18 Mulberry Road
The Twitcherlys were a family of sparrows; everyday, common, British sparrows. You could tell they were British because every time anything went wrong, or anyone called unexpectedly to tea, they kept that typically British calmness about them.
“Oh how nice to see you! Do come in,” they would chirp, and not “Oh no! Not those wretched Bumblies again!”
You see, they were very nice sparrows and had been very well brought-up. The other way you could tell they were British was that they lived in England, and they understood everything you said to them.
They lived in an enormous, knotty oak tree in the very large garden of number 18 Mulberry Road . Nobody knew why it was called that, because there were no mulberry trees for miles around. Perhaps, as the houses there were very old, there had been mulberry trees there at some time in the past. All the houses were very large and detached, and had enormous gardens of rhododendrons, azaleas, lupins, and forget-me-nots (and many other flowers as well, of course), so this area was a very pleasant one in which to live for all sparrows.
They were a happy family; mother, father, and two fledglings. They were not, strictly speaking, ‘tree sparrows’, although they lived in one, but were house sparrows. They should really have been living in a nice cosy nest in a house, but they found things so much bigger, better and more comfortable in the tree. Their home was in a hole in the side of the tree where, some years before, there had been a large branch. This had been blown off during some very strong gales, and the following year the stump had been excavated by a very friendly spotted woodpecker for them.
The woodpecker’s name was Lemuel, and he had his home just the other side of the tree. The sparrows liked him, even if he was a little noisy with his hammering at all times of the day. He was very considerate really, because he never disturbed them at night when the fledglings were asleep.
The parent birds had lived in the tree now for three years, and up until now had not wanted to raise a family. They had wanted to wait until they had a nest of their own in a nice neighbourhood. Now had come the time, they had thought, to raise their first brood. Mrs Twitcherly had laid her first egg in the early spring, but it did not hatch, and then two or three weeks later, she had laid her other two. The weather had been fine; nice in the sun, but with enough of a chill for you to need to wear a jumper.
The trees were beginning to send out fine points of new green; the sort that looks as if it has been newly painted and is just beginning to dry. The early spring flowers were under way and ready to attract the attention of the worker bees, who were shaking the winter dust out of their wings and making sure they were in working order for their year’s work. There were several hives in Mr Bowles’ garden, next-door-but-two, and usually there was a lot of activity at this time of year.
There was a great rivalry between Mr Bowles’ bees and the wild ones from the open fields behind Mulberry Road . They liked to see who could get to the new flowers first, and which hive or nest could collect the most nectar to make the honey. The domestic bees were almost always the best organised and so the best collectors. The field bees were out and about earlier than ever this year to steal a march on the others, and to try their best to buzz the wings off them. They had, unfortunately, woken up a little too early, and, except for a few forget-me-nots and irises, the flowers were not yet out. They had, in the main, to return to their nests empty-pouched. They liked to see who could get to the new flowers first, and which hive or nest could collect the most nectar to make honey. The domestic bees were almost always the best organised and so the best collectors. The field bees were out and about earlier than ever this year to steal a march on the others, and to try their best to buzz the wings off them. They had, unfortunately, woken up a little too early, and, except for a few forget-me-nots and irises, the flowers were not yet out. They had, in the main, to return to their nests empty-pouched.
The Twitcherlys considered themselves very lucky, for not only had they a comfortable and spacious nest, they also had a roof over their heads. This was better than a nest in the usual place in a tree with only branches and leaves to keep out the rain. Sparrows were not supposed to mind the rain, but Mrs Twitcherly was rather sensitive to that sort of thing and easily got rheumatism in her wings if she became too damp. Besides, who could be nest-proud if it became drenched every time there was the slightest rainfall. She felt sorry for the other sparrows who hadn’t a nest like hers.
“Those poor birds!” she would say to her husband. “They must be very wet by now. I think it’s about time something was done to provide dry nests for everyone.”
“It wouldn’t do, my dear, for everyone to be the same,” her husband would reply. “Besides there aren’t that many oak trees left now”; and there the conversation would end. As long as the family had enough to eat, and a roof over their heads, Mr Twitcherly was happy.
The people who owned number 18 Mulberry Road had a little boy. He was a good little chap with a cheerful smile and a kind thought for everyone. His name was David, and he was five. Well, actually, he told everybody he was five, but in fact he was four and three quarters. David liked watching the birds in the garden, and he loved to give them food. He would put out on either lawn or bird table not only lots of bread, but also different types of bird seed which he would buy with his pocket money.
He would sit in the house and watch tits, finches, starlings and his favourite sparrows swoop down to taste his food, and he would chuckle with glee to see their antics. The starlings would push each other out of the way and stand on the bread whilst throwing it this way and that over their shoulders; the tits would hang upside-down from the bird table to eat the nuts; and the sparrows would flit here and there, trying to pick up as many crumbs and bits of nuts as they could.
David, of course, gave them most to eat in the winter when there were not many berries and fruits around, but the summer and autumn in his garden were the best times for the birds, as there were many different types of shrubs which gave delicious berries for the birds to eat. So, he put out food only when necessary.
He talked to all the birds in his garden, and knew most of them personally and by name. It was he who gave the Twitcherlies their name, because Mr T seemed to be twitching his tail feathers when he came down to feed. They, in turn, thought he was a very nice boy, and because of that, he would have made a good bird, except that he was a bit too big.
Number 18 also had a cat. This was not an ordinary cat. He was black, except for the tip of his tail which was white, and the tips of his ears which were grey. But what was most unusual was that he liked birds; not to eat, as most of his feline friends and acquaintances did, but to play with and to watch. In fact he got along with most things in the world, except for the holly bush, which prickled his nose. He rarely went near this bush these days, but in his youth he'd had many an encounter with it, and always came off worse.
During most of the fine days, he would sit in a very large tub which had originally been designed for bulbs and other growing flowers, but at some stage it had been knocked over and never refilled with either soil or plants. In it he had a nice bed of soft straw which always remained dry because the tub was in a sheltered spot by the back porch, and was covered by a transparent sun roof. Here he would sit, keeping watch and guard over his friends, making sure no intruders frightened them away. The birds had come to trust him and never gave him a second glance, except to say the occasional chirpy “Good Morning”. When it rained, Juniper, for that was his name, would sit in the porch on the window sill amongst the geraniums and tomato plants, keeping watch through the large bay window.
He'd had several fights with intruding toms in his time; cats from downtown neighbourhoods trying to get a quick, free meal, either of birds or from the food they left. He always won, so there hadn’t been any intruders for a long time. His fame had spread far and wide, and so his friends could enjoy the garden in peace.