Another nature ramble with Uncle Geoffrey today, as he takes his niece and nephew, Susan and Robert, on a midwinter walk through the countryside, looking for those signs of life which are always there if you know where to look.
"Nice to see the sticky buds coming through," remarked Uncle Geoffrey, as they strode down the lane, crunching on the icy puddles. "We think that because the country is frozen, there is nothing growing. But nature likes to think ahead!"
"Is that really true?" said Susan. "If it were, would not the birds even now be building their nests for next spring?"
"Instead of which, the lazy little things aren't even stocking up a few sticks!" said Robert.
"Birds are just like human builders," said Susan. "Always putting things off."
"'Do you want a new nest, guv?' "said Robert, trying to sound like a Cockney bird. " 'Blimey, I think we'll be looking at next spring at the very earliest. Can't get the twigs this time of year ...'"
"'Nor the moss, neither'," said Susan." 'Moss is a horrendous price midwinter' ..."
Uncle Geoffrey said nothing. It didn't do to get involved with the children's back-chat. He would much rather just keep quiet and dream about their untimely demise.
"Oh, that packet of birdseed I gave you for Christmas," he said, changing the subject. "Did you give some to the birds?"
"We certainly did," said Robert, "and the birds were suitably grateful. Of course, we did it with a heavy heart."
"Well, we always think that giving birds seed in winter is a bit like giving starving countries free food and making them aid-dependent. We don't want birds to become seed-dependent. You remember the old ballad of St Francis of Assisi ..."
"I don't think I do," said Uncle Geoffrey, innocently.
"Oh, you'd like it," said Robert, and he began to recite ...
St Francis of Assisi
Took birdseed everywhere,
He threw it in the water,
He threw it in the air.
And all the birds of Italy
Came to Assisi town,
Saw the kindly saint there
And they came hurtling down.
There were no birds in Naples,
There were none left in Rome.
All the birds in Italy
Had upped and left their home.
The robins and the starlings
The sparrows and the owls
They ate up all his birdseed,
And opened up their bowels.
So the pavements of Assisi
Flowed with bird ordure
And Assisi High Street
Smelled like an open
"Is there much more of this?" said Uncle Geoffrey faintly.
"Much much more," said Robert firmly.
The Assisi District Council
Went to the saint and said,
"Look, Franky, very sorry,
But we need these birds all dead!
We know you get a sainthood
Through kindly acts like these
But you're exposing everyone
To deadly bird disease!"
"Sod that," said old St Francis.
"I'll feed them all I can.
I have to, in order to fulfil
My sainthood business
Robert stopped. There was a strange noise behind him. He looked round. Uncle Geoffrey was bent over a five-barred gate. He seemed to be weeping.
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