Thursday, 14 January 2021

Doom and gloom. The end is nigh. Signs and symbols. Bird talk.


Well, I guess that’s it. The end is nigh! Doom and gloom!

As if we didn’t have enough with a pandemic, Brexit, Scotland wanting independence and the possibility that Northern Ireland might opt to join Eire in a United Ireland, we now have disappearing ravens as well.

Merlina, one of the ravens from the Tower of London has been missing for weeks now. The Guardian newspaper, in their report about this, seemed confused as to whether she was called Merlina or Molina. (Are we getting back to the wonky typesetting days of the Grauniad? Or is auto-correct not happy with Merlina?) I’m pretty sure that a female raven is more likely to be called Merlina, in keeping with old Arthurian legends and the like. 

Anyway, whatever her name is, according to the Tower’s ravenmaster she “is a free-spirited raven and has been known to leave the tower precincts on many occasion. I’m her buddy and she normally comes back to us, but this time she didn’t. So, I do fear that she is not with us anymore.” He added: “Just before Christmas, before we went into the lockdown, we were putting the ravens to bed, and she didn’t come back.”

Apparently if there are fewer than 6 ravens in the Tower it’s a sign that the kingdom will fall. It all goes back to Charles II who was given that warning by a soothsayer and ever since then there have been at least six ravens in the Tower By Royal Decree, looked after by a Ravenmaster. It all sounds a bit pagan and superstitious to me and I’m not sure how it tallies with our supposedly being a Christian country but there it is.

And as a country we seem to be doing a pretty good job of falling apart at the moment. So maybe we should be careful with our ravens. One down! Will others also flee the Tower? Fortunately there is a spare, so there is hope for us yet. But the Ravenmaster needs to nurture any chicks that hatch next spring. You can’t be too careful with these superstitions!

The missing raven, Merlina, was apparently known as the queen of the Tower’s unkindness of ravens. An “unkindness” is seemingly one of the collective nouns that can be used to describe a bunch of ravens. This is probably because they are seen as birds of ill omen in mythology, bringers of bad luck and harbingers of bad news. It’s perhaps a consequence of their being quite intelligent birds. Some are even said to learn to speak. Like rooks they can also be referred to as a “murder”. Rooks are also supposed to be intelligent - not intelligent enough not to fall down our chimney on occasion though. (Fingers crossed that saying that does not work as a trigger and cause another poor demented rook to plunge down into our fireplace and need rescuing.)

Somehow a “murmuration”, as used about starlings, seems a much kinder, more poetic term than an “unkindness” or a “murder”. Investigating the use of the term “unkindness of ravens”, I discovered that a group of blackbirds is called a “cloud” or, more prosaically, a “cluster”. But they can also be called a “merle of blackbirds”, which I find strange as the French for blackbird ie “merle”, “mirlo” in Spanish.

Goodness me! Signs and symbols! Words and superstitions! Politicians will be reading chickens’ entrails again before we know it. 

In the meantime we have calls for footballer Marcus Rashford to be made advisor to the government on the school meals question. Not a bad idea. Having somebody on the panel who has actually experienced hardship in childhood could be useful.

Reading about the food parcels, free school meals fiasco yesterday, by the way, I found this little gem in the midlle of it all:

“The government confirmed that the French-owned company Edenred would once again deliver the scheme, despite widespread criticism of long delays and delivery problems when the service launched last year.”

Hmm! Didn’t we leave the EU (against my will, I hasten to remind readers) to be able to take back control? So giving this matter to a French-owned company is how we take back control?

And, “pour comble de misères” as the French say, it’s snowing again, thin sleety stuff but snow nonetheless and it seems to be sticking. Time to huddle round the fire and tell tall tales!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone. 

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