's still dark. It was a blackbird.

bird images from the RSPB


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