Why I will not be renewing my subscriptions to the iPad versions of The Western Mail and the S W Echo

The technical stuff

The editions for iPad use a standard PDF (portable document format) presentation and not a specially designed one for an on line edition, like the award winning Guardian iPad edition. The pdf simply reproduces each page as it is printed. There is no additional editorial or design intervention to present the information in a tablet/iPhone format. After page one, the pages are presented in a two-page spread: on an iPad you can read the headlines, but little else. To read an individual story the text has to be expanded – often very slowly rendered to be readable – and the text of the story will not be isolated from other text around it. If a story runs from say page one page to page four there is no dynamic link – you have to scroll through the pages

There is a mini-page view – so you can skip sport for example – and there is also a completely useless text page listing. There are no:

  • ways to search the edition
  • ways to search across editions or to link related stories
  • ways to save, bookmark or print an individual article
  • no way to tweet or send a link to an individual story. To achieve all these things you have to access the (still very poor to navigate) WalesOnline website.

Issues often arrive a long time after I would expect to read them ie with my tea at 7 AM. Even with high-speed broadband, downloading takes a significant time and is not carried out in the background automatically – as with other publications.

The application itself is buggy, the simplest action e.g. zooming or scrolling page, can cause a complete crash.

Technically this is an outdated and very poor implementation of the new technologies. Although none are perfect, there are plenty of high standard iPad newspapers to copy from!

The editorial stuff

iPad edition front pages The Western Mail

iPad edition front pages The Western Mail

The major editorial problem for these online editions is the way in which they allow the reader to make quick comparative judgements which are not so easy with the printed editions, even if you put them on a table side-by-side. As such it gives the reader the technology to understand just how poor the editorial content of both newspapers is.

SW Echo iPad

The iPad edition front pages of the SW Echo

The “homogenisation” of TrinityMirror Newspapers editorial is painfully plain to see in the digital editions. Although supposedly “the national newspaper of Wales” lead news stories in both newspapers can be same. In any pair of editions it is easy to find near identical stories reproduced with little or no regard to what should be differentiated readers. This is as true of national coverage as local.

In terms of assessing editorial quality and readability the digital editions make scanning articles oh so simple – on average I have seldom read more than two or three complete articles in any edition of either newspaper. Skimming takes longer with printed pages but it doesn’t mean that the editorial quality is any greater. Because the iPad edition is simply a rendering of a newspaper editorial choices become even more vivid and pronounced: take the B-list, personality-led, front pages of the Western Mail for examples. Or the massive second-coming headlines (usually followed by less than a paragraph of copy) front page screamers on the Echo. Neither approach is suitable for new media presentation.

In summary, and sadness, then

Perversely perhaps, one months digital editions have simply proved to highlight all the worst (rather than best, there must be some!) of the two newspapers. Yes, digital presentation is content, content, content. And here these newspapers show up very badly. But there is also sufficient experience now to know that simply delivering photographs of the print edition is not a digital edition. The Guardian and the Daily Mail have massive online presence in their web and in tablet versions because of the interaction of readers and the additional value that these editions can have over the printed page..

Sadly, online editions of tThe western Mail and SW Echo will do nothing to stave off the relentless decline of newspapers in Wales, and even more importantly, good reporting of life in this country.

If this was an end of first term report it would barely rate 3/10.


Rapid Fire presenting

Peter Cox at Cardiff PechaKutcha

Peter Cox talks about changing Cardiff at PechaKucha Photograph: Hannah Waldram/guardian.co.uk

I got my blooding at the PechaKutcha in Cardiff on 27th May when the Guardian kindly blogged:

Peter Cox from Cardiff Civic Society gave a compelling insight to how Cardiff is changing and what elements have been lost along its development. He said:
“Cardiff’s growth has been both sudden and exponential. The city of 1891 is barely recognisable as apparently unstoppable expansion consumes whole communities.”
Cox praised the design of Chapter Arts Centre, where the event took place, for being inclusive, community focused and putting society at the heart of the building.

On that occasion it was 20 slides and 6mins 20 secs to complete – a pretty rapid fire.

