Out Now!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Damn Magpies!

A distrust of magpies was instilled into me as a child: ‘One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy.’ The rhyme has a merry bounce and sounds innocuous, even innocent. Why then the frisson of fear on seeing a single magpie? Why the involuntary spitting on the pavement and greeting said bird with ‘Good day Mr. Magpie’? And perhaps most puzzling of all, how was a thoroughly urbanized Liverpool toddler infected with such rural twaddle?

Rural twaddle my foot.

Within five minutes of setting out for our holiday in Pembroke a single magpie zoomed across our windscreen and vanished. I avoided spitting. It can’t be done in a car without eliciting comment. I did, surreptitiously, wish it a good day. Then, blow me, ten minutes later another single magpie shot across my line of vision. A chill ran through me, my thumbs prickled. I knew something bad was about to happen – but what – and when?

We had barely arrived in Nolton Haven when I almost stopped breathing. Some kind of invisible elastic band encircled my chest stopping allowing only a trickle of air into my lungs. Walking from bedroom to kitchen brought me out in a sweat and a pant. It also brought into relief how precious air is. 

I’d experienced a similar revelation crawling out the Grand Canyon and, a few years after that, mazing my way through the ruins of Pompeii during a heat-wave. Water then was the ultimate treasure.

Water and air - finer than the finest champagne, finer than the finest malt – even Lagavulin. Such revelations invariably occur when it’s almost too late. Still, I was on holiday to enjoy myself and that involves swimming in a cold Atlantic. Take it easy, I thought. Go slowly. Just float. Big mistake. My lungs went on strike and twenty minutes in I juddered to a halt. Magpies danced and cavorted as I crawled on to land.
The doctor was sympathetic. She told me I had beautiful blood pressure but an infection in the right lung. Strike One to the Magpie. Just one more to go.

I didn’t have to wait long. The following night in fact. 

It was a strange cottage with low beams that caught the unwary head. But the magpie had more serious intent than a cracked head. It was night and I was on my way to the toilet, concerned not to wake my wife, so didn’t switch on a light. I felt my way through darkness half asleep, dreaming or perhaps imagining myself to be Dirk Deadly on a mission…Gestapo close on my heels. Unfortunately for me the stair-case was adjacent to the toilet and I stepped on air, tumbling head first down the stairs.
I mouthed a silent prayer to God that there hadn’t been a third magpie. Two had done their worst. Enough was enough.

Post script.
An X Ray showed a collapsed lung. Pneumothorax to be exact. And from X Ray to draining it was sorted out in a matter of hours. The NHS is both efficient and fast – when things go right. Just waiting for a final check up – fingers crossed and scanning the skies for magpies.

Damn magpies. There must have been one great windblown, flea-ridden specimen squatting on the car roof on the way home. Far from being alright I was called in again and attached to a wall by a tube sucking out excess fluid and air from my thorax. Two weeks later they said it wasn’t working.  Three days after that I had a pleurectomy – something I’d like to do to every damn magpie in creation. Shooting’s too good for them

And thank you again here


Maria Zannini said...

I will grant you that when you want to scare us half to death, you do a damn fine job.

If I ever find a stuffed magpie, I will send it to you as a warning to any other magpies that consider bringing you any more bad luck.

So glad you're back, Mike. Take care.

Mike Keyton said...

Voodoo magpie dolls. I like it, Maria : )

Unknown said...

Good to see you back and posting again, Mike.

Don't like the sound of this magpie conspiracy though. I had always laughed at my wife for spitting and saying "Good day, Mr Magpie" (She's not afraid to do that in my company!)

Given the recent proliferation of magpies, the chances of seeing the pesky things is increasing all the time. Driving here (rural SW France) the other day, I saw my first ever dozen-strong charm of magpies. (A 'charm' is a much nicer way of referring to them than a 'murder', don't you think?)

The only rhyme I can find that goes above 10 says "Twelve for wealth" - I'm still waiting, wondering if I miscounted and there were "Thirteen, beware it's the devil himself."

Anonymous said...

Holy smoke. Mend well, old friend. Fortunately, I haven't had that sort of fun since an oblivious wanker in a car creamed my moto in 1999.

Mike Keyton said...

Thanks Crash. Main problem at the moment is I can't drink with the amounts of Tramadol and high strength codeines I'm taking. Otherwise I'm progressing quite nicely

Mike Keyton said...

Phillip your wife is a wise woman - and thank you for the rest of the rhyme. I reckon 13 magpies probably flew over Berchestgarden (probably spelt that wrong :)

Angela Brown said...

That is the first I'd heard of the ill fortune magpie presence can bring about, along with the spitting and "Good Day." In your case, seems the magpies were out to just be pure evil.

I'm glad to see you're on the healing path. I must admit, it brought a smile to my face when I saw your comment at my blog :-)

Mike Keyton said...

We learn something new every day, Angela. When we are all gone the war will be fought between magpies and cats