Magpie on your back
I was a principal lecturer at Manchester Polytechnic, now the Metropolitan University of Manchester, for fifteen years. Every day, summer and winter, I cycled to work from Didsbury, four or five miles to the south of the centre. Occasionally, the sun shone, quite often it was overcast, sometimes bitterly cold but very often it drizzled or poured.
One Monday morning I was cycling in to the city wiping the rain out of my eyes and doing my best not to be knocked over by the cars. I came to a line of parked cars and had to move out in order to overtake them. As I passed the third one I glimpsed a man, crouching on the pavement by the back wheel of the car; he seemed to have a magpie on his back.
Having overtaken all the parked cars I got off my bike, pulled the heavy old thing on to the pavement and walked back to look more closely at the crouching man. He was trying to crank up the car in order to take the wheel off. The rain was beating down on his head and jacket; he didn’t wear a waterproof coat. A large magpie was standing on his back, its feet spread-eagled for stability. It had seized a large tuft of the mans hair and was pulling it for all its worth…pulling and repeatedly tugging.
The man, every so often, tried to flip the bird off his back. His face was furious, desperate.
Having watched this for some moments I felt I had to say something. All I could think of saying was, ‘There’s a magpie on your back.’
He turned his furious face sideways and upwards, towards me and spat out of his mouth, ‘Its Monday! Its pouring with rain! I’ve got a puncture! And there’s a magpie on my back! OK?’