But last week’s IGNITE#5, part of the Swn Festival, held at Chapter Arts was down to 15 secs a slide – and no messing, they advance relentlessly. Unlike the PechaKutcha, Ignite had a theme – Music not surprisingly. A good opportunity I thought to extoll the virtues of hospital radio, and of course, Radio Glamorgan in particular. The other presenters were amazingly diverse: a bluffers guide to Bollywood, rock t-shirts, my first heavy metal festival. Great fun and entertaining. Well I was off first (partly because of the inevitably complicated presentation, but I wanted to include sound and video – off course). But all was well in the end.

Snippets included some of my interviewees (click to hear the full length interviews on my web site): Tim Rhys Evans (Only Men Aloud) Joan Armatrading, James Dean Bradfield, Kevin Brennan MP (in his guise as part of MP4) and Rebecca Evans. All ace.

Technically for the nerds: the video comprises the original slide show with a soundtrack taken from a live recording (using an Edirol R-09 miniature digital recorder with integral mic) mixed to sound tracks that were used on the slides. I used Amadeus for the sound editing, QuicktimePro (v7) to slip the tracks and merge the new sound track and exported to YouTube as Mpeg-4.

End of the Maskrey’s era

The iconic furniture store that was Maskreys, Cardiff

It was the new social barometer Twitter that gave the first indication of the storm that hit the iconic south Wales furniture stores Maskreys. The immediate reaction from Tweeps was sadness. Maskreys, after all, is – until the end of November – more than just a furniture shop. Since 1898 the Maskrey family have been delivering, to a very particular south Wales market, an aspirational lifestyle that can only be hinted at by Cardiff upstarts like John Lewis, and the can-hardly-mention-in-the-same-breath, IKEA.

Others have remarked today that if Maskreys had adapted their buying policies then maybe it could have survived the competition from the comfortably upmarket John Lewis and the aggressively do it yourself IKEA. That seems to me to entirely miss the point! The three stores were always designed to be the bastions of a certain kind of taste (not always so obviously ‘good’): something that bordered on bling, but was rescued from crassness by craftsmanship and, yes, mostly unattainable for the likes of us, pricing. It meant the comfort of having bought something that would last for ever, reinforced by a feeling of painful expense, and the knowledge that everyone would admire your purchase.

I am sure there was another kind of customer as well: the moneyed for whom price guaranteed peergroup (The Jones next door) approval, even if sometimes the objects were themselves of doubtful taste.

Does it matter then that Maskreys is to disappear?

Robert Maskrey (executive chairman) and Samantha Maskrey

I think so. Firstly, there is the cost to the people involved. I have known Sam Maskrey, and her husband and executive chairman Robert through our common interests in the arts. Of course, they are entitled to retire and their orderly closure of the business, the wanting to do the best for their customers and their staff, is more than anyone can reasonably expect in a slash and burn recession.

The Cardiff store has been on Whitchurch Road since 1913. This is not the most suitable location for such an enterprise but it must be an important draw for many of the other businesses that now exist in the area. (The other most important attraction locally is Cathays cemetery!). There will undoubtedly be a knock-on, recessionary effect on those businesses. The Cardiff building is attractive of its kind but will almost certainly fall into a developer’s hands and an unsympathetic, unsuitable replacement is par for the course in Cardiff’s current planning–free–for–all.

And apart from the Maskreys business, there is equally significant potential loss of Sam and Robert Maskrey and their roles in the cultural life of Wales. The company itself sponsors the Hay Festival of Literature and the Welsh National Opera. Robert Maskrey has chaired the Lower Machen Festival for five years. Sam Maskrey is a director of the Hay Festival of Literature, deputy chair of Arts and Business Cymru and is on the board at Chapter Arts Centre. Sam and I met at Chapter when she joined the board and I managed to persuade her to take very active role in fundraising for the recently completed £3.5 million redevelopment. Without her enthusiasm and arm bending it is unlikely that Cardiff would have the benefit of the new Chapter.

It isn’t impossible, I imagine, for individuals to set up and run and businesses like Maskreys. But as a recent report on the homogenising of our high streets has warned, it is increasingly difficult when companies like Tesco regard land banking and the saturation of communities with their multiple outlets as the way to generate the highest return to shareholders. The idea of a business that delivers a particular range of products in an individualistic way for a carefully focused market depends on the market existing and being able to accurately deliver what they need. Fashion, times and financial ability are all fickle.

