I was commissioned to write a fat book entitled Meetings With Remarkable Buntings. Biro poised, I was about to set to work when it occurred to me that I did not know whether I was meant to be writing about birds or those decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days. I rang the publishers to find out.
The person I spoke to sounded about twelve years old and was brimming with confidence, in spite of being clueless. As soon as I uttered the word “bird” she started to babble excitedly about something called Twitter. I slammed the phone down. I was able to do this because I was using a proper telephone, one with a receiver resting on a cradle. With these new-fangled mobile horrors, one cannot slam them down in a satisfying spat of ill temper without risking breakage.
I decided my best bet was to write about both types of bunting and, with the twittery inanities of the publisher sloshing in my ears, took up my biro to write about the bird. But then I paused. The title of the book spoke of Meetings With buntings. I would have to go and find a bunting and commune with it. Now, my ornithological ignorance is staggering, and frankly I wouldn’t know a bunting from a nuthatch or a pipit or a starling or a wagtail. So I rang the Emergency Bird Information Hotline.
The person who answered the phone sounded about twelve years old and was brimming with avian confidence. I told her I wanted to know all there was to know about buntings.
“Do you mean the bird or the decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days?” she asked.
“Well, you’re the Emergency Bird Information Hotline,” I said, “So I mean the bird, obviously.”
“It might seem obvious to you,” she said, “But you would be surprised how many enquiries we receive about the decorative strings of triangular flags. We are a very festive organisation, forever holding fetes and galas, and so we have bunting hanging permanently outside our headquarters. I think that is why people call us when they want to know about non-bird bunting as well as bunting the bird.”
“Well I want to know about the bird,” I said, but she was prattling on regardless.
“Actually we are having a little garden party this afternoon in celebration of the common chaffinch. Would you like to come? You’ll be able to see our display of bunting – the decorative strings of triangular flags, that is, rather than the birds. But there will be a couple of stuffed chaffinches for you to look at if you want to know more about them.”
“I want to know about the bunting, not the chaffinch!” I shouted, and slammed down the phone, again.
In my rather satisfying spat of ill temper, I went for a walk by the pond and chucked pebbles at swans. Then it occurred to me that I ought to attend the garden party so I could commune with the non-bird bunting. Then at least I would have something to write about. I pranced home and rang the Emergency Bird Information Hotline again. A robotic voice informed me that the line had been disconnected. I repaired to my escritoire and picked up my biro.
Over the course of my life I have met many remarkable buntings, I wrote, lying shamelessly, but who would know?, None more so, perhaps, than Bunting, the Swedish halfbreed skimmel horse which became a film star. Bunting played Pippi Longstocking’s horse Lilla Gubben in a series of films directed by Olle Hellbom.
Of course I had never actually met Bunting, and my knowledge of horses is as patchy as my knowledge of birds, but I felt I was getting to grips with my material. Birds and those decorative strings of triangular flags festooned at festive occasions such as gala days and Emergency Bird Information Hotline garden parties in celebration of the common chaffinch could take a back seat for the time being. By the time I’d finished with Bunting the film star horse, we would be firm friends and boon companions, at least within my head.
I made a mental note to ring the publisher and suggest we amend the title of my book to Meetings With Remarkable Buntings Inside My Head. Then I carried on writing, daddy-o, like a man possessed of unfathomable horse-based inventive genius.