Christina Patterson: Feathered casanovas from real-life chick-lit

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The Independent Online

If Eve was faithful to Adam, it may have been because there wasn't much choice. That, at least, was the conclusion I reached after spending last week in the Garden of Eden. Well, OK, maybe Seychelles isn't actually the Garden of Eden, but Charles Gordon, the formidably bewhiskered Victorian general who visited the country in 1881, was pretty damn sure that it was. He wrote a treatise on the subject, concluding that the coco de mer tree, which produces huge nuts shaped like J-Lo's bottom and long, dangling protuberances like - well, you can guess - was the Tree of Knowledge. He may well be right.

We all know what happened. Eve scoffed the apple, saw her cellulite and unleashed a horrible train of events which would culminate in such atrocities as carbon-spewing "eco" press trips to island paradises in the sun. It's a tough job being a journalist, etc. The wages of sin on this occasion, however, were not death, but a punishing schedule - packed between pina coladas - of lectures on the flora, fauna and feathered inhabitants of this enchanted world. For someone who likes her wildlife stuffed with garlic and rosemary, this was actually a bit of a challenge.

I learnt lot about the tagging techniques of whale sharks (very expensive) and the nesting habits of the hawksbill turtle (a bit slapdash) and I just about managed to contain my excitement at the prospect of a lecture on the Seychelles magpie robin. There are, apparently, only 170 of these unassuming little creatures left in the world and they appear to be blithely indifferent to the gargantuan efforts currently being made to save them.

Birds, it seems, are less boring than you might think. The Seychelles blue pigeon, for example, is a binge drinker, regularly getting pissed on the lethal local spirit - on tap on the ficus tree - and suffering 10-day hangovers during which it can barely walk, let alone fly. The noddy tern is so placid that if you swap its egg for a 10-day old chick it doesn't notice the difference. And the magpie robin - well, the magpie robin has got it sorted.

Let's just say that the birds and the bees aren't quite the paragons of fidelity that you might expect in a pre-lapsarian paradise. Apparently, up to 45 per cent of magpie robin chicks are being brought up by surrogate fathers, the real ones having run off with that fit young bird from down the road. There are, apparently, just a handful of these superstud sex gods. In thrall to their feathered six-packs, their manly beaks, and, of course, their selfish genes, the lady magpie robins are wined, dined and shagged senseless by these canny casanovas. When they find they're up the duff, they settle down with Robin Nice-but-Dim, who is happy to share the childcare and bring home the bacon. They are, in fact, Having it All: the great sex, the babies and the nice, kind partner who asks them about their day and makes them a cup of tea.

Perhaps, in an age of near-hysterical debate about parenting - state supernannies, stomach stapling and, according to one report this week, a correlation between single parenting and schizophrenia - this is some kind of an answer. The magpie robin doesn't sit around yearning for a lost world of romance. She's had enough to fuel an entire chick-lit imprint. Now she's ready to settle down - until her offspring flee the nest. They get fresh air, exercise and regular meals; two loving parents and a father who's a cuckold, but doesn't know and doesn't care. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it sure can come in handy.

Some fathers do 'ave 'em

The death of nearly 3000 US servicemen didn't do it, nor, 600,000 dead Iraqi civilians, but a hostile reception in Abu Dhabi this week has succeeded where all else had failed. Yes, the Bush upper lip trembled when an audience of Gulf Arabs told George Snr that his son's policies were "not respected". This left the former president stunned. "I just told you the thing that matters in my heart is my family" he told the audience. "My son" he added "is an honest man". We don't doubt it, George, but what a shame he didn't set his sights just a little bit lower. If only, say, he had followed the example of Harold Wilson's son, Giles, who has just jacked in his teaching job to drive trains between London and Guildford. Now there's a job worth doing.

* As we all know from Sex and the City, dating in New York is a pricey business. There's the Marc Jacobs frock, the Manolo Blahniks, the blow dry and the Brazilian. And then there's the private eye. Yes, in a city in which perfection is not quite enough, alpha males and females are employing private detective agencies to check the credentials of their prospective squeeze.

It's no longer enough to flaunt your glamorous lifestyle and your brilliant career. Today's soulmate-seeking singleton needs hard evidence. Cheerleader at high school? Prove it. MBA at Harvard Business School? Prove it. Sexy and goodlooking, like you said in your online profile? Well, that, at least, is in the eye of the beholder.

A comprehensive background check costs, apparently, about $500 a pop. What's needed, clearly, is a proper system. Something, perhaps, like passports for pets.