Miles Kington: Idle conversations can have unforseen consequences

In that heat-baked time after lunch when it's too hot to do anything, the animals thought it might be fun to go in for the next watering-hole quiz
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The Independent Online

People sometimes say that there are no fables which apply to our own times. Nonsense! Here are three, for a start:

The Condor and the Pigeon

Once upon a time there was a condor which circled lazily above the Andes, flying upwards on thermals and never coming in to land. And one day a pigeon flew upwards to meet the condor and ask him the question which was on his mind: "Oh condor, I have been watching you float round and round for several weeks now, and I have never seen you dive to catch any prey, so how on earth do you eat to keep alive?"

"Come closer and I will tell you," said the condor.

And the pigeon came closer and in a twinkling of an eye the condor had gobbled up the little pigeon.

Moral: Too much research is bad for you

The Goshawk and the Mosquito

Once upon a time a vulture, a goshawk, a mosquito and a laughing hyena were having an idle conversation in that heat-baked time after lunch when it's too hot and tiring to do anything except pant and yawn and make idle conversation, and they decided in an exceptionally idle moment that it might be fun if the four of them should form a team and go in for the next local watering-hole quiz, as pub quizzes are called in the animal world.

"The vulture could handle all the questions on food and cooking," said the goshawk, "and he is good on geography, which he looks at all day long from a great height. What are you good at, hyena?"

"Old TV comedy shows," said the laughing hyena.

"Right," said the goshawk. "Mosquito?"

"Test me," said the mosquito.

"A bed-bug can live up to 12 months without feeding," said the vulture. "True or false?"

"True," said the mosquito. "I was talking to a bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, the other day, and he was starting to get famished because he hadn't eaten for a year."

"Correct!" said the vulture. "I think we're in with a chance! By the way, what are you going to answer questions on, goshawk?"

"Me?" said the goshawk. "Oh, I'll be the captain. Someone has to be."

And so they entered the next watering-hole quiz, and the first question was: "Why is a goshawk so-called? What does the gos- in 'goshawk' refer to?"

The vulture, hyena and mosquito couldn't believe their luck. They all turned in triumph to the goshawk. Unfortunately, he said: "Don't look at me, fellows! I haven't the faintest idea where the name comes from! Ask the mosquito, if he's so damned clever."

"You are a totally useless goshawk," said the mosquito. "You don't even know the meaning of your own name. You have no function in this team whatsoever."

Whereupon the goshawk ate up the mosquito.

Moral: Quite right, too. As long as a captain can keep order and maintain morale, he does not need to be good at anything.

The Magpie and the Fir Tree

A magpie came to rest once on the top of an old fir tree, and decided to make its nest there. But the fir tree begged it to go away, as magpies had the most dreadful reputation for stealing eggs and eating small birds, and the fir tree did not want to see the reputation of the neighbourhood being brought down.

"My dear old fir tree," said the magpie," there is absolutely no truth in any of these canards about magpies. Well, we may eat the occasional egg, but for the most part our diet comprises berries, worms, caterpillars and that sort of thing."

"Do you mean to say," said the fir tree, "that you are going to be bringing insects and creepy crawly things back to my branches? Ugh!"

"All I wish to do," said the magpie," is build a simple nest out of dead sticks and have a small family."

"Oh no!" said the fir tree. "Not babies! We all know what that means! It means crying noises all through the night, keeping everyone awake, and parents going off to look for baby food at all hours!"

"Tough," said the magpie, and went away to start collecting sticks.

Moral: A tenant can never please a landlord, so don't even try.

Three more fables tomorrow...

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