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Welcome to Winter

Sunday, 29th September 2013

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” So sang Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins”. It sounds cheap, but maybe it was only a little bag. And I wonder what was in it? In the next verse she tells us: “breadcrumbs!” Oh dear, not very nutritious. And what species of birds would be getting fed?
Well, the bird lady’s pitch was in central London near St Paul’s, so probably mainly pigeons (hardly wild even back in Edwardian times) and no doubt lots of cheerful cockney house sparrows, which were pretty numerous in the streets of London back at that time, thanks-ironically – to the traffic!  There were a few “chitty chitty bang bangs” chugging along, but the main form of transport was horse-drawn or horseback. This meant that there was plenty of straw and dung lying around, just the sort of thing house sparrows thrive on, which means of course that people didn’t really need to buy birdseed at all. Why pay tuppence when you can scrape it up off the cobbles? I can’t imagine the poor old bird lady did all that well.

Things have changed a bit since then! City streets are now largely devoid of singing vendors, and house sparrows, and of course the horses that fortuitously fed the birds. Nowadays, we have to do it. Fortunately – in our thousands – we do, and it is not just in London, and it is definitely not just breadcrumbs. There are sunflower seeds and niger seeds, berries and raisins, energy giving fatballs, mealworms – dead or alive – prime peanuts and carefully prepared mixes that rival the finest healthiest muesli.

Admittedly, bird food these days is likely to cost a bit more than tuppence a bag. Like all foods, drink -and just about anything – there are cheap varieties, and there are superior products that cost a bit more. What you are paying for is quality and consistency. These are recipes that have been expertly developed to suit different species, and of course different seasons.

Welcome to winter, when Mary Poppins – as always - knows what’s good for us all. Altogether now: ” Feed the birds, * * * * * a bag.” You fill in the blank!”

Bill Oddie x

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