Oliver Cross: Pie anxiety

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SOMETIMES, as I keep being forced to say, although I’m not sure what it means, you can’t do right for doing wrong.

For example, only this week a magpie got stuck in my loggia (and you should know what a loggia is because I explained it in great detail last week and can’t be bothered to go over it all again).

The magpie was stealing food from my cats’ bowl – magpies do this all the time, I think as much for the thrill of terrorising the cats and reducing them to quivering wrecks as for the free meal.

They may also regard it as their rightful reward for daily waking me up with their tuneless, aggressive squawking, which sounds more like a Messerschmitt attack than a dawn chorus.

Anyway, this particular magpie, after his cat-food raid, failed to find the loggia door and just kept flying, like a giant bluebottle, into my one of the clear plastic panes installed between the loggia’s upright galvanized steel struts, which are set 43cms apart and masked by wooden batons, as you would know if you were paying attention last week.

I knew the magpie, hammering and squawking in great alarm, would eventually escape, even if that involved ripping my newly-restored loggia to shreds, but I felt sorry for it.

I mean, magpies may be thuggish, malicious thieves capable of making, pound for pound, more noise than anything except a large swarm of cicadas or a small rock band, but we can’t dismiss animals just because we don’t like them – and actually magpies, with their great survival skills and exotic plumage, are in many ways admirable, you just wouldn’t like to live next door to one.

So I made a grab for the bird and something terrible happened; half its magnificent tail feathers came away in my hand. There was no pulling or tearing, the feathers just detached themselves instantly so that, against all expectations, it looked as if the destructive vandal in the loggia was me, not the magpie.

I did manage to get the bird out of the loggia and it flew away apparently unhindered by its loggia mishap, but to be responsible for damaging something as beautiful as a magpie’s tail is a heavy burden and I’ve resolved to give up trying to be kind to magpies. For a start, there’s no need, magpies can look after themselves if anybody can.

And further to my ‘doing right for doing wrong’ theme, I heard a fascinating example of it on a radio phone-in.

The topic was Helping Africa and one of the callers, who sounded very middle-class and formidable, said she had walked unaccompanied right across Africa, north to south, and had concluded that the worst development on the continent was new wells in rural areas, so that children didn’t have to walk miles to fetch water.

Which sounds ridiculous and the phone-in host was clearly preparing himself for a nutter, but she simply talked over him and explained that in remote villages before the wells were built, walking to the river was a central part of the children’s day.

They would meet their friend there and swim or play in the water while their mothers got a break from trying to entertain them.

The new wells, said the phone-in caller, were a change for the worse, producing moany, unfit kids and mothers on the verge of nervous breakdowns. Plus, she said, the fast-flowing water from the rivers was often healthier than the still water of the wells.

I don’t know whether she was right and I have an aversion to the idea (much favoured by Prince Charles) that poor people should be denied progress because relatively rich people think it might be bad for them; but it does make you think, dunnit?

Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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