There is everything to commend in the manner of Maskreys departure. But many of us will notice the absence of the store and the qualities that Sam and Robert bring to life in Cardiff. For the past 12 years they have sponsored an annual Christmas carol concert held in the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay. That alone has raised £150,000 for Shelter Cymru. It’s not just the rich furnishing their eye-wateringly expensive flash pads, it’s the homeless who will miss them too.

Why we live in Cardiff: guest blog

This Guest Blog was requested by WeAreCardiff and appeared on their blog on August 27th 2010

Yes, I am still, frequently, asked the question by uncomprehending friends “why do you live in Cardiff?”. As a south Londoner (political history here), I migrated here via the very beautiful countryside of north Warwickshire.

My work as a consultant took me from the heart of England all over the UK, quite a bit of Europe and even North America. But I had a client in Cardiff that meant five years of staying almost every week at the Holiday Inn (now the Ramada); stays that included the delight of Michael Jackson’s suite. An artificial kind of “getting to know you Cardiff” maybe, but it planted a seed that led to me renting a flat for six months to work on a book.

Llandaff, one of Cardiff's many 'villages'

Then, much later, the suggestion to my partner that we try a year in a rented flat in Llandaff to see if we really liked Cardiff. A year after when we were being kicked out we had to decide: to relocate permanently or return to leafy Warwickshire. The decision was taken out of our hands when the house there sold and, on the same day we found a home in Pontcanna, we bought it. We didn’t know then that this was one of the most desirable parts of the city, and that we were surrounded by Welsh speakers and media personalities. As time went on, we met with like-minded immigrants, as well as delightful neighbours who had been in the area for 40 or 50 years. We tried, repeatedly, to improve our Welsh.

It took a while to get to know the extraordinary delights of the adjoining Pontcanna and Llandaff Fields

Llandaff Fields in Autumn

Llandaff Fields in Autumn

and the way they form part of the Bute Parks. The arrival of Dryw – black, four legged and a terrier explorer – accelerated our learning. However, we quickly discovered that many of the things we most liked about Cardiff were under threat. First it was Sophia Gardens – the city’s first public park – and the idea of giving a privately owned company a huge amount of public space in which to develop a commercial cricket ground.

Sophia Gardens in its glory days

Sophia Gardens in its glory days

The “Hit it for Six” campaign successfully fought off two major applications for development in this grade 2* parkland, but the promise of a “test match” and of some fleeting international exposure saw the council roll over like lapdogs and agree to the desecration of the park. An action that can never be reversed.

It became clear, sadly, that this was part of an ongoing process of degradation and development, usually claimed to be for “worthy causes”.

40 years of encroachment of the Bute Parks

40 years of encroachment of the Bute Parks

Each of these individual uses may have seemed to have some merit, but taken together they have added up to a 40% removal of public space from one of the country’s most important historic landmarks. Sophia Gardens was effectively finally lost when the cricket stadium was built, but we all thought Bute Park itself was untouchable. The allure of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and weaselly words of support from them, enabled the council to build a new access road to enable it to undertake public events more easily. A 5000 people petition asking for a moratorium on development in the Bute Parks was dismissed in a council meeting in seconds.

At this point anyone would question why they would still want to live here. Now, there is as much to get angry about in Cardiff, as there is to enjoy.  As chair of Cardiff Civic Society, a charity not a political or single-issue campaign, I have a responsibility, not to be angry (well, not just angry) but to try to ensure that Cardiff’s historic past, and just as importantly, its future, is in the ownership of its citizens. Not, as so often seems, taken for granted by its politicians as their right to propose and dispose of at will.

We are coming up to an important time for those who make bad decisions: it’s the Welsh Assembly elections next year, council elections in 2012. It’s a good time to reflect on what has happened, and what we might want for the city in twenty years’ time.

Cardiff has the potential to be a fitting capital for the country where many of us still want to live. Indeed, it can and should be a world exemplar of many of Wales’ policies for the environment, sustainable economic growth, high standards of built design and caring for a remarkable and complex history.

