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….
PUNCH, OR THE LONDON CHARIVARI
Vol. 147. July 1, 1914.
ONCE UPON A TIME: The Alien.
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.'”