Robin breasts the tape first

Robin, sitting pretty at No 1. Photo: Tim Melling
Robin, sitting pretty at No 1. Photo: Tim Melling

Congratulations to the Robin! The winner of the vote for the national bird (whatever that means!).

And congratulations to David Lindo for organising such a fun poll – and look out for a review of his new book here on Sunday.

What does it mean that the Robin is our national bird? Well, first of all – what does ‘national’ mean? Which nation is that? Scotland voted the Golden Eagle its national bird a little while ago so the Robin may be reigning over ‘the UK minus Scotland’.

I’ve grown up (or I am still growing up) thinking that the Robin is our national bird.  The fact that we have re-elected it shows, perhaps, how lovely a bird it is, or how conservative a country we are – or a bit of both.

I think the Robins who started building a nest in my garden switched to next door when it tipped down with rain – and they seem quite busy going about their work. I love them to bits.

The Robin looks like a softie, but it’s quite tough really. A pugnacious little feller who doesn’t shy away from a fight if his (or in winter, also her, territory is invaded). A Churchillian bird?

But the song of the Robin is somewhat plaintive and wistful (full of wist it is!). It seems to me that through its song, the Robin is wishing that it was living in the past, and nervous about living in the present. It’s not the most confident of songs – tuneful and moving, but hesitant and shy.

Maybe that is where the UK is at the moment – not sure of who we are.  Are the Scots really in or out – and for how long? Are we Europeans or not? And are we little Englanders and little Welshers and Little Northern Irelanders?  We’re not very good at cricket or football (any of us) and aren’t even sure, we English, which really is our national game. We have a ‘national’ anthem which is booed in many corners of the land and no English anthem except ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ and a few anti-German football songs to replace it.  Our English National Opera performs operas from other countries in our language – because we are hopeless at learning anyone else’s tongue. We have National Parks (which aren’t very different from non-parks), a National Lottery (because we like very poor gambles), and the British National Party because…I have no idea why we have that!

Like the UK, the Robin acts confident (maybe it went to Eton) but is a little unsure of itself.  Like the Robin, the UK is not shy of a bit of violence when provoked. Maybe we have chosen the right species.

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8 Replies to “Robin breasts the tape first”

  1. Nice blog.

    The robin perhaps deserves its place because its behaviour is markedly different in the UK than elsewhere. It seems to like us Brits and I suppose that's a plus, though I'm not sure I'd make a good robin on that count.

    The robin's song seems to express a certain ennui (that's not a very English word) and on a sultry day in an otherwise silent wood I empathise with that.

  2. A thought-provoking but also light-hearted and amusing blog, I enjoyed reading it!

  3. A slightly boring choice but the people's choice. The process of electing a national bird can be surprisingly controversial: recently a class of American fourth-graders (nine year-olds) proposed a bill to the New Hampshire State legislature to have the Red-tailed Hawk elected as the State Raptor and got a bit of a rough lesson in the political process. The bill was rejected and one representative, a Republican by the name of Warren Groen, chose to argue - in front of the children - that the species "uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victim to shreds, tearing it apart limb by limb" and would therefore be a better mascot for 'Planned Parenthood'.


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