As I was driving home from the Wimborne gig today (40 in in the end, good show, but we had to buy our own pizza, so lucky for Wimborne that the sandwich rating system is dead) I saw a magpie. On its own. One for sorrow.
And it struck me that the writer of the hit song "Maaagpie" from off of the children's TV show "Magpie" was an unusually depressive fellow. Because in my life I have very, very rarely seen more than one magpie at a time. So, if, as we are led to believe one magpie signifies "sorrow", then we must lead very unhappy lives. Occasionally I have spotted two magpies ("for joy"), but probably only about ten times out of a hundred. At least eighty-eight times out of a hundred magpie spottings I have seen one solitary magpie- for sorrow.
But maybe those sums do add up. Perhaps we are unhappy about 88% of the time and happy for only 10%. Possibly solely due to the fact that we so rarely see more than one magpie at a time in our lives.
It got me thinking about the rest of the song, because for such a pessimistic song writer, the magpie creator has an unusually hopeful view of magpies. Even though he must know that it's so rare to see more than one bird, he goes on to list the consequences of sightings for up to ten magpies at once. Really what are the chances? Is it worth even documenting?
Well let's see. Three is for a girl and four is for a boy. The meaning of this is quite ambiguous. If an expectant mum sees three magpies then maybe you could conclude that she might have a baby girl, but what if someone who isn't pregnant or knows no pregnant person sees this sight. Possibly they will have a boy or girl child themselves at some point in the future, or meet a boy or a girl. I would argue that if this magpie predicting the sex of babies system worked that there would be considerably more girls in the world than boys. Because rare as it is to see three magpies, it happens a damn sight more often than seeing four.
When was the last time you saw five magpies together. Unless you work on a magpie farm or are a poacher who specialises in shooting magpies (for some reason) and have a load of them hanging on strings in your shed, then I don't think that has ever happened to you. But you would be rewarded for this unlikely sighting with some silver, which would be a fair reward for something so rare. More unlikely is six magpies all together, and the writer of the song recognises this increment by rewarding the sighter of such a thing with gold. I don't know where you write off to get your silver or gold, though I would suggest that it is an unusual enough occurrence to change the lottery system so that the jackpot (paid in gold - maybe all in pound coins) is won by anyone who has seen six magpies all together that week and the five number and bonus ball prize (entirely made up of 50p pieces)goes to anyone who has seen five of the elusive creatures. There would obviously have to be an element of honesty to this and you'd only win if you had paid your magpie pound at the beginning of that week, but I can foresee no problems. And diligence would be rewarded. As would laying traps for magpies and then keeping six of them in a cage. You'd win every week.
Seven magpies will get you "a secret never to be told", which isn't much use to anyone is it? Especially if the secret isn't even told to you, but kept in an envelope that will explode if you try to open it. You'd think seeing seven magpies would be better than gold, but it's like you're being punished for having been greedy and seen too many. See six magpies and win the national lottery, see seven and your hands are blown off by a parcel bomb. Go figure.
I always thought the final lyric was "Eight's a wish and not a kiss, ten is a bird you must not miss" and was thinking how unfair it was that if you saw nine magpies, which is a fucking incredible feat of magpie spotting, then you got nothing at all. But on checking the internet I discover that the true lyrics are "eight's a wish and nine's a kiss. Ten is a bird you must not miss."
OK, eight is a pretty good reward and justly so, because seeing eight magpies never ever happens. You should be able to get a wish. So you could wish to have all the prizes so far all at once, or something else of your own choice. Anything you wanted. A sensible person would wish for infinity wishes and then on the first of these infinity wishes say, "I wish that there are no clever tricks in any of my other wishes where stuff I have said is misinterpreted or where idle expressions in conversation do not count. I wish that before every wish is granted a contract is produced which details exactly what the fulfilment of the wish will entail, plus a film of what it will be, which I have to sign before the wish will become true." I've thought about it quite a lot and I think it's important to make that totally clear as it will save you a lot of problems and sausages on your nose at a later date.
Given the brilliance of the prize for eight, the reward for seeing an unlikely nine magpies is merely a kiss. Not a kiss from off of Natalie Imbruglia or George Clooney (delete as applicable), but just a kiss. It might be a horrible wet kiss from a three year old child, or a kiss on the lips from an elderly aunt with a face like a wrinkled prune. Or from the Elephant Man. If you could specify who kissed you, how long for and most importantly where, then this might be worth having (if it was a wish kiss), but to be honest I'd rather there was nothing for nine after all rather than having this rubbish.
For seeing ten magpies all at once you'd think you might be made king of the Universe or get to touch the face of God. Let's face it, it's never going to happen. But for ten magpies you get "a bird you must not miss", which doesn't even really make any sense. Whether the writer is just saying that ten magpies is something you mustn't miss (in which case his somewhat shaky grammar has gone wrong - it should be "ten is ten birds you must not miss,"- or whether you get a free bird of some kind for this achievement (and I can't think of any bird that they could give me that would seem appropriate for something so incredibly unlikely), I cannot tell you.
Perhaps he is using "bird" in the unreconstructed seventies sense and you get given a sexy girl in bell bottom trousers and a tight jumper. That would be OK, but I'd still rather get silver, gold or a wish than that. And what if you are a woman who isn't a lesbian, what use would that be to you.
Anyway women aren't chattels just to be given away because you've seen ten birds all in one go. So I can't condone this being the top prize.
Worse still if you see eleven or more magpies you get nothing.
It's clearly time this magpie system was overhauled and replaced with something fairer an less sexist and with any kisses included in it specifically attributed to a definite person.
Meanwhile my life continues with only sorrow.
And I wonder what you get for seeing no magpies, which is what happens to me on about 364 days of the year.