> Skip to content

Book clubs  •  13 March 2018

 

Short story club – 17 May 2018

Read the story being discussed on Jesse Mulligan’s show on Radio New Zealand on 17 May 2018

Giving the Bird

 

First there was T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, whereby years of English Stage 1 students learned that poetry didn’t have to go dum-de-dum. Instead, it could go dum-de-eh?

Then there were Eliot’s own Notes to The Waste Land, wherein T.S. courteously made the thing even more incomprehensible (lines 366–76: “cf Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos: Schon ist halb Europa . . .”). Thanks a bunch, Tom.

And then came Notes on the Notes on . . ., wherewith critics annotated every line of the poem in increasingly minute detail till they vanished up their own obscurities.

I digress. Let me direct you to line 357 of The Waste Land. It reads “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop”, thus confirming a lot of English Undergraduate suspicions about twentieth century verse.

Great Tom’s own Note to line 357 begins “This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush, which . . .” Turdus: them Latins had a sense of humour all right.

The thrushes in our street aren’t hermits. They operate in Swat Teams. And their behaviour often brings my classical education ringing over the fences, as I cry “Oh . . . turdus!”

Introduced from Europe in the nineteenth century along with rugby, thrushes have become terrorists of suburbia.

Supposedly they’re a boon, “feeding mostly on snails and slugs”. Actually, ours prefer infant bean and pea tips. When they do go for slithery things, they either belt hell out of the shells on our roof at 5.27am, or they rake a cubic metre of garden onto the path as they search for tiffin. Hitler advancing across Russia must have passed on a thing or four to the thrushes advancing across my seed-beds.

Then there’s another of Turdus’s maddening habits: the mindless call usually rendered by bird books as “tchick, tchick, tchick!” In English, this translates as “nyah, nyah, nyah!”, and is most frequently heard as the spotted sods lift off from a scraped garden or streaked roof.

“That’s the wise thrush,” maundered Robert Browning. “He sings each song twice over / Lest you should think he never could recapture / That first fine careless rapture.” Rubbish, Robbie. S/He sings it twice, usually at 5.27am, because: (a) s/he’s innumerate; (b) s/he’s sadistic.

I digress again — to poetry, which started this whole thing. Browning was also responsible for “The lark’s on the wing, / The snail’s on the thorn” etc. What’s not generally known is that his next couplet originally read “The thrush on the roof, / Why was I ever born?”.

Our resident Turdii obviously cross-bred with a Stuka some time in the past (see Hitler ref above). Their dive-bombing skills and pin-point delivery are evidenced on our car roof, porch windows, car doors, garden paths, sun-hats and car windows.

At 6.29am weekday mornings, a minute before I head out to get the paper from the letterbox, at least four of them assemble on the power lines above the said repository. Another original script you didn’t know about was Hitchcock’s The Birds, which planned to use thrushes instead of crows for that scary playground buildup. His crew refused; they were too frightened.

But I’m not a vindictive man, except at 5.27am. For some time, I’d been distressed by the number of spotted dicks that kept flying straight into the glass walls of our porch (I’d told my wife it was a bad idea to clean them), and thudding to the ground. She didn’t like my suggestion of a snarling moggy in fluorescent paint on the glass, so we settled for curtains.

In spite of which, a thick tchick whammed into the glass one pm and then hit the concrete. I rushed out to succour it, and of course it began flapping all over the place, voiding unnecessary body-weight as it did so.

Skidding on Turdus turds, I lifted the idiot import to safety on top of our trellis. It sat there for a bit, then whirred off in a heartstopping arc, skimming and soaring above hedge and bough into the freedom of the glowing firmament.

As it went, it crapped on the washing.

 

© David Hill, ‘Giving the Bird’ was first published in the Listener in 2012.

David’s  most recent publication is the novel for younger readers, Finding, May 2018.


Finding David Hill

Master storyteller David Hill traces the fortunes of two New Zealand families over seven generations, through wars, depressions, disasters, protest and social change in this exciting novel for intermediate readers.

Buy now
Buy now

More features

See all
Article
Real Readers Review: Coastwatcher

Looking for your kid's next great read? Let our Puffin Ambassadors tell you why you should pick up Coastwatcher, a thrilling adventure novel for 9+ readers.

Activity
Taking the Lead: downloadable activity

Download our Taking the Lead word search here!

Article
Five things you didn’t know about Jacinda Ardern

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is famous for her empathy and leadership skills.

Activity
Hero of the Sea: activity

Use the key to unlock the secret message!

Q&A
Q&A with David Hill and Phoebe Morris

The co-creators of Hero of the Sea interview each other about writing, illustrating and their latest collaboration.

Book clubs
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone book club notes

Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is a fiendishly clever mystery that will keep your book club guessing and introduces a family of characters brilliant for discussion.

Book clubs
The Last Station book club notes

An unputdownable Australian novel to read with your book club.

Book clubs
The Herd book club notes

A standout book club novel. Unputdownable and thought-provoking.

Book clubs
The Frog Prince book club conversation starters

James Norcliffe shares discussion points and questions for his new book The Frog Prince in this book club guide.

Book clubs
The Spy's Wife book club notes

Much loved author Fiona McIntosh is back with an historical adventure to enjoy with your book club.

Book clubs
The Paper Palace book club notes

A magnificent literary pick for book club.

Book clubs
A Slow Fire Burning book club notes

An exciting new thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train to discuss with your book club.

Looking for more book club notes?

See all book club notes