That song contest, and another

By Holger.Ellgaard - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
By Holger.Ellgaard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Last night I was listening to a song contest – in a Northamptonshire wood.

There weren’t millions of us – but a few folk turned up, as they do every evening at this time of every year, to listen to the Nightingales of Glapthorn Wood.  The rest of ‘Europe’ was listening to the Eurovision Song Contest.

In Glapthorn Wood there was a sort of song contest – the Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins were doing their very best, but the star of the contest was the Nightingale – douze points!

Although, one has to admit, some of the Song Thrushes are pretty good, and I suspect that some folk go away thinking that quite a lot of the song they heard that emanated from the mouths of Song Thrushes was Nightingale song too – no matter! No matter at all.

It’s a pilgrimage of sorts – a ritual – a homage to spring and the uplift in nature it brings to these latitudes. I’ve been to Glapthorn for this ritual for many years, sometimes with my parents and sometimes with my kids, and so it is a shared family memory across the generations. And I love the fact that other people do the same, judging from the others I encounter standing in awe at the beauty of the song coming out of the mouth of a songster hidden in the bushes in the fading light.

You should have been there with us last night. We would have exchanged a smile and maybe a ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ as we passed.

I hope that future generations carrying my genes will find opportunities to do something similar, maybe not in that particular wood, and maybe not Nightingale song, but these family rituals of checking in with the real world, with nature, in its changing seasons, are very important. Think cultural heritage.

But we were home in time to see the voting for the other song contest – and what a laugh!  If you don’t know what happened then here’s a brief summary. The Russian song was a strong favourite (4/5) to win, with Australia (that well known European country) second in the betting (7/2) and Ukraine third, with a dirge of a song, at around 13/1.

The voting for Eurovision is a bit complicated but comes in two parts: each country has an ‘expert’ panel and a ‘popular’ vote too.  At the end of the ‘expert’ ‘official’ votes the UK was doing pretty well, Russia didn’t look as though it was going to win, and Australia did look as though it would win. But the people of Europe (and Australia and various ‘stans’) changed all that. Because the Ukraine dirge was about Joe Stalin being a nasty man, and because Putin sent his tanks into the Crimea (one might say part of Ukraine), the people of Europe+ swept Ukraine to victory. It was a very uplifting experience – particularly because the winning song is so dire that it cannot possibly have won on merit. Ukraine won because the world voted against Russia and for plucky Ukraine. Good for them! They also cast the UK into third from bottom place.

This is a little allegory of The Establishment versus The People – and I love it when the people win. For the first time we have seen, in this contest, quite how big a gap there is between the official view and the public view. Why do we need an official view at all?

One of the best things about the real song contest in Glapthorn Wood is that there is nothing standing in the way of me enjoying the song of the Nightingale and giving it my top marks. I can connect directly with the experience.  Well, I guess there is something standing in the way – habitat destruction, climate change, illegal killing in the Mediterranean etc  – and all of those are political issues too, and the people should have more of a say in them. Let’s put it to the vote.

By insecta62 ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By insecta62 ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

8 Replies to “That song contest, and another”

  1. It is a strange day when the best commentary on Eurovision comes from someone who was listening to nightingales! You write so well Mark.

  2. Methinks Mark reads too many elitestream newspapers.Russia bad anyone the west supports good(but might make “mistakes” though). Try reading Manufacturing Consent By Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman as well as alerts by the guys over at the Medialens website( Love the anti grouse shooting info and the bird watching info by the way. Foriegn affairs comments, not so much

  3. Thanks for your alternative song contest.
    Yes, the Glapthorn Woods of this world are priceless and yet many are tucked away in the landscape, far from bridleways and footpaths.
    But no one can deny us the natural soundscape. It transcends all barriers and runs deep in our collective psyche. Very deep, we start learning the rhythm of language before we are born.
    Small wonder that the sounds of birds are a fundamental contributor to wellbeing. Small wonder that people fight hard to prevent their decline by monitoring and surveying and campaigning across the countryside.
    And, if we are aggressively barred from some isolated wood we can at least continue to make a virtual trespass by way of its ‘songscape’.
    And then, plan some stealthy assignation another time.

  4. Ironically, Nightingales, unlike most of our farmland species, would benefit from more, not less, activity in the countryside – their decline is closely linked to woodlands growing up and shading out the dense growth they need for breeding. Vast swathes of Surrey, Sussex and Kent are abandoned coppice, their darkening only alleviated by the 1987 storm, whose effects are now fading. We could have stacks more Nightingales for everyone simply by restoring past woodland management practises.

  5. I heard my first Nightingale in Glapthorn Woods whilst I was at Oundle, Mark. A memorable experience that has never left me.

    1. Ed – it’s still a lovely spot. I wonder whether Peter Scott heard them there too?

  6. As someone across the pond, really appreciate your explantion of the Eurovision phenomena….It cetrainly does seem to captivate an erormous audience. Your eloquent descriptoin of the delights of the wild soundscape in the wood, accessible to all, shows the importance and urgency of supporting these natural areas, and stopping those practices that destroy what should be a habitat for wildlife and a legacy for fuiture generations. as well as a welcome place to hear these lovely birdcalls and to reconnect with nature’s beauty…Very much agree with the comment by Mr. Marr, in that the connection with these elemental creatures, and their songs, goes very deep in us….In nurturing their habitats and lives, we cannot help but enhance our own and those to come.

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