It won’t be that in 2020 unless we, the people who have grown to love the place, make it so.

Picture by Adam Chard taken for WeAreCardiff

Peter sits on an access bollard by the new Bute Parks access road bridge: “its presence allows the noise, traffic and pollution of an arterial roadway into what was once one of the most preciously tranquil areas of the heritage park. The massive, industrial strength bridge (for 40 tonne lorries) has the design footprint of a monster and less subtlety than the second Severn crossing. It destroys something given in trust. It’s an irrevocable act of vandalism that history will join those who campaigned against it and roundly condemn as a folly of 21st century politicians seeking civic aggrandisement above civic duty.”

A Phoenix rises from The Persians

I cannot imagine that there are many who had the good fortune to see The Persians (background story) over the past two weeks, who doubted that we were present at one of the defining occasions of English-language theatre in Wales.

The cast of Mike Pearson's NToW production of The Persians

Even the London critics somehow managed to find themselves seated, not in West End luxury, but on a hard bench, clad in a regulation green poncho and exposed to the elements deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

All have heaped praise on the National Theatre of Walessixth production in this year’s inaugural programme of The Persians, directed by Mike Pearson.

“They have scored a coup”, The Observer; “Pearson’s superbly imaginative and intense production, at once timeless and modern, has a rare, raw power. This is great theatre – and a thrilling mystery tour for its audience”, The Telegraph; “a production that is both minimalist and massive in its scope and marvellous in its realisation,” the Hereford Times; “what is impressive about Mike Pearson’s production is the totality of the experience”, The Guardian; “some of the finest creative talents working in Wales today… melded together to produce a unique and exciting drama, probably accompanies most artistically fulfilling production to date”, Michael Kelligan; “with the eery music, some wonderful acting and the amazing setting, this is another hit for National Theatre Wales”, Western Mail.

Yes it is all this and more. But for me, on quiet reflection, there is a story behind the production that I haven’t yet seen discussed.

The Persians represents in many ways a Phoenix like rebirth of one of Wales’s greatest theatre companies –  Brith Gof. Firstly, director Mike Pearson, conceptual designer Mike Brooks and composer John Hardy were all key players in Brith Gof’s history. Richard Huw Morgan, John Rowley and Gerald Tyler are all actors who have worked often for extended periods for the company. So, as they say: they have form.

I was a trustee of the company when its Arts Council Wales funding was terminated in 2000. The company’s last grant was £52,500. We decided that Brith Gof – always much more appreciated outside of Wales than in it – should continue as long as we could find the money and the directors had the artistic ideas. Mike Pearson and fellow directors Michael Shanks and Cliff McLucas were eventually offered jobs with regular income. In the end, we had to call time in 2004.

It has been both instructive and rewarding to search the archives to see just how much Brith Gof has given to The Persians. Anyone who saw the Welsh production of

Brith Gof's "PAX" at St David's Hall, Cardiff

“Gododdin” (a remarkable film archive is here, persist with it, the video’s not great quality) in the Rover car factory, Cardiff in 1989, “PAX” in St Davids Hall in 1991, or, even Mike Pearson’s two-man show “In Black and White” with disabled actor Dave Levett in 1992, will see the theatrical connections. The use of extraordinary musical soundscapes originated with John Hardy and Mike Pearson’s work with Test Department in the 1980’s. John Hardy’s (interview here) creativity and musical inventiveness hasn’t lost any of its edge in spite of him being a much in demand composer for mainstream film and television (and still, thankfully, based in Wales).

In the last few productions by Brith Gof – such as Hafod, technology began to appear but hand-held video cameras had to be attached to the performers with trailing cables. In The Persians we have a chorus member with a tiny handheld wireless camera and the remarkable camera work of Pete Telfer projecting the live-action onto video screens. The integration of recorded segments of video is also an inheritance from the days when such things were much more technically challenging.

Some things in the Persians are different: as Mike Pearson explains in his interview with me working with a classic text – brilliantly translated by Kaite O’Reilly – was one of his self-set challenges. It was also in English, where much of Brith Gof’s work had been Welsh or bilingual. And whilst I have no idea what the budget of the production was, I imagine that the generous Arts Council Wales and Welsh Assembly Government funding to NToW (£3M over three years) gave the team a little more flexibility than they had in the old days.

