Ian McMillan: Mocked by flock as I pump irony

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This could be a column, or it could be an exercise DVD, or it could be a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s scary and feathery film, The Birds. Let me explain: regular readers will know that I like to go for an early morning stroll, getting the blood pumping round my veins and setting me up for the day and the first cuppa of the morning. I’ve also, over the last couple of years, started the day off, pre-amble (as it were), with some gentle exercises.

I stand there. I think about the exercises. I run through them in my head. In my head, I must admit, I’m doing them with a lot more application and sweat than I actually do them in what some people call Real Life. I plan the push-ups; I speculate on the sit-ups. I calculate how many times I will pick up the not-that-heavy weight and lift it up and down. In a minute. I’ll do the exercises in a minute.

I start to do the feeble push-ups. I attempt not to grunt or moan then I won’t wake my wife up and she won’t think I’m in severe pain. The birds suddenly seem interested. They gather on the bird bath, staring into the house.

Outside, in the garden, a couple of blackbirds and a starling are ambling around on the lawn, minding their own business and thinking about laying eggs and building nests and whatever it is that birds do. I start to do the feeble push-ups. I attempt not to grunt or moan then I won’t wake my wife up and she won’t think I’m in severe pain. The birds suddenly seem interested. They gather on the bird bath, staring into the house.

They can’t really be watching a middle-aged man attempting a light fitness regime, can they? Perhaps they can. I do some sit-ups, hardly moving at all, and more birds begin to gather. A few more blackbirds sit on and under the bird bath and a robin arranges itself nonchalantly on the hedge, keeping its eye on me. That’s enough sit-ups for now. I don’t want to overdo it, do I? I loll on the settee for a minute and the birds continue to watch me.

It’s time to pick up the not-that-heavy weight and lift it not that far into the air. There it goes. Not that far; not all that far. I hear a noise and it’s not me grunting and moaning. It’s a bird; I’ve never heard a bird laugh before but this sounds like a bird laughing. I put the not-that-heavy weight down, (slowly, so I don’t hurt my back) and stare into the garden. The birds are whistling and looking the other way but I could swear one of them was laughing. I bend down and pick up the not-that-heavy weight again. I become aware that as I lift it I make a ridiculous face that looks like a cross between a Halloween turnip lantern and the death mask of Admiral, Lord Nelson. There is the distinct sound of chuckling from a beak. I try, and fail, to make my face look normal.

I put the not-that-heavy weight down again. I look into the garden again because it seems to be getting dark outside. It’s not getting dark at all: all the trees and bushes in and around the garden are full of birds, all of them trying to keep a straight face. I can hear the sound of suppressed chortles and a giggle strangled in an orange beak.

I feel defiant. Who cares if flocks of birds are laughing at me? I lift the not-that-heavy weight again and pull the face and all the birds howl with hilarity. I can’t blame them, actually. I must look pretty daft.