It’s officially spring and soon I will be having my annual battle with the blackbirds.
The seasons mean a lot to the British people. It was always a complaint of some expats in Kenya that short rains, long rains and no-rains did not mark the passage of time so effectively as April showers, summer sunshine, falling leaves and winter snow. Indeed the old colonialists used to plant flower gardens in the Highlands to replicate what they had left behind in Surrey.
But hey, the expats of my time also lamented the absence of Walls sausages and Marmite, so longing for British weather seems like a minor eccentricity.
But back to our seasons. Spring began officially on March 25 and that reminded me of an ungrammatical nonsense rhyme we used to chant as kids:
Spring is sprung, the grass is ris,
I wonder where the birdies is.
Well, I know where the birdies is, they is in the cherry tree in our front garden. Before the cherries come, the tree is filled with fragrant blossom. It’s like having a fluffy white cloud suspended outside my first floor window.
The main threat to this lovely scene is heavy rain and winds, but the blossom has other enemies – pigeons. The other day I watched two fat and ugly specimens gorging on the cherry flowers.
Systematically, they plucked the petals from the blooms and, one after another, folded them into their beaks and gulped them down.
Of course, this is simply nature at work and the blossom will be gone in a week or two anyway. It’s when the cherries appear that things get serious.
Our tree is only about five metres high but it is unusually fruitful. The cherries range from yellow-red to deep and shiny purple, but the blackbirds are not fussy, they like them all.
Me not being five metres high, the birds always get the cherries at the top of the tree while I look for ones lower down that are often hidden by the leaves.
Overall, the blackbirds’ busy yellow beaks beat me easily for numbers, sometimes even pecking a hole in the cherry and not finishing it off, which is particularly aggravating. They litter the garden path with cherry stones to demonstrate their victories.
OK, they will always win, I accept that. But last year was hard to bear when I suffered an extra humiliation. I spotted a luscious cherry the birds had clearly missed. Heh heh! I popped it into my mouth, then Aaaaaaargh help! Nestled inside was an angry buzzing wasp.
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Manchester City’s footballers were one minute late onto the pitch for the second half of a match against Sporting Lisbon and, for this offence, the governing body of European soccer, Uefa, fined the club £25,000 (Ksh3.3 million).
At another match, supporters of the Portuguese side, Porto, directed monkey taunts at two black City players. Uefa fined Porto £16,500 (Ksh2.1 million).
The disparity between fines for breaches of discipline and for outright racism has outraged players and officials in Britain. The worst offenders seem to be Eastern European and some Iberian clubs.
But England, too, has had incidents involving South Americans, Africans and an Israeli as targets of players’ or fans’ insults.
Fans of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg made monkey noises at blacks playing for Lokomotiv Moscow in a Russian league game. The club was fined £2,100 (Ksh282,000).
By contrast, when Spartak Moscow’s Nigerian international Emmanuel Emenike made an offensive gesture against fans who racially abused him, he was fined £10,660 (Ksh1.4 million).
In other Russian matches, a Congolese player and a Brazilian had bananas thrown at them. The Brazilian walked off the pitch.
In an Under-21s clash between England and Serbia, a black English player, Justin Hoyte, said, “One or two Serbian players spat at us and I was racially abused.”
The fans made monkey chants against England defender Nedum Ohuoha. The national association was fined but demands for Serbia to be kicked out of the competition were ignored.
When asked what action Uefa intended to take, President Sepp Blatter said: “There is no racism” in international football. Offended players, he said, should remember “this is a game”.
* * *
Mr Patel’s shop on the high street was situated between two other businesses. It so happened that one day the shop on his right closed and the premises were taken by a powerful supermarket.
A couple of weeks later, the same thing happened to the store on his left and the space it had occupied was filled by another giant of the retail trade.
“You’re in trouble now,” his friends said, “the big boys will take all your business.”
“I don’t think so,” Mr Patel said. “I have decided to rename my shop.”
“Rename the shop!” his friends said. “You will have to do more than that.”
“Come back tomorrow,” Mr Patel said.
Next day, the friends turned up at the high street and saw customers flocking into Mr Patel’s shop. The sign above the door, Patel’s Grocery, had been taken down and a new one put in its place. It said: Main Entrance.