For me then, there is much satisfaction in seeing how 15 years of theatrical development in Welsh theatre could have such a stunning, successful and critically acclaimed rebirth. Many theatre companies throughout Europe owe a debt to Brith Gof. I am glad that the National Theatre of Wales, albeit by a kind of proxy,  and The Persians has been able to honour it so well.

Footnote: there have been some excellent comments that add to my story and, rather than take the credit for knowledge that I didn’t have, I ask that you click on the comments, if you haven’t already done so.
Good news that the archive may get a new life too!

A personal view – looking forward to Cardiff 2020

This is a longer version of the article published by MyCardiff

Mermaid Quay

The Bay: Cardiff's attempt at a Barcelonaesque vibrant waterfront, with graceless, industrial estate architecture that is already dated, worn and well past its sell-by date.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. Harold Wilson, Prime Minister for a total of seven years and 279 days

The city is embarking – again, after an abortive start on Plan One – on the major exercise of deciding what it wants to be like in the future, stretching until 2026. And the “Local Development Plan” also has to explain how we are going to get there, no easy task. Mine’s easier: I have been asked for an opinion: “what would I like Cardiff to be like in 2020?”; I don’t have to be restricted by annoyances like projected population growth, a disintegrating environment, and the collapse of the market economy as we have known it. The future slate is clean, it can be what we want.

This kind of question usually predisposes that the future necessarily means change (bad) and that we don’t like – and should get rid of – what we’ve got.

On the first supposition, I am firmly of the Harold Wilson school of change: 40 years of working with organisations, managing change in its many disguises, has proven to me at least: change is inevitable, without it you die (institutionally, organisationally, physically – in the case of buildings and people).

What’s important is how you manage the change, whether you feel as an individual you have some control of the process. The most life-changing events can be managed, enjoyed, embraced, if one feels involved, a part of the event, not just a swept up bystander with others making the running. It follows then, that to welcome a new vision of our city, we must be an active part of that change, not let others – politicians, property developers, bankers – pursue their own agendas to their own benefit. For the reshaping of a city, we need its citizens to have the biggest, loudest, most effective voice.

When I ask people to name Cardiff’s great buildings the list is usually the same: the Stadium, the Millennium Centre, the ….. and the list runs out.

Well, for my money, I endorse every users’ perception of the Millennium Stadium as one of the finest in the world – as an experience. As a visual delight it fails: it’s in the wrong place, it can only be seen as the engineering feat that it undoubtably is from places few people go (try a boat on the river). It has absolutely no connection with its environment, its place. We can admire its existence, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that it’s a great addition to the built landscape of the city. It is not.

And the Wales Millennium Centre fails to reach the highest goals of a landmark building for not dissimilar reasons. Compare and contrast it with a Stirling Prize short-listed building by Zahad Hadid the architect who was run out of town by vested interests, a rabid national newspaper (no names) and petty minded parochialism of the nastiest kind. The WMC is – like the Stadium – a huge success for what it does, not what it is. We are, like obedient pets, grateful for what we have. But as, presumably grown up sentient human beings, we have a right to be disappointed in what should have been.

As for the past: I have a developed aversion to bulldozers, perhaps it was living in Birmingham in the 60’s seeing a ring road carve the heart out of the city, or working in Plymouth and experiencing the – probably well-intentioned – razed city centre, flattened in a way Nazi bombers hadn’t completed and covered, with no doubt scarce resources but limited imagination, a post-war vision of concrete inhumanity and greyness. Cardiff has mostly escaped such wholesale slaughter of its heritage, though the city council continues to plunder the assets of its heritage parklands, school playing fields and public spaces.

Mostly it’s the industrial past that has gone. The dock lands have been barraged to make a  feeble, Barcelonesque imitation of a waterfront. Where there were industrial buildings we now have a sweeping motorway of urban road (with more traffic lights than any other road in the world I am certain) going from nowhere, to nowhere, and lined by some re-used buildings, but largely identikit housing of the worst kind.

