Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Feed the Birds

 Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul's
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls,
"Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
Come feed the little birds,
Show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do
The young ones are hungry
The nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds," that's what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares

Though her words are simple and few
Listen, listen, she's calling to you
"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag"

I am a fan of musical theatre, and the Disney songbook which was largely the work of the Sherman brothers (Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman) – they also wrote the score to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which bears no relation whatsoever to the junior spy novel by Ian Fleming).

One of the Sherman’s most haunting songs is from the rather chirpy ‘Mary Poppins’ – based on the books by Mrs Travers – is ‘Feed the Birds.’ Haunting and memorable for all the right reasons – unlike Dick van Dyke’s interesting take on the Cockney accent.

According to Richard Sherman “Feed the Birds” was Walt Disney’s favourite song and it was the song that resulted in the duo’s long-standing relationship with Disney. In fact, Richard played it at the inauguration of the famous statue of Disney holding the hand of his rather famous mouse – when suddenly a lone bird swooped down from a blue, cloudless sky and perched on the piano. 

Of the song, Richard says

We were just coming up with ideas for how to handle this particularly wonderful book that Walt had handed us. And we read this one chapter, that Mrs Travers, the lady who had written the books, had written about the old lady who sells breadcrumbs. And there’s no lead-in behind it, there’s no story line here… and so we had this concept of a dysfunctional family, that Mary Poppins flies in straightens them out…and we read this one chapter, and it struck both of us, that this could be the key to the entire picture. Right here. This is what it’s all about.  It’s not saying it explicitly, but it is saying it doesn’t take much to give love, to give kindness. And the father and the mother are too busy doing their things, to give that little tuppence a bag. That little bit of kindness that doesn’t cost anything… And so we said, we’re not going to say anything about that, nothing about being loving, being kind, and