26 March 2007

British Garden Songbirds c. 1650-2007

RobinsBleary-eyed residents across the UK are celebrating this week, following the news that British Garden Songbirds have whistled their last thanks to a mild European winter and a bumper countryside fruit crop leading to the end of cheery chaffinches, bubbly blackbirds and wide-awake wrens visiting UK gardens and waking you at bleedin’ dawn with their chorus.

British Garden Songbirds were hatched about the time of the first British garden when Capability Brown encouraged a family of starstruck thrushes to go into show business – creating the first song thrush. It would whistle merrily at dawn to protect its territory, attract a mate and severely annoy the owners of Capability Brown’s new garden until they finally settled their bill in full, or fell, dazed from lack of sleep, into the haha.

With the growth in popularity of gardening, soon the Victorian working classes were able to enjoy the beauty of The Songbirds’ renditions of music hall ditties – with the added benefit of being woken early enough to spend a good 12 hours a day up a chimney or getting their tired limbs caught in a mechanical loom.

As trades unions and socialists won new freedoms for the working man and woman, people were able to spend more time in their gardens and allotments, especially as they now had a gap of several hours to fill between being woken at sun-up by a robin crooning Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and the start of the day’s work at nine or ten o’clock.

Despite desperate attempts by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to convince homeowners that The Songbirds were a wonderful addition to any British garden and that standing at the kitchen window with a pair of binoculars and a book of British birds was an exciting way to kill a few hours on a Sunday morning, relations between homeowners and Songbirds began to sour – especially when The Songbirds went electric in the 60s. Soon British gardens were awash with moptop warblers (both garden and willow) belting out And Your Bird Can Sing at ear-splitting volume.

The relentless ambitions of many songbirds to make it to the toppermost of the poppermost through their open-air performances reached its nadir in the early 90s with the release of British Garden Songbird’s debut album, Swingalong-a-Dimmock – and the backlash began in earnest.

Fatigued and jaded gardeners began to encourage robins to perch jauntily on the handle of their shovel whilst they whistled a medley of Andrew Lloyd-Webber tunes – all the while, the jazz-hands robin oblivious to the fact that the gardener was using said shovel to dig a six-foot-deep bird-shaped grave.

Salvation arrived as an unexpected benefit of global warming, as an unseasonably warm winter lured The Songbirds away from the limelight of the British Garden into the obscurity of the British countryside. After several hundred years, British gardens fell silent and a nation went back to sleep.

British Garden Songbirds will be buried in a silent ceremony at St Oddie’s Church of the Annoyingly Dull Twitcher. They are survived (for now) by Bill Oddie.