Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…

…except that it costs a lot more than tuppence a bag nowadays.

Does everybody know what tuppence is, or has it faded out of the English language like farthing and ha’penny? Tuppence (two-pence) was two old pre-decimal pence. For tuppence you could have bought eight of those little pink-and-orange farthing chews. For a ha’penny (half-penny) you could have bought two farthing chews. For a farthing, of course, you could only have bought one farthing chew, which wouldn’t have gone far towards filling the yawning, gurgling gap between breakfast and dinner. But I loved farthings, because of the little wren on the back.

farthing.jpg

Wasn’t keen on the threepence (pron: throopence for some reason) because of the irritating edges and the portcullis on the back, which put me in mind of prisons.

threepence.jpg

Another forgettable but mildly interesting fact – old pence were abbreviated not to ‘p’ as new pence are, but ‘d’. So those eight farthing chews would have been 2d. Something to do with Roman coins being called ‘denarii’. The daily wage for a common soldier or unskilled labourer was one denarius. Not much, in other words.

(I can’t stand Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, by the way. For some reason I seem to be compelled to study accents, analyse them, work out whether they are genuine or fake, one accent or several accents layered, one over the other. Inside my head, I imitate them, trying to get them right. Inside my head, note. I don’t go round doing impressions. Dick Van Dyke’s was by far the worst cockney accent ever perpetrated by an American. Nowadays they are much better. Meryl Streep is pretty good at it, in spite of what a certain farthing-chew coloured gentleman tweeted about her. Will he ever stop tweeting? The only fake English accent that completely fooled me was Renée Zellweger. I sat and watched Bridget Jones’ Diary all the way through never guessing she was American. I thought she sounded a trifle odd, but only in the way that real English people sound when they are trying to sound genteel.)

Anyway, so I bought some mealworms for the birdies, and in particular for my robin. You’re honoured if you get a robin. They’re not like other birds. Robin appears first, and always alone, just as the overnight frost is beginning to steam in the newly-risen sun. Robins are partial to mealworms. My God, mealworms are expensive but it’s either that or breed them – a difficult and disgusting process. Mealworms, I have learned, are the larvae of beetles. When I first saw them on the web I thought no, I can’t cope with whatever that is – I’m a squeamish vegetarian – but I sent a message – a perfectly sensible message, I thought:

They are dead aren’t they? They don’t wriggle?

And after a few seconds a lady replied to me, from somewhere in the ether.

Your question made me smile. No, they don’t wriggle, they are freeze dried. They sometimes look as if they are wriggling when they slither down the side of the jug (eugh, slithering…). Chickens go mad for them.

And suddenly I felt I had made a friend, one of those instant, transient amigos/amigas you stumble across on the internet. I imagined her, wherever she was, scattering the disgusting freeze-dried little brown critters to her hens, and the hens all running and clucking and so forth, bursting with feathery excitement at the prospect. Was she a farmer’s wife, I wondered, somewhere up in Yorkshire. Maybe she was on the other side of the world, feeding her hens in some South African coop or Australian back yard. I would never know, but it didn’t matter. Another person had been added to my universe.

7 thoughts on “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…

  1. I grew up with all the farthings, and tuppance and threepence in my childhood in London, but never saw a robin in the skies of East London, only the sparrows and pigeons survived. And it is true, you only see a robin alone. Suddently one will appear in my garden. From where it comes I have no idea, but where there is one there must be more. In Summer we often see our birds making a direct line for a place in the lawn and suddenly they pull out a worm, no idea how they know where to find them. Blackbirds are the experts. At the moment our garden is covered in snow in Switzerland, so we feed them. Perhaps we shouldn’t but there is standing room only on our bird table, and on tbe ground where the ground food lays. Every morning we distribute our bread rests from the day before, that is reserved for the crows and magpies. And all beause of a cockney’s memory of the robin on the fathing. A very interesting post, full of memories for me.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. Apart from the robin, a pair of collar doves and some blackbirds I get hordes of starlings. Also mobbed by seagulls if I put bread out ( one parked seagull takes up the whole bird table). And pheasants, mostly female, probably hoping to avoid getting shot at at this time of year. Fewer sparrows than in the old days, though, which is sad. : )

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  2. I was wondering about Renée Zellweger’s accent. I have had a lot of exposure to English accents (two of my children have them – which is strange to me) and it sounded good to me but I had no idea how it would sound to an English person.

    I’m surprised by the number of British, Aussie, and Kiwi actors that act almost exclusively using an American accent. Many of which I only know they are faking it because I have seen either their bio or an interview.

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    1. Yes, it is quite good. The only thing (with benefit of hindsight) is that she is occasionally a little too precise. I don’t know how to explain it but most English people don’t make that much of an effort; the language flows, unselfconsciously and people are thinking rapidly in speech.

      And then there is the social class thing. English people can still pin each other down, minutely, by nuances of accent. A ‘posh’ English girl wouldn’t need to try to impress anybody, she would have the casual self assurance of her class. A working class girl would be happily lazy in her speech. It’s the ‘upwardly mobile’ who take the most pains over accent and they never quite get it right. : )

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  3. What a handy feeding chart — thank you! Of course, my yard birds are lucky to get real seed these days (a feeder full of mixed seed, and one exclusively of Nyjer or I suppose it’s also called thistle), instead of bread heels and the odd old eggroll. Oh, freeze-dried meal worms! My favorite of pet gaggables! Had to feed them to daughter’s turtle — in the water section of his tank (my eyes! my eyes!) — because he’d eaten no other food.. You are a dedicated birditarian. 🙂

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      1. Well, it was a matter of meal worms or slow death, so turtletarian is apt and certainly kinder than what I felt on the inside, which Dorothy Parker might’ve put as being trapped like a trap in a trap, none of which would be helpful on a resume or cv, I fear!

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