I'm a generally rational person – so how come I'm saluting magpies?
PUBLISHED: 08:17 25 March 2019
Steve Round (rspb-images.com)
From touching wood to saluting magpies, avoiding walking under ladders to carrying a ‘lucky’ stone, in the words of Stevie Wonder, I am very superstitious
It’s Magpie Saluting Season and I’ve almost dislocated my shoulder with the amount of respect I’ve been paying to the black and white tyrants that seem to circle my car, singularly just to taunt me.
I like to think that I’m a fairly rational person and yet the evidence strongly points to the fact that I am anything but – in fact, I am plagued by irrational superstitions and, until I compiled the list you are about to see, I had no idea to the degree they rule my life: it’s practically an affliction.
There will be no new shoes on my table, no peacock feathers brought into my house, ladders aren’t walked under, unbridled fear follows the breaking of a mirror, umbrellas aren’t put up indoors and if salt is dropped, more salt is thrown over my shoulder to blind the devil who, it appears, hangs about simply waiting for me to drop salt.
Money has to be put in new purses if I’m giving them as presents, a black cat crossing my path means good luck (I owned a black cat once and he crossed my path continually, but I reasoned it had to be someone ELSE’S black cat for it to count, which was why I wasn’t drowning in good luck), I won’t cross someone on the stairs at home, I won’t step on single drains or three drains in a row (two is OK, obviously), I have to bless and be blessed after sneezing, I touch wood if I hope something will or won’t happen and if I find a penny, I pick it up.
Then there are horseshoes, four-leaf clovers, finger crossing, birds defecating on one’s head (genuinely, this one MUST have been made up by the parent of a vain teenager who needed to appease them quickly, surely), I’m not keen on thirteen and I have a plethora of things I have decided are ‘lucky’. One of them is a totally unspectacular stone, another is a piece of glass – genuinely, it’s a miracle I’m allowed to use scissors and have my own bank account.
That said, according to new research, superstitious beliefs have been shown to promote positive mental attitudes because they provide people like me with a sense of control and help to reduce anxiety because those of us who believe in good luck charms feel we are actively involved in creating our own destiny.
Of course, we’re not, but one should never let fact get in the way of a good story – and no one, least of all me, has a clue what would happen if I suddenly stopped saluting magpies: who knows, perhaps the country would descend into some kind of miserable chaos and desperate uncertainty.
Oh, hang on…look, genuinely, I am still saluting magpies so THIS IS NOT MY FAULT, OK?
I feel somewhat cheated that I never lived during a time when you could make up a rhyme (along the lines of “one for sorrow, two for joy…”) and everyone would start saluting black and white birds while asking them the whereabouts of their wife in case not doing so would lead to some kind of immediate devastation: I would have made up SO many rhymes.
As an aside, in a straw poll – by which I mean that I asked a couple of people when I remembered to – it appears there’s no prescriptive way in which to salute a magpie: some people just salute and say “good morning!”, others cross themselves, others won’t even say the word ‘magpie’ in the same way that actors avoid talking about the Scottish play and some people go looking for a crow to “cancel out” the magpie. It’s 2019.
I wish that I could claim that the above is an April Fool’s Day joke, but in addition to April 1 being a week away,I am also allergic to pranks.I’ve always thought they’rethe lowest form of humour which is why in the past I’ve been asked to write them for this newspaper, I expect: they know my level.