Archive for March, 2009

Unnecessary plastic objects

Monday, March 30th, 2009

I’ve been listening to Springsteen’s latest release (WORKING ON A DREAM), and particularly to the ‘Queen of the Supermarket’ song, which I love. The idea of writing an ode to a girl who bags the groceries in a supermarket is so sweet and so eloquent, and in typical Springsteen style it expresses the universal nature of our ordinary passions and dreams, and the aching sadness of unfulfilled lives.

And it got me thinking about other shopping songs – especially Nanci Griffith’s ‘Love at the Five & Dime’. There are at least two versions of this song of hers, and one of them has almost two and a half minutes of talk before the song begins about Woolworth’s, and how much she loves Woolworth stores all over the world, and how when she first came to England – well, son of a gun, there was another Woolworth store! And she wanted to ask the driver to stop the car so she could run into the store right then and purchase some more “unnecessary plastic objects”. Well, alas, never no more chance of doing that, Nanci, now that Woolworth stores closed in the UK. But the song’s lovely, and very like Springsteen’s in tone and sweet sadness.

The version with the pre-song chat’s on the WINGS TO FLY AND A PLACE TO BE CD, but the song itself’s on several of Nanci’s other CDs. And here’s Nanci singing it on YouTube.

New improved fish widget

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Now why is this one so much more fun than the first?
I think we can all tell that I’ve just finished one piece of work and don’t want to start the next, can’t we?

So it’s bye bye birdies, and hello fish!

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Well, I still don’t know how the magpies are doing. I can see they’re still hard at work, mostly still on the inside of the nest but they’re also doing some work on the underside. I suspect once more that they’re novices, because there’s a pair of magpies out the back that seem to be further advanced, and working more regular hours. But here’s something else we can all watch!

Just look at this! How sweet! You can feed the fish as much as you like (click on the screen with your cursor) and they always come back for more. Or you can ignore them completely and they still swim on for ever.

I find it soothing. I don’t have to worry about these fish, like I do the magpies. Clearly, they’re fine. I like that a lot.

A magpie nest update

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Well, the nest-building pattern has changed a bit over this weekend. The birds seem only to be working on the nest in the early morning and the late afternoon now, and Number One stays inside the nest all the time when they’re doing the work, while Number Two’s the one to bring back twigs. Number Two offers the twigs, one by one (much smaller twigs than before, so there’s no need any more to back in, or do the twisting bit) right into the nest. Then there are some small quick movements from inside, as Number One – I assume; I can’t see – weaves them in place.

I don’t know why the working hours have changed. Do they have another building job? Are they on half-time? Or are they partying in the sunshine in the best of the warm spring days, while the going’s good?

Two for joy?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

You know that old rhyme about magpies?

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret that’s never been told.

It used to be challenging to see more than one or two at a time – and if you were unlucky enough to spot only one, you just had to accept the ‘sorrow’ suggestion. But these days, on Primrose Hill and in Regent’s Park, it’s much more usual to see a whole lot of magpies at once – and so now, if you see only one, you just have to wait a few seconds and its friends and relations will be along. In fact, maybe we need some additions to the rhyme – I saw nine together last autumn.

These days I’m watching a pair of magpies make a nest in the tree outside our front window. It was a complete mess at first, just a random-looking heap of twigs. I thought they must be young birds, and that perhaps it was their first attempt at a nest. But they’ve done a lot of hard twig carrying and twig weaving in the last week, and the nest suddenly looks much more stable.

It’s very interesting to watch the two magpies at work. At first they just took turns to arrive back in the tree with a beakful of twig, and the hardest bit seemed to be getting a long twig through the branches and into the nest site – oftentimes they’d both back in, twisting their heads around to clear the path. But now one of them stays inside the nest, and since I can’t see inside I can only guess that it’s the female in there, maybe adjusting the lining and smoothing everything down. But the other bird, probably the male, keeps bringing long twigs in, though, so perhaps they’re not up to the lining bit of the job?

It makes me realise how little we – or at least, how little I – know about the secret life of birds. This couple are apparently so purposeful and hard working, but I haven’t a clue how they know what to do, or how they adjust their activities in the light of circumstances (available nest sites, size of available twigs, placement of nest materials, and so on). I can only watch and marvel at their dedication.

Here’s the nest with magpie number one inside, and magpie number two arriving with a twig. You can just see the long horizontal twig sticking out of his (her?) beak on the right, as he (she?) backs carefully over to the nest.


Happy World Book Day, Hackney!

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

wbd_logo_09_wwwnbt_rgb1Thursday 5th March – that’s this week! – is World Book Day, but only if you’re in Hackney, or other parts of Britain and Ireland. The rest of the world celebrates World Book Day on 23rd April, which is Shakespeare’s birthday. I don’t know why we do it differently in Britain, but we do lots of things differently in Britain, so I guess this is another proud exception!

I know Hackney pretty well, although I live a bus ride away in Camden. But my favourite bookshop is in Hackney, lots of my friends live there, and I often go to shows at the famous Hackney Empire Theatre. And this coming Thursday I’m going to be performing in Hackney myself, because Victoria Park Books have organised a World Book Day event at the Hackney Museum and Library. It starts at 4.30 pm and goes on to about 6.30 pm.

I’ll be speaking with two other authors, Keith Mansfield and Gaby Halberstam, and we’ll all have to talk fast because we haven’t got much time! I’ll mostly concentrate on my latest book, “Everything I Know About You”, but I hope to say something about my other books, too. (And when I’ve finished, I’ll probably be ready to go on that radio program, ‘Just A Minute’.) Other authors will be there too, doing their thing – Guy Bass, Will Gatti, Carolyn Hink, David Lucas and Kevin Waldron. We’d all love to meet you and talk about books, and our books will be on sale, as well, so we can sign copies for you if you like.

The full address is Hackney Museum & Library, 1 Reading Lane, London E1 1GQ. (That’s just off Mare Street, opposite the Hackney Empire.) It looks like this:


We hope to see you there!