Life in the Time of Coronavirus #8

The Moniack Mhor Writers Group, led by Cynthia Rogerson, has been meeting remotely during the Lockdown. They have been writing pieces inspired by the situation. Today’s blog and photographs are by Ian Tallach.

Deliriously Sad and Desperately Happy

What started out as quarrels ended with a murder. In that regard, I will confess to you – I must apologize. Leastwise, I do feel guilty for enjoying myself so much.


My ex used to call me ‘twitcher’. I didn’t like that. ‘No, my chickadee,’ I said one time. ‘I’m just a birdwatcher – ‘twitchers’ are sociopathic – like someone locking themselves up for a month.’ (I suppose the opposite is true, now.)

‘Well, you ARE,’ she said. ‘And that’s my point.’

‘Ha! Very funny,’ I replied. ‘See, if I WAS sociopathic, I wouldn’t be able to laugh at myself.’

‘That’s not a laugh. More like a… gaggle.’

‘Funny you should use that word. I’ve just seen one.’

‘A what?!’

‘A gaggle…’

Her expression was part curiosity. Mostly exasperation, though.

‘Geese,’ I swiftly added. ‘Gaggle is the collective pronoun for geese.’

‘You’re daft as a box of frogs.’ (Her responses could be very quick, sometimes.)

It all ended soon thereafter.


And so, to my confession – ‘quarrels’ and ‘murders’ are collective pronouns too – for sparrows and crows respectively.

For my corona-rationed piece of exercise, today, I went down to the woods with my binoculars. From the outset, there were hedges full of cantankerous sparrows – the collective term is apt. As for those crows, perched on my roof when I returned – I hope not.  I also saw a trembling of Chaffinches, a volery of Long-tailed Tits and a small murmuration of Starlings. It occurred to me that, in these times, I’m very lucky to live here.

Mrs MacDonald was out walking Fergus, her Westie. She was applying an empty poo-bag to the handle of the forest gate when I arrived. She opened it, but less than one meter, never-mind two. ‘On you go!’ She smiled.

I advanced, holding my breath. The obvious way to show appreciation would have been to pet her dog. ‘Well, HULLO, wee man. Y-e-s! I can speak to y-o-u – just not these homo-sapiens…’ is a standard greeting, nowadays. On this occasion, though, I lost the power of speech – out came a paroxysm of dry coughs – barks, almost.  He licked my hand in recognition of our common language. She looked horrified and all-but ran, yanking his lead. I tried to shout some reassurance, but my voice was hoarse from underuse.

Now, that would normally have been enough to darken my mood for a week. Instead, I laughed and noticed that the path ahead was drenched in sunlight. The early-April branches were devoid of leaves. About a hundred yards before Loch Ness, I sat there on the riverbank.

I’ve never seen so many birds. They seemed to carry on as if I wasn’t there at all; I took their strange indifference as a compliment. It struck me that at least three factors must have played a part – the early arrival of summer migrants (Blackcaps, Redstarts, Chiffchaffs), the hormone-surge of spring (Blue Tits and Robins chased each other back and forth across the river) and, as reported on the news, the recent emboldening of nature in our gardens, parks and forest walks.

I even saw a Kingfisher! That flash of electric blue has never lost its power to confer delight. My joy was unconfined. As I reluctantly climbed back onto the path, Stuart was approaching on his mountain-bike. He scattered gravel as he stopped. ‘YOU look pleased with yourself!’ he chortled.

‘I would be happy if I died right now!’ I forced out through my grin.

His face darkened. I’d clean forgotten that he drives an ambulance.

‘I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean…’ I stammered.

‘It’s alright, bud. No sin to be glad. Be sure to pass it on, though.’ It was a gracious response, in the circumstances.

When I got back, it was already six o’clock. The aforementioned crows were on the roof. Time for the news. As the staggering figures were read out for another day, I resolved to be much more considerate of others; it’s unspeakably sad, this thing. The phone rang.

It was an old man’s voice – ‘How’s you, MacTavish?!’ he asked.

I should’ve called him weeks ago; he has at least three risk factors. I cringed ‘Good, Rick. Yourself?’

‘THEY HAVE RETURNED!’ he almost yelled. ‘From Africa – a whole kettle of them!’

‘Ah! Swallows!’ I exclaimed, remembering our common interest. ‘A kettle of Swallows!’

‘Can you see them?’

I stepped outside. ‘Oh, Rick! You are THE best!’ All along the power lines, across the street, they shifted, preened and twitched like teenagers. The Swallows had indeed arrived.

‘Sorry, I should have thought, before – do you need anything?’ he asked incongruously.

‘No, Rick. I’M sorry. I should have thought. We must share a pint of Goldfinch when this thing is over.’

Views/opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not represent those of any individual from Moniack Mhor or Moniack Mhor itself. Copyright remains with the author.

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