The growth of Cardiff as a city is so recent that most of its heritage buildings are Victorian. Thankfully, organisations like the Victorian Society, have helped to ensure that this heritage has largely been kept intact. The Cathays Park civic buildings complex is something of which every person should be proud. Just remember that it, and the city’s other fine buildings and parks, were built from the profits generated by the labour of those in the coal field valleys. We need to consider how to best repay that debt: how much of the future of Cardiff 2020 should actually be in the city itself?

What of this past should we try to emulate in 2020 and beyond? I think this city is most successful when it is like a village: a core of public buildings and open spaces, shops, services, places to work and live. All within walking or cycling distance. I live in Pontcanna which has exactly that and more. Guess what, it’s desirable (for which read expensive). There are other places like it, and together they make Cardiff a set of connected villages around the core of the city. That’s what has happened, perhaps we should make more of it, more like it. The future means thinking about those areas of Cardiff that have been developed without thinking about some of these key essentials, or where we may be trying to remove them – taking away existing green spaces for schools for example. Everywhere, and everyone, has a right to the best built environment even if we failed to provide it in the first place.

Where necessary housing development takes place we should be ensuring that the developers meet the real social cost of their schemes. I don’t mean just a cheque for so-called “106” schemes. I mean properly designed developments to include public spaces, properly maintained, with viable transport in place, and public services. If that means building a school, health centre, bus stops, cycle paths and shops before the houses, so be it. For too long developers have reaped the benefit (profit) of the housing boom, largely at a direct cost to the wider community in providing (often badly as a result) the infrastructure for living that is needed.

We will certainly see fewer people in 2020 commuting to work: carbon reduction will necessitate this, the development of technology will facilitate it, profits will drive it. We all know cars will be used less, we just don’t like doing it. In Copenhagen 36% of traffic is bicycles, it’s a target figure that Cardiff could match, with a fitter population and a more pleasant place as bonuses.

And by 2020 much current building may well be at its replacement lifetime: the shocking housing developments we are now throwing up will have a short life span thankfully. We need better designed communities that are sensitive to the environment of a “One Planet, One Wales”, and meet the needs of real people. No more reduced size furniture to fit reduced size living spaces. Sixty years ago we built homes fit for heroes, now we should build homes fit for people.

Perhaps, and perhaps this is wishful thinking, we could be building a city that looks like the 21st century and not some pastiche of the past, or gerry-built identi-kit factory warehouse architecture that we seem to have excelled in recently. This would demand that we take as much concern about the aesthetics of the future of Cardiff as we try to take in conserving its past. Excellence is not necessarily more expensive. But it is the bedrock on which our forefathers built Cathays Park and if, in the future, we want our great great children to admire our efforts, this is one big lesson to learn from the past. Excellence is a word to be attached to few modern buildings in Cardiff today. We must do better.

So in the future much could be just the same: fine heritage buildings, magnificent heritage parks: a place where heritage lives. But only if w what e take robust steps now to ensure that happens. The pressures to destroy nearly always outweigh those to conserve.

To be more demanding we must be more involved, stop letting others decide. In an era where public disenchantment with ‘the powers that be’ is rife, where politicians think election is a ticket to power not responsibility, where consultation means being told will happen, it is difficult to be heard and feel that a voice has an impact.

I want Cardiff 2020 to be the best of what we have, and the very, very, very best of what we can have. We can have that, but only if we first have a voice extolling a vision of a future for its citizens and not vested interest.

Peter Cox moved his management consultancy business to Cardiff after emigrating here 15 years ago: it became a Wales Fast Growth 50 Company. He was a board member and trustee of Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre for seven years and its chair for two, putting in place its recent, £3.5M, RIBA award winning, refurbishment. He is now chair of Cardiff Civic Society which has recently prepared a response to the Cardiff Council plans for a new Local development Plan. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

WalesOnline picture of March Cardiff June 2010

WalesOnline picture of March Cardiff June 2010

The Fascists were bussed into Cardiff yesterday  to object to Muslims in our community. Although apparently hosted by something called the Welsh Defence League the t-shirts in the photos I saw suggested Dudley, England rather than anywhere nearer. Unite Against Fascism got wind of the demo and arranged with the police for a counter demo: I suspect that 500 people marching from the Bay to City Hall was a truer indication – along with a 24hr strike by Muslim tax-drivers – of where Cardiff and Wales’ feelings lie.

