Stone me, the crows are back in town

Stone me, the crows are back in town

Having a small garden I am fortunate enough to regularly wake up to the sound of birdsong, although in recent dusty days some of my feathered friends have been suffering from sore throats. Even worse was the unwelcome sound of crows and their jarring "caw" call which Cambridge Dictionary describes bluntly as "a loud unpleasant cry".

The crows seem to have taken up residence in a wooded area just down the road and throughout the day there is no respite from the unappealing "Caw Choir". I am convinced they swoop over my garden simply to annoy me.

My negative view of crows goes back to a childhood incident in England while playing hide and seek with friends near a cornfield. I crept under a footpath fence and got the shock of my life coming face to face with a large bloodied dead crow just a few feet away stuffed on a post by a farmer. It was a startling sight and much more effective than the traditional scarecrow.

It was of course designed to discourage crows from eating the corn. Whether this worked I don't know but it certainly gave me a fright and that horrible image has remained. Whenever I hear the sound of crows I picture that dead one from all those years ago.

Apparently the species currently bothering me is the Large-billed Crow (formerly Jungle Crow). In Thai it is called "kaa" although more sophisticated readers may prefer Corvus macrorhynchos. You can't beat a touch of Latin and Ancient Greek on a Sunday morning.

Chirpy chirpy, cheep cheep

My main complaint with the crows is that they frighten away the regular songbirds which visit my abode. The comforting "chee-weet, chee-weet-chew", of the pied fantail and the leaf warbler's tuneful "pitchewee-pitchewee-pitchewee" are no match for the invading crow's harsh "caw" which can sound quite intimidating if there's a flock of them.

Even the common koel, known in Thailand as "nohk kwow" because of its loud call, can't compete with the crows, although judging from the racket it made this morning it is putting up a good fight.

Boasters and braggers

To be fair we must thank crows for inspiring many useful expressions in the English language. Perhaps the most familiar is "as the crow flies" meaning the shortest distance between two points. The expression originated in the 18th century after people noticed crows appeared to fly in a straight line. Although this is not strictly true it is still a useful expression.

Then there is "To crow about" meaning to brag or boast about something in an annoying fashion. It goes back many centuries and originally was a reference to cockerels crowing noisily, so you can't blame it all on crows.

In bad taste

Perhaps more evocative is the expression "stone the crows" an exclamation of shock or disgust which is believed to have originated in Australia but is also heard in the United Kingdom. A shortened version "stone me" became a popular catchphrase used by comedian Tony Hancock on British radio and TV in the 1950s and 60s.

Sometimes we come across "to eat crow" which is similar to "humble pie" with someone admitting, often in humiliating fashion, to having made a serious mistake. Its origins are unclear. According to folklore the expression may have come about after a battle in the US in 1812 when a British officer humiliated an American soldier by forcing him to eat part of a crow, knowing crow meat tastes awful.


Enough of crows and onto the more sociable sparrow which was the most common species around our house in England.

One day I heard a scream from the bathroom after which my mother emerged looking a bit shocked but laughing. She explained she had just sat on the toilet when underneath her there was an explosion of feathers and frantic chirping. She had unwittingly disturbed a sparrow that was having an afternoon bath in the toilet bowl. The sparrow panicked as did my mum, although she quickly saw the funny side of it.

Thank goodness it wasn't a crow.

Lost cause

In the recent column featuring unusual place names I was remiss in not mentioning a Scottish hamlet near Aberdeen called Lost.

The place has long been popular with tourists because of its quaint name. However, the road signs were regularly being pilfered by visitors and many deliveries of goods never made it as the drivers could not find the place. Lost was well and truly lost.

Frustrated at people not being able to find Lost, the local council in 2004 attempted to change the name to Lost Farm, which they felt would be less appealing to sign collectors. However, residents opposed this move as it turned out they preferred living in Lost, not Lost Farm. Eventually the council gave in but had to make special signs welded onto a pole and then embedded in concrete to thwart the sign stealers.

Sadly there doesn't appear to be a place called Found that Lost can twin with.

Sandwich spread

Two places that should be twinned are the hamlet of Ham in Kent just down the road from the town of Sandwich. Just outside the town there's a terrific signpost which reads Ham Sandwich. In fact both places ought to be twinned with a village in North Carolina called Toast.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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