the magpies said (according to one Dennis Glover, New Zealand’s proud answer to Shakespeare). (See below)


we have new neighbours moving in across the road and The Spouse is a bit concerned. They are black, which matters not a whit, and they are white, which also matters not a whit—what does concern is that they like to sing at the tops of their voices every morning at dawn. Okaaaaay … live, and let live … we also have other neighbours who clatter and bang as they stumble through their daily waking ups but they don’t do it triumphantly—they’re just trying to get their act together to face another day. They don’t do it as a challenge—our new magpies do.


What's not to love? Hmmm?
What’s not to love? Hmmm?

they have a reputation for being territorial, especially in the egging season. Territorial for them means threatening behaviour, which as disconcerting as it can be I can live with. To a degree. (Park rangers here cannot so they capture a female magpie, pop her into a cage and have the companion cage set as a trap. Either it works or the maggies take the hint, there are very few magpies in rangered parks.)


When we lived waaaay out in the country I used to jog a fair bit. Nothing extreme (my nephew does Ironmans all over the place) (I think he’s loopy) and the magpies never got out of line. Not until a stroppy one moved in.


too good. I used to gallop along minding my own business and suddenly—unseen and out of nowhere—there’d be a great squeaking of wings and air-brakes with a triumphant “Gotcha!” screech just inches above my head. I could feel the breeze, that close; and as I came down again I’d turn to look and there he’d be beating back up for altitude.

Magpie landing, full flaps and cheeky grin
Magpie landing, full flaps and cheeky grin


applies both ways. “Magpies,” everyone told me all my life, “are vicious territorial little brutes that dive-bomb out of nowhere and bash your head with their claws.”


of carrying a pocketful of rocks whenever I went running. As a kid (SFX: insert modest blush here, please) I was brilliant at rocks—greater rate of fire than most, greater accuracy, longer range—skills I hadn’t lost and put now to good use. So whenever I got within a hundred yards of so of his tree I’d uplift ammunition from pocket to hands, one goodly rock for Ready-Use in the right hand, three for immediate notice in the left. I’d literally “Stand To, the gunners” and close up at action stations, armed and dangerous, ready for the traverse.


being on full alert with all sensors scanning (which meant periodically running sideways whilst looking backwards too, not easy) I never saw him coming. Except just the once … normally my first inkling that he was even in the same county would be that great squeaking of wings and loud “Gotcha!”; he’d beat back up for altitude with my vindictive broadside going nowhere close enough. Except, as I said, just the once …


I have no idea, I think that he must have reached a skylark altitude (somewhere about where meteors catch fire) before pouncing.


I have no idea, but on my peripheral whilst gibbering at the empty skies I saw something.


And as he howled down out of the long delirious burning blue I locked on and started tracking. My fire-control computers integrated rates in all directions and within moments I had a “Shoot! You can’t possibly miss” solution. I opened fire—


—even quicker than that. It was marvellous to see, four rocks, all of them bang on target, curving almost lazily up and converging with a too-rapidly expanding black and white blo—


no, not possible, for that to happen there must be a lateral motion for which I had made no allowances (there was, too)—


I have no idea. That bird was an absolute master of flight—somehow he managed to zig-zag through my very best closely spaced barrage. But at least it forced him to break off his attack. He flew off a fair distance and landed completely unhurt (but I imagine more than a bit surprised).


I’d reloaded from my pocket-magazines and optimistically let rip at a long-range stationary target—I saw him look up and track the incoming barrage which he promptly dismissed with the contempt it didn’t really deserve (some of them landed within a few feet). Hah! Had he been an elephant things would have been different.


I’d see him coming but he was too wily to ever attack again. He’d just orbit right on the limit of my range and then fly off back to his tree, duty done.


I’m keeping a watching brief on the new neighbours. So long as they leave me alone I’ll leave them alone, their damned racketing at dawn I guess I can live with. But one peck out of me or mine, Beakface—and you’re history.

And now, the Dennis Glover poem—our kiwi answer to Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” ….


When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm 
The bracken made their bed 
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
and Elizabeth’s lips were red
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle 
The magpies said

Year in year out they worked
while the pines grew overhead 
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

But all the beautiful crops soon went 
to the mortgage man instead 
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle 
The magpies said

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s long ago) 
Old Tom’s gone light in the head 
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said

The farms still there. Mortgage corporations 
couldn’t give it away 
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

—Dennis Glover





2 thoughts on “QUARDLE OODLE ARDLE

  1. I love Maggies, in fact so much so that I named my shop after them. However, my cat does not. It’s a territory war she has faced since she was a wee’un, and they are about the only bird, or creature in fact that she is scared of. And they know it because they dive-bomb her regularly. We have a nesting pair at the bottom of the garden. Noisy bastards too, except they reserve that treat for the evenings, along with the bloody noisy blackbirds who I think are infinitely worse.

  2. We have blackbirds too—their constant rebuking (“Tut-tut!”) all the time I can live with, but they keep scratching up the gardens all over the path is annoying. Okay, live and let live … so I put rocks in the worst places (hell, the slugs gotta live too …).

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