Heartened I took to my researches for something quite different and, serendipitously, in a way the internet drags one, fell upon a Punch 1914 short story about a canary. (A bird still at that time serving as gas watch in Wales’ mines, and to subsequently serve in the trenches.) You can download the entire magazine at the amazing Gutenberg project and read on your iPad’s nice new bookstore app.  As you read be grateful of what has changed even if it appears to be so little….

Vol. 147. July 1, 1914.


Once upon a time a poet was sitting at his desk in his cottage near the woods, trying to write.

It was a hot summer day and great fat white clouds were sailing across the sky. He knew that he ought to be out, but still he sat on, pen in hand, trying to write.

Suddenly, among all the other sounds of busy urgent life that were filling the warm sweet air, he heard the new and unaccustomed song of a bird. At least not new and not unaccustomed, but new and unaccustomed there, in this sylvan retreat. The notes poured out, now shrill, now mellow, now bubbling like musical water, but always rich with the joy of life, the fulness of happiness. Where had he heard it before? What bird could it be?

Suddenly the poet’s housekeeper hurried in. “Oh, Sir,” she exclaimed, “isn’t it a pity? Someone’s canary has got free, and it’s singing out here something beautiful.”

“Of course,” said the poet—”a canary;” and he hastened out to see it. But before he could get there the bird had flown to a clump of elms a little way off, from which proceeded sweeter and more tumultuously exultant song than they had ever known.

The poet walked to the elms with his field-glasses, and after a while he discerned among the million leaves, the little yellow bird, with its throat trembling with rapture.

But the poet and his housekeeper were not the only creatures who had heard the strange melody.

“I say,” said one sparrow to another, “did you hear that?”

“What?” inquired the other sparrow, who was busy collecting food for a very greedy family.

“Why, listen,” said the first sparrow.

“Bless my soul,” said the second. “I never heard that before.”

“That’s a strange bird,” said the first sparrow; “I’ve seen it. It’s all yellow.”

“All yellow?” said the other. “What awful cheek!”

“Yes, isn’t it?” replied the first sparrow. “Can you understand what it says?”

“Not a note,” said the second. “Another of those foreigners, I suppose. We shan’t have a tree to call our own soon.”

“That’s so,” said the first. “There’s no end to them. Nightingales are bad enough, grumbling all night, and swallows, although there’s not so many of them this year as usual; but when it comes to yellow birds—well.”

“Hullo,” said a passing tit, “what’s the trouble now?”

“Listen,” said the sparrows.

The tit was all attention for a minute while the gay triumphant song went on.

“Well,” he said, “that’s a rum go. That’s new, that is. Novel, I call it. What is it?”

“It’s a yellow foreigner,” said the sparrows.

“What’s to be done with it?” the tit asked.

“There’s only one thing for self-respecting British birds to do,” said the first sparrow. “Stop it. Teach it a lesson.”

“Absolutely,” said the tit. “I’ll go and find some others.”

“Yes, so will we,” said the sparrows; and off they all flew, full of righteous purpose.

Meanwhile the canary sang on and on, and the poet at the foot of the tree listened with delight.

Suddenly, however, he was conscious of a new sound—a noisy chirping and harsh squeaking which seemed to fill the air, and a great cloud of small angry birds assailed the tree. For a while the uproar was immense, and the song ceased; and then, out of the heart of the tumult, pursued almost to the ground where the poet stood, fell the body of a little yellow bird, pecked to death by a thousand avenging furies.

Seeing the poet they made off in a pack, still shrilling and squawking, but conscious of the highest rectitude.

The poet picked up the poor mutilated body. It was still warm and it twitched a little, but never could its life and music return.

While he stood thoughtfully there an old woman, holding an open cage and followed by half-a-dozen children, hobbled along the path.

“My canary got away,” she said. “Have you seen it? It flew in this direction.”

“I’m afraid I have seen it,” said the poet, and he opened his hand.

“My little pet!” said the old woman. “It sang so beautifully, and it used to feed from my fingers. My little pet.”

The poet returned to his work. “‘In tooth and claw,'” he muttered to himself, “‘In tooth and claw.'”