Is it a sign of old age and madness that I’ve fallen in love with the sparrows in my garden?
I returned to the house an hour ago and was happy to see the strewn remains of dry noodles which two-year-old Alice had not eaten. There they lay – an enticing bait for sparrows, and only a few minutes later I went to the patio door and heard the whir of little wings as five sparrows flew up, disturbed by my presence. Were they house sparrows or Eurasian tree sparrows or a combination of both? Five minutes later I disturbed another small flock – same surprise and delight at whirring wings, the equivalent of the patter of tiny feet but in the ornithological world.
Now, it should come as no surprise to lovers of butterflies that sparrows can be compared to butterflies. Yes, I admit a sparrow might well have a go at an insect, a bad go and gobble at it a bit, but when all’s said and done, sparrows just aren’t crows or kites or owls. They’re pretty “pacific” in the kingdom of birds and though not gilded are (especially for the purpose of this article) very butterflyish.
My special delight in sparrows here in Thailand probably stems from their absence in England and from their presence throughout my somewhat bleak childhood in Blackheath. I still remember them hopping about the garden path but of course never gave them back then the value I give them now. For me they’re a sign that seeds and waste are still here in Thailand whereas it seems pretty obvious that their scarcity in England is due to over-development and the wanton agricultural destruction of England’s countryside. Lightweight birds, sparrows, wrens, goldcrests, larks, can’t take as much sterilised rubbish as say a glitzy, aggressive magpie.
When King Lear asked Cordelia to laugh at gilded butterflies, it was really Shakespeare telling me to laugh with Alice at little sparrows. Let’s hear from the great content-creator himself:
“No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out
In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.”
N.B. “Ironically, King Lear in his madness has learned much wisdom. He now knows who truly loves him, Cordelia, and he wants to spend his days in prison with her singing, praying, telling old tales and laughing at gilded butterflies….” and laughing at little sparrows, too, of course.