Thursday, 11 September 2008


I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'm superstitious about magpies.

(I'm superstitious about ladders, too, but that's always seemed to me to be plain common sense. People carry things up ladders at a time when they can't even use both hands.)

But for now, I want to think about the magpie thing.

I'm trying to work out when it started and I'm really not sure, because my mum's not particularly superstitious about them. I remember seeing it in a play once, but surely that wouldn't be enough to cause me to catch my breath and whisper "Aye aye, sir." at the merest glimpse of a lone magpie?

I have done it for years, now, without the slightest shred of evidence that single magpies lead to any kind of misery, or that multiple magpies lead to joy, a girl, a boy, silver, gold or a secret never to be told.

In fact, I saw two magpies the morning of the most miserable day of my working life. I saw two magpies the day of breaking up with a long term partner.

Actually, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have expected immediate joy. Both of those things did, eventually, cause me to be much happier, but saying goodbye is always hard, even if it's to a miserable job or a miserable relationship.

More recently, during the welcome service for new pupils in the Chapel at J's school, I'd had to take my little girl out because she was being too noisy. We played outside in the wind and rain a little and then roamed the corridors of the main building.

On our way back to see whether the service had finished I saw it: one magpie, all alone, on the Chapel steps.

That can only mean one thing: I was packaging my lovely boy off to a life of sorrow.

We were not the only ones there, though. There were plenty of others, pupils and parents, bursary recipients, fee payers, teachers and matrons. Surely that one magpie couldn't possible spell sorrow for all of them?

Or maybe it could, the sorrow could come from the quiet of an empty house, from saying goodbye to something you love. Parents may feel that first, but presently, so will the matrons and the teachers.

Or maybe the magpies are just reminders that sometimes the cup is half full and sometimes half empty. Life is never about just being happy or just being sad. They come in cycles and balance each other out.

Sometimes the thing you think will make you happy makes you sad and sometimes the thing you think will make you sad makes you very happy indeed. To the effect of believing you are able to plan, anticipate what should happen and how you should feel. Only later do you realise that no such thing exists and life always throws you a confusing loop which you just have to incorporate and deal with, happy or sad.

Magpies are little more than reminders that life is as it is.

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