The trouble with magpies…

Everyone of a certain age remembers Magpie, the British TV programme which ran from 1968 – 1980; I remember it for its catchy theme tune and its title chosen to reflect the programme’s eclectic contents. At the time it was devised to compete with Blue Peter though I didn’t know that then; in retrospect, it was a slightly edgier looser version, a little less well behaved. The theme tune was based on an old children’s nursery rhyme and I bet even now most people who watched it could sing it, catchy as it was:

One for sorrow, Two for joy

Three for a girl, Four for a boy

Five for silver, Six for gold

Seven for a story never to be told

The last three lines were changed for the TV show and looking at them now I can understand why.

Eight for Heaven, Nine for Hell, Ten for the Devil himself.

A little bit of artistic license never went amiss.

I didn’t realise the unconscious impact this little rhyme had on me until one day when I was 18, driving home from the supermarket with my dad, I glanced out of the window and saw two magpies perched in the grass. I was due to get my A Level results that day and I was almost sick with nerves, so sick that I was willing to do anything to take my mind off the impending phone call – even going to the supermarket. But when the call came the news was good – I had gained a clean sweep of A grades. And I remember thanking the magpies because clearly they were the harbingers of good fortune.

Totally illogical, right? Except this little coincidence has stayed with me and now, when I see a lone magpie, I feel a certain trepidation; and when I see two, I can’t help but feel happy. Something good must be on its way.

Most people, busy with their jobs and families, have no time to look out of the window and notice how many magpies are sitting on their garden fence. But since I stepped out of teaching, and since my desk looks out over the spring garden, I have become acutely aware that there are at least seven magpies living in the trees around my house and they present every day in different constellations, almost like the stars gracing our night skies. And illogically, they have become the barometers of my daily mood. If I see them singly, a feeling of anxiety creeps up and can overshadow my whole day. Meanwhile, in twos or threes I’m happy; I draw the line at more than four as I know there is no pot of gold at the bottom of my garden.

It’s funny how, with too much time on our hands, we can quickly fall victim to such distortions of thought. I liken job hunting to revising for exams – we spend an inordinate amount of time on the process but have very little real influence on the outcome. And if I glance up and see one magpie instead of two, just at the wrong moment, my whole process becomes distracted. And I stall.

To combat the magpie effect, I am reading Mike Weeks ‘Un-train Your Brain’. It heralds itself as ‘a Formula for Freedom’ from the neurons holding you back. I wonder what he would say about magpies?

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