Barbarossa, charismatic church, Duke of Wellington, Elijah and the ravens, Jackdaw, Nigel Farage, outsider, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, sparrowhawk, St Francis, The Jackdaw of Rheims, Tracy Emin, Wee Free
I have been taken by the presence of a jackdaw in Wintoncester Cathedral
these last few weeks, I announced.
Haven’t they had it removed? asked Carrie. I mean, it must make a mess.
No, it has not been possible to approach it and cover it with a blanket. It is
too quick, apparently.
Yesterday it flew up onto a banner support and looked down on a family
gathering at the font, as if it was Tracy Emin’s new sculpture based on a
Roman standard. It literally had a bird’s eye view.
Well, Carrie interjected, a jackdaw on a roof heralds a new arrival, so it was
very apt that it should be an extra guest.
I kept thinking about the reading from the previous week, I continued,
where we were enjoined not to call anything unclean that God had
pronounced in His favour. I mean, a crow, or raven or suchlike is one
of His creatures.
Didn’t the ravens feed Elijah in the desert? Carrie suddenly remembered
a Sunday School story.
It is a bit creepy, though, I said. A raven was once considered to be the
ghost of a murdered person. This bird struts about like the one in the fable
who borrowed the finery of other feathered friends, to make an impression.
I thought jackdaws were considered to be tricksters, volunteered Carrie.
You know, because they steal shiny objects.
Oh, like in the poem The Jackdaw of Rheims? The Bishop cursed the bird
for stealing his turquoise ring, but then reversed the excommunication
when the ring was discovered in its nest. Eventually they canonised it and
gave it the name Jim Crow!
Carrie had been thinking :They used to have all sorts of dialect words for
jackdaws, such as cawdaw, jacko and college-bird. But I like the collective
noun for a group: a clattering of jackdaws.
I looked up information on the jackdaw as it is going to be a permanent
feature, I believe. Apparently it was punished as being only one of three
creatures that copulated in the ark.
Really? observed Carrie. I expect that it was bored being shut up for
weeks on end. It probably had nothing else to do.
My mother always used to tell us to find something to do if we said we
were bored, I commented. But I don’t think she had copulation in mind as
a diversionary activity.
Changing the subject, interrupted Carrie, aren’t these birds supposed to be
stupid? Weren’t they supposed to starve while watching figs ripening?
No worse than teenagers, I laughed. Some of them watch paint drying.
But, no, I think they are meant to be intelligent. Some of them protected
saints’ bodies after execution, or saved them from being poisoned.
I suppose you are right, Carrie admitted. If the ravens leave the Tower
we are all in trouble.
Yes, and if they stop flying around Kyffhauser, Barbarossa will awake and
restore Germany to its former glory.
I seem to remember that a jackdaw is a harbinger of rain, Carrie mused.
I suppose that means the Bank Holiday sunshine is on its way out.
We will see by tomorrow, I agreed. Anyway, they need to get rid of it.
Someone said that if it had been in a Wee Free Church, then it would have
been driven out by the monotony of the psalms. If it had been in a
charismatic church, it could have been commanded to leave in the name of
But it’s in an Anglican church, Carrie pointed out.
Yes, and so the solution is to immediately baptise it and then it will never be
seen again! I quipped.
I’ve heard that one before, Carrie groaned. But they should do what The
Duke of Wellington advised when there was an invasion of sparrows in a
church near to his home.
What was that? I asked.
Bring in a couple of sparrow hawks, she said.
And the swans will sing when the jackdaws are silent? I suppose.
That’s the general idea. Failing that, give it a saucer of oil and it will
admire its own reflection and then someone can creep up on it.
Right! You’d better phone the vergers’ office then. You can always
pretend to be from the RSPB, I suggested. Just don’t quote Psalm
84 verse 3.
Why not? she asked.
Because it goes on about how lovely it is that the sparrow and the
swallow can make their nests even in the altars of the Most High and
we are all trying to drive the poor thing out. I bet St Francis wouldn’t have
Hmm… maybe we should tolerate all God’s creatures then and live alongside
them, she conceded.
Lesson for the day, I stressed. But try persuading Nigel Farage!