Monday, 9 May 2011

The Birdman

At the end of the lane, on the edge of the Forest, before you climb into the wilderness of bracken on bare hillsides, with only gorse and bramble thickets here and there covering the land and very few discernible paths crossing it, you come to a clearing. In this clearing, leaning against a rocky overhang, stands a dilapidated, ancient caravan surrounded by the detritus of open-air living: tarpaulins, plastic buckets and basins, wooden bins, a rusty bicycle, an iron wheelbarrow, piles of logs, cooking pots and pans, tools for many purposes, axes and spades and saws and hammers, all of them discarded by civilization and lovingly collected. There is a jeep which hasn’t been on the road for decades, how it got here is anyone’s guess.

Strewn all around are rough-hewn benches and chairs and a few tables, in various stages of completion, made of sawn logs nailed together. The sort of furniture that you’d put in a hidden corner of the wilder reaches of your garden, if ‘rustic’ is what you are after. You’d probably not sit on the benches and chairs very often or for very long; genuinely ‘rustic’ and comfort don’t mix.

The whole site almost has the air of an abandoned rubbish tip, except that there is also a heap of smouldering ashes in the centre of the clearing, which allows you to realize that this is somebody’s ‘home’.

As you stand and stare, you become aware of a tremendous noise all about you, a cacophony of sound, which is difficult to attribute, quite overpowering. As your eyes adjust to the semi-gloom of the clearing amidst tall trees, both coniferous and deciduous, you notice an endless flickering of small bodies hurtling between the trees, landing and disappearing, reappearing and taking off for another perch. Birds,  hundreds and hundreds of birds share the clearing with the occupant of the caravan, a man, shaggy and shabby, dirty and dressed in ragged clothes,  but tall and strong and weather-beaten.

Frank the birdman has finally joined you. You simply have to stop and talk to him, he will not let you go, even though you might now want to be on your way.

Frank seldom sees people up here and makes good use of them when he does. His nearest neighbours have long given up on him, in fact, he and his encampment have become a thorn in their flesh. His life story is an interesting one. He and his family once owned the farm down the lane, they were prosperous enough to scratch a decent living from the land, sheep farmers, like many round here, with a few arable acres thrown in. He and his brother inherited the farm, but fell out with each other within a few years; the farm was lost and they had to sell. Frank soon enough lost the proceeds from the sale too, he is not very forthcoming about the reason, although there are still people living round here who remember. Frank got into the jeep, towed the farm labourers’ overflow caravan as far as it would go, bought the useless plot of land where the jeep stopped dead and became the birdman of Clun Forest.

He lives off the sale of his rustic ‘furniture’ and a state benefit payment; it might even be a pension now. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is not also a little left-over nest egg. Frank has no hesitation in asking passers-by for contributions to bird food; summer and winter he feeds his birds. His rusty bicycle takes him round the supermarkets of the area, who let him have stale loaves of bread for pennies. He also buys many pounds of the cheapest lard, dried fruit and anything else at the end of its sell-by date, flour and grain at cost price. Some of the local bird-watchers help him transport the larger quantities, otherwise he struggles on his bicycle to get  supplies in.

Frank needs little for himself, the one and only luxury item in his caravan, where he lives summer and winter, is a radio. He likes a bit of music, he says. I am surprised he can hear it over the din the birds  make.


  1. I like people like this. They have lemons and make a delicious sweet lemonade of their lives. Nice story!

  2. Birds, and nest eggs, and saints named Frank who live in old caravans at the edge of dark forests. What a great story.

  3. Friko . . your Magpie link on Tess's LinkyList takes readers back to Tess's Linky List! Looks like you entered the Magpie url rather than the url for this post. (I'll comment on the post later)

  4. I love people like that. When I am old I am going to wear sweat pants everyday, feed birds and talk to myself. I will build weird sculptures in my yard that the neighbours hate. I will grow Sweet Peas and give them to people that walk by. Or I could just do all that now...well except for the sweat pants.

    I like your neighbour. Great writing.

  5. Frank the birdman sounds like someone my husband would become.

  6. Friko - such a lovely story, described so well. I would think that bird man Frank is a million times happier now than when he was at loggerheads with his brothers - I know would be!

  7. I posted a video on my site for you. It concerns the royal wedding.

  8. I especially like the first part - the description. Very well done, and mysterious.

  9. I am impressed, over and over again, Friko, by your wonderful way with words. I felt I was there, talking to Frank, and trying to leave because I have an appointment in less than an hour.
    To transport the reader into the story must be the aim of every writer, and you accomplish it with apparent ease.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  10. see frank is my kind of man...i love meeting eclectic people...and your description of his abode is wonderful...

  11. That was superb! There's a little of Frank in my husband....

  12. Wonderful piece, from top to bottom, and I love this ending: "He likes a bit of music, he says. I am surprised he can hear it over the din the birds make."

  13. A lovely story, Friko, and the descriptive parts are wonderful. I enjoyed reading this.

    May I just add, thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. It's always great to meet other writers. :-)

  14. This man Frank the birdman sounds like my kind of friend... I'm sure my walkabouts would take me by for a visit on a regular basis. Fascinating piece, such detailed description.

  15. What an amazing character - you describe him and his world so beautifully!

  16. Great writing Friko. I loved that story. Frank the Birdman for sure. Read your account of the burnt toast for mother's day. Lucky woman it did not burn your house down.

  17. A wonderful, detailed and vivid story, of a fate I can easily see befalling me. I'm not sure I would mind, actually, as long as I had a roof and a computer(my requirements are a little more stringent than Frank's.I'd also want to bathe regularly.) I love the indirect parallel to the Saint Francis theme, too.

  18. Actually it was the Little Richard video I meant.

  19. God, now that I am retired,
    if someone drops by, I jump
    their bones, showing off projects,
    poems, and new movies;
    usually unshaven, still in my
    night clothes, with a faint name
    on the sweatshirt, faded from
    many washings; Nearly Frank.

  20. I too love stories about people like the Birdman, living simply, using what they find instead of going to Wal-Mart.

  21. Really, his name is Frank? ;-)

    I enjoyed your tale about the birdman from the prompt of St. Francis. Whether you have him for a neighbor or not, I can see, feel and hear him and his surroundings clearly from your vivid and colorful language. Lovely write.

  22. Very accomplished evocation of a local character.

  23. love this story. the world needs more people, more individuals like Frank.

  24. And when he's gone all the people he irritated will say, 'That man was a saint.'
    I love this story.

  25. Oh, this is wonderful. And I love how his name is Frank. Clever.

  26. You move me tremendously, and so
    forgive me that I want to lay an
    adjunct to your wonderful tale--
    out of ardor, not ego;

    B I R D W O M A N


    Feed the birds,
    she cried
    from the steps of St. Pauls,
    five cents a bag.


    An old woman,
    so old
    no one knew when she first came
    to sell her bread crumbs
    and talk to the birds.

    She was wrapped brown
    in a shawl of earthen patches,
    and wore a hat woven 
    from dead grass.


    One day
    I could not take my eyes off her
    as the herd stampeded by
    scarcely noticing
    neither her nor I.

    She uttered melodious murmur
    of people, places, and times of before,
    her so like a dove,
    white, alive, and free
    to float high above the earth
    with the wind fondling her breast
    and her tiny heart bursting
    with song.


    I asked her
    about the birds
    and of her devotion to them,
    and she replied
    that she loved birds
    above all the Lord's creatures
    because she knew:


    At night
    when the sun no longer
    cascades through stained glass
    and high open windows;
    when the priests are asleep,
    the pews empty,
    the mammoth oaken door locked,
    the alter cold and metallic,
    and the ivory Christ
    can rest on his cross;

    the angels
    on the walls and ceiling,
    who hover forever in one spot
    smiling and blessing
    the bunch below,
    are never alone.
    For they can always hear
    in a voice much like their own,
    the cooing of birds.


    Glenn Buttkus 

  27. The thing is I am really not competent to comment deeply on your work, and meaningless bits like "Great post" or "really good" seem a bit demeaning when applied to work of your quality.
    About this piece; There are many saints around today, and they are just as ignored and abused as they have ever been

  28. Friko, I loved every line of this tale. So many vivid images, along with a story line that pulls in the reader. Glad I came by!

  29. I could swear I know this man, except I surely don't live anywhere near Clun Forest. Nice story and I agree with Tess-clever take on the name Frank.

  30. As a few people have said. Frank sounds my type of man!

    Super post, wonderful imagery, Friko


  31. My grandfather, named for Saint Francis, would have loved your story. It was he who taught me about the world around me, as we wondered over hill and dale and he picked up ripe walnuts, and named the trees and birds. You might say he taught me how to see, just as you do, everytime you write. Delicious post Friko. Thankyou Dianne

  32. Friko,
    No difficulty in absorbing this scene; so well described. I've known a Frank or two in my time and in some preverse way I envy them their patience with life.

  33. I like Frank a lot..beautifully described...swept up by the details. A saint could live this way...

  34. Another of God's Fools ... wonderful story, Friko!

  35. this haunts and speaks to me...

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral




  36. This is terrific-- beautifully crafted narration. You take us in to another world. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, and for your very kind compliment-- xxxj

  37. your ability to create this image in my mind of this isolated man is just amazing. i truly did love this:)

  38. You gotta love a true character.

  39. Ah, Friko, what a lovely piece! Very enjoyable.


  40. Lots of birds can make a person happy.

  41. a radio drowned in birds
    songs of grass and embers
    we live here inside music

  42. Lovely stuff Friko - a wonderful story told.

    Anna :o]

  43. Your words have touched my imagination. Have you exchanged words with Frank?

  44. Very imaginative, Friko! I love all the details--they make the story so real. And Frank the Birdman! Now that is true inspiration!
    You're getting ready for a novel, Friko! Your mind is on fire! Love


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