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Beak performance How one tiny songbird lifted the heavy lockdown gloom

As extrovert as Freddie Mercury at Live Aid, an uncontainable bundle of gyrating charisma...


Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury

Perched on a park bench last Friday afternoon, wrapped in an ermine blanket of cheering April sun, a small miracle visited and rendered the world a lighter, brighter place.

Happiness came and sang me a song.

A tiny robin, his red breast palpitating as he whistled his joyous symphony, sat next to me.

Unafraid, sociable, curious, basking in the glow of a gorgeous late-spring day, he offered his friendship.

I accepted it as the most extraordinary gift.

His music could not have been any more soothing or jubilant or tuneful had it been conceived in the concert hall of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's brilliant mind.

It was a soaring celebration of being alive.

A born showman, this diminutive Pavarotti trilled and quavered, the entire dimensions of the universe reduced to his ecstatic chorus of avian evensong.

He stared me in the eye, arching his neck gymnastically, his tiny, pinprick headlights demanding my attention.

It was as if he was talking to me, lifting me from a slump, offering a spellbinding lesson in nature's magnificence.

His complimentary concert endured for fully ten minutes. This delicate, beautiful creature sat no more than four feet away and pumped euphoria into the world.

Free of charge, he donated his voice and his companionship.

Palmerston Park is perched on a lovely spit of land where Rathmines, Dartry and Ranelagh intersect.

Beyond the avenue of mature, Himalayan oaks, the red-brick mansions are homes to stately, old-money wealth.

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But this miniscule handful of winged contentment was worth more than the entire opulent terrace.

Craving his audience's approval, his entire being pulsed and shivered with the effort he poured into his ode to being animate. It may read like the daftest or most pretentious line: But it was a strangely spiritual, life-affirming experience.

This past year has padlocked so many doors, extracted the amusement and spontaneity that is the vitamin and lifeblood of breathing.

A suffocating nanny-state gospel is force-fed to a weary nation like a bottomless, long past its sell-by date bowl of flavourless gruel.

It can feel as if certain individuals, bewitched by their new-found Covid-created celebrity, will do whatever it takes to retain control over every aspect of our lives.

I have never felt so hopeless, so trapped, so down.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom to be mined from Joseph O'Connor's magical novel, Shadowplay, is the following: "Tears are the part of grief visible above the water, they are not where the wreckage is done."

Quietly, pitilessly, below the waterline, Covid wreaks its chaos on so many lives.

We all long for familiar consolations. So many waking hours I crave the simple pleasure of a high-stool, a pint settling before me, the soothing, hushed, impromptu jazz of early afternoon public-house conversation cleansing the soul.

Life is on hold and our psyches are bruised.

And then, on Friday, this little, fearless rescue ship berthed next to me and winched me to a better place.

His birdsong felt like freedom: A jailbreak from the crushing sameness of another incarcerated hour in lockdown, a liberating, carefree, chorus.

Robins, I discovered later courtesy of an internet search, are shortlived: The record for longevity is held by a ringed bird that survived until its ninth year.

It is as if, knowing their time on stage is so fleeting, they give all of themselves to their uplifting performance art.

Apparently, they are famed for their tameness and my Friday friend was, undeniably, a gregarious ambassador from the feathered kingdom.

As extrovert as Freddie Mercury at Live Aid, an uncontainable bundle of gyrating charisma.

He had a story to chirp, this minute town-crier, and it was my blessing to be the recipient of his good humour.

I had a terrible column half-written to fill this space.

It was downbeat, angry, depressing. I knew it was awful stuff and searching for inspiration I went for a walk.

And I came to sit on that park bench.

Then, through some heavenly serendipity, a stranger smaller than my fist introduced himself.

Lockdown will more than likely annoy and frustrate me again today and tomorrow and the day after.

But for those few minutes with my new friend, I broke free of the shackles and feasted on the meal of life.

Like the robin, Charles Lindbergh knew the freedom of flight.

All of 94 years ago, an American newspaper columnist described the prevailing lightness of being when it was confirmed that the American aviator had successfully piloted the Spirt of St Louis across the vast Atlantic.

"For a little while the aspect of the world and all its people had magnificently altered. We came out of slumps and slouches. There was more brotherhood in being."

I found that happy space on Friday, propelled to a state of grace by my fearless, feathered Lindbergh.

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