Tag Archives: Birds of Shakespeare

It’s Nice To Feel Useful – Top Picks

Before Google got nervous about web search findings and tightened up on sharing search results there was a lot of fun to be had looking at the questions that brought web-surfers to my blog.

Here are ten of my favourites…

The first one is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?

I think I am obliged to point out here straight away that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is probably safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

I imagine that what the question referred to was really about starlings in the USA because here there is a connection.

The introduction of the starling to USA is said to be the responsibility of a man called Eugene Schiefflein who belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works on the basis that they thought it would be rather nice to hear the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of new world America. Obviously they didn’t realise that this had the potential be an ecological disaster on the same scale as introducing the rabbit into Australia!

Next is another historical howler…

“Napoleon Monument in Moscow”

What? In his periods of sanity Napoleon did some rather good things but most of the time he was a tyrant and a dictator and a warmonger and in 1812 he invaded Russia and did unspeakable things to the Russian people who were unfortunate enough to be in his way as he marched his army to Moscow. When he got there the Russian people burnt the city down and so with nowhere to stay for the winter he was obliged to march all the way back again during which his army did more unpleasant things to the Russian people.

I imagine that the chances of there being a memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte in Moscow are about just as likely as there will be a statue of Adolf Hitler.

There is however a monument to the French Emperor in France at Boulogne-Sur-Mer so perhaps that is where the search engine went looking?

Next, I like this one – “Lawrence and Gerald Durrell – how tall were they?

Honestly, what sort of question is that and unless you were their tailor or their undertaker why would you want to know. I did write a post about the Durrells when I visited Corfu where they both lived so perhaps this is where the enquirer ended up – “Corfu, In the Footsteps of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell” and as it is one of my favourite Greek Islands I will be surely returning so hopefully I can provide more missing detail!

“Did Vikings have large penises?”

Well, I am not an archaeologist or an anthropologist but what sort of odd question is that to put into a web search engine?

I find myself being completely unable to help with this subject, it is outside the limits of my expertise but on a visit to Iceland I did get to visit the rather odd Penis Museum but I don’t think that will have the answer to that one either.

One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one. My favourite just has to be – “Do I get expenses to attend royal garden party?”

Let me take a moment here to explain.

Just to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party is a bit special in itself and believe me there is going to be a lot of expense involved – new suit, new outfit, overnight stay in London, taxi fares etc. and most people would gladly deal with this just to be part of the occasion so I have to say that expecting the Queen to pick up the bill sounds rather republican to me and whoever asked this should quite clearly not have had an invite in the first place.

Next up, I really like this one – “What did the captain wear on the Titanic?”

I visited Belfast in 2015 and went to see the Titanic Exhibition and Museum. It was a super place and I recommend anyone to go there and I think what I learned on that visit may just well help here.

Around the exhibition there are lots of pictures of Captain Smith in his White Star Line uniform so I am forced to conclude that except when he went to bed and most likely put on a pair of pyjamas that this was his favourite form of dress. Another thing that I can be certain of is that Captain Smith didn’t wear a lifebelt because after the Titanic struck the iceberg he went down with his ship and drowned!

Mine is not a food blog but I am always happy to help out with culinary questions whenever I can and I like this one… Should I put vinegar on the chips or not?”

I include this one even though I do not find this to be not such a stupid question. What you should put on your chips is a matter of personal choice and a subject that I debated when I considered the origin of frites.

Staying with the food theme…

“What was General Franco’s favourite food?”

I am reasonably certain that this is a question that only his personal chef could realistically be expected to answer with any authority but my suggestions are…

• Roasted Republicans
• Skewered Socialists
• Char-grilled Communists

Some time ago I tried to visit General Franco’s tomb but the Spanish don’t like Franco anymore and it was closed at the time on account of the fact that it was being demolished.

When General Franco met Führer Adolf Hitler in possibly the most awkward ever meeting in history I can only assume that either they couldn’t agree on the menu or they were both on a diet…

“What does a postcard of the Grand Canyon look like?”

I am certain that I have put some dumb questions into Google myself but surely none as daft as this. I am tempted simply to say that a postcard of the Grand Canyon will look very much like a postcard and will most likely have a picture of the Canyon on it.

Anyway, I visited the Grand Canyon in 1995 and as always I am keen to help so here we go, it looks like a postcard and has a picture of the canyon on it…

For this selection of search terms I have saved my favourite until last and this is it – “Things to do in Tossa de Marr Spain for clairvoyants”.

Now, call me a sceptic if you like but if you can see into the future what on earth does a clairvoyant need with a website of advertised events – why don’t they just look in their crystal ball?

… Have you spotted any bizarre search questions bringing unexpected visitors to your blog posts? – Do Tell!

The Blackbird – Sweden, A Nursery-Rhyme and A Saint

Blackbird

With its status as Britain’s favourite bird secure, the Robin cannot possibly be challenged for top spot (rather like Winston Churchill as the Greatest Briton) but coming second I would suggest is the sociable and friendly Blackbird.

Although the Robin is our favourite bird it has always been denied official National Bird status. Not so the Blackbird which, after a newspaper poll of readers in 1962 is honoured as the national bird of Sweden.  Although many World countries have national birds this is the only one that I can find that has chosen a bird that I have found in my garden.

Many countries, especially in the tropics prefer colourful specimens like parrots, the French have the Cockerel, Australia has the Emu, New Zealand the Kiwi and the USA has the Bald Eagle and others too like to choose something spectacular and powerful.  The most common national bird is the Golden Eagle which is claimed by Austria and Germany, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Scotland.

Sweden Blackbird Postage Stamp

In the Middle Ages the blackbird was known by the distinctive old English name of the Ousel and it is a pity that this has become obsolete, though it may still be referred to as such in Scotland.  The first recorded usage of blackbird was in 1486 and even though there are bigger black birds in Medieval England such as the Crow, Raven, Rook or Jackdaw, these were previously regarded as fowl so the Ouzel was simply the largest black bird at that time.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare describes the bird as ‘The Woosell cocke, so blacke of hew, With Orenge-tawny bill’.

In Scotland where linguistic relics of the old alliance with France still remain, the blackbird is sometimes known by its French name of le Merle.  A Blackbird is el Mirlo in Spanish and il Merlo in Italian, all of which are from the Latin Merula by the way.

Merle is a traditional French name although not so popular now it seems and it certainly doesn’t feature in a current list of top one hundred (the most common French names are Marie for a girl and Thomas for a boy).  Famous Merles have been the actress Merle Oberon and the US country singer Merle Haggard.  One interesting piece of trivia is that there was a character in the film Godfather Part II, a lover of Connie Corleone, called Merle Johnson (Troy Donahue played the part).

Merle Johnson

On the Fourth Day of Christmas My Truelove sent to me… “Four Colly Birds etc. etc.”

Yes, you read it correctly. Colly birds, not calling birds.  So maybe we have been singing the song all wrong!  It would seem that nobody knows for sure how we got from colly bird to calling bird, but some people think it is likely to be an Americanisation of the traditional verse; Colly is an Old English term for ‘black’ from the word ‘colliery’ meaning coal mine and colly birds refer to the common blackbird.

A common view is that ‘colly bird’ was a term specific to England and that England’s former colonies dropped the word in favour of ‘blackbirds.’ In fact, ‘colly birds’ have pretty much dropped out of the English language altogether today and, in this Christmas song, it has been completely replaced by the ‘calling bird’ in the US Australia, Canada and many other former English colonies.

Postage Stamp designers seem to know about this…

Four Colly Birds

Which leaves the obvious question – why would someone send their lover four blackbirds?  Perhaps this is the answer…

“Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye.

Four and twenty blackbirds,

Baked in a pie.”

800px-SingSong6dcaldecott

An interesting nursery ryme based on fact as it happens.  From the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century blackbirds were sometimes used as a substitute meat to make a poor man’s pie. Rich people liked blackbird pie as well but with a bit of a twist. For amusement, after a pie was baked the live birds were placed under the pie crust and served at the table and when the pie was ‘opened’ the birds would escape and fly about the room for the entertainment of the guests.

To be honest I can’t help thinking that four and twenty blackbirds swooping about the room might become a bit of a distraction at a dinner party!

blackbirdpie

The concept of a Blackbird in a pie remains with us even now and I can remember my Mum having one of these pie funnels when I was a boy living at home…

Berry_Pie-535x356

These days all wild birds in the UK are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 so catching them to eat is against the law. It is however permissible to eat them if they have died and fallen into the back garden but as you are likely to need a lot of Blackbirds to make a reasonably sized pie it might take a very long time to collect enough of them unless there were to be a catastrophic incident that you could get enough in one go but then I would advise caution in considering eating them if ever such a grisly event happened!

I have saved my favourite and most unlikely blackbird story until the end.

St Kevin

St Kevin of Glendalough (Ireland) is the Patron Saint of the Blackbird and according to legend this came about because one day he was praying with outstretched arms and a Blackbird landed in his hand, built a nest, laid eggs and St Glendalough sat there all the time in the same position until the eggs hatched and the birds were fledged and flew safely away.

A bit far-fetched do you think? I should say so. It takes a pair of Blackbirds about a week to build a nest, then they have to do the mating stuff, the eggs take on average fourteen days to hatch and it is then another fourteen days or so before the chicks are ready to leave. Call me a sceptic if you like but I find the story hard to believe because surely poor old St. Glendalogh would have had to have wriggled about a little bit and after six weeks or so that arm is going to be completely dead and useless. I can only hold a glass of wine for a few minutes before having to put it down!

I told you before about my Dad’s scrapbook of birds.  This was his blackbird page…

Dads Blackbird page