Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Tony Deyal | Politics for the birds

Published:Saturday | December 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Early Christmas morning, these two birds decided to hang out on the wooden fence, my western border, so to speak, doing calisthenics, and because my wife Indranie had not yet put out the daily meal of bread, bananas and seed, one of them, an oriole, looked straight at me and started to taunt me "Cheap! Cheap!" I didn't want to remind the ungrateful creature that my wife insists that I buy whole wheat instead of white bread for them, and that as an oriole, if he had any complaints he should go back to wintry Baltimore where it was minus one degree centigrade and falling. I consoled myself by saying that the Orioles haven't won a baseball World Series in 35 years and so this one should keep quiet. The other bird was a kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) which, instead of defending me, its breadwinner, kept asking the other bird, "Qu'est-ce-qu'il-dit? Qu'est-ce-qu'il-dit?" (What is he saying? What is he saying?). About 15 years ago, when we lived in Belize, there was one which used to knock on our kitchen window or, if we were in the living room, on the glass window there, all the time looking straight at us as if to say, "What you waiting on?"

The two birds on the fence started me thinking about politics and a quip by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (January 17, 1863-March 26, 1945) who, while overshadowed by Disraeli and Churchill, was able to hold his own in and out of Parliament. For example, he chided his opponents with an observation that will always hold true, "You cannot feed the hungry on statistics". It is something that can be applied to other situations, especially where, in some of our Caribbean countries, people live in constant fear and politicians try to minimise their concerns by feeding them statistics about the falling crime and murder rates, not appreciating that if people are uncomfortable or scared, you cannot deal with their emotions with logic or figures.

The two birds on the fence, especially the oriole, who I believe took tweeting lessons from Donald Trump, reminded me of David Lloyd George's comment about one of his colleagues who never committed himself to any party or policy. He said: "He has sat on the fence so long that the iron has entered his soul." Even as I steeled myself for the birds morphing into Tony Stark, they flew away in a hurry and I immediately realised that Indranie had arrived bearing Christmas gifts, not of gold, frankincense and myrrh, for which they had absolutely no use, but of bread, bananas and birdseed.

When I reached the front of the house, they were all there in cosmopolitan peace and profusion with crows, doves, different types of tanagers (blue and brown "jeans", silver-beaked and palmiste especially), grackles, kingbirds, mockingbirds, spectacled thrushes, anis (a type of cuckoo) and more kiskadees and orioles. It is not just a Christmas truce but an ongoing, daily event where they eat together in peace and harmony on the lawn, some of them using the birdbath that we've had since Belize. Looking at them in their contentment, I could not take my mind off the politics of the Caribbean.

It is not that birds are at all pacifists. They are territorial and can be fierce guarding their nests and babies, or when mating. But whether it is Indranie, who is an animal magnet (this is what she believes was responsible for our getting together), the food during a period of rapidly alternating flood and drought, or just the company, even the sometimes extremely aggressive crows do not try to throw their weight around. Instead, when the bread is too hard for their liking, they dip it in the water and then gulp it down. They have never been tempted by my shiny scalp as a drop-off point and even the mockingbirds ignore the orioles and refuse to call me "Cheap" or make fun of my baldness.


'Politician' bird


The only bird I have not seen around on my lawn, although I know they are numerous and notorious in Trinidad, is one that I first saw in Antigua, which reminded me of the other birds in that country and politicians throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere. It was a huge brown bird that built a nest on the security light outside the kitchen. For once Indranie had no idea about its nomenclature and genealogy and asked me. "I am not sure of the Latin name," I told her, "although you can't go wrong if you call her Avis. However, I know it as the 'politician' bird." "Why do they call it the politician bird?" she asked naively. "Look carefully," I advised. "You will see how lavishly it is feathering its own nest. That is what makes it a politician bird."

It is a tempting thought that we in any Caribbean country or the region as a whole could behave like the birds on our lawn. However, even having some kind of food security like the birds will never be enough. The prime ministers can never all agree on anything, and together with the media help to preserve and proselytise the parochialism that makes every piece of sand and rock convinced that it is God's country. There is a story about a youngster who was asked by David Lloyd George, "What are you going to do, my boy, when you grow up?" The boy replied, "I'm going into the Navy, sir." The prime minister frowned and said, "There are many greater storms in politics. If it's piracy you want, with broadsides, boarding parties, walking the plank and blood on the deck, this is the place." He meant England but we have, and it is our fate to always have, the pirates of the Caribbean.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that a bird in the hand might be worth two in the bush but makes it hard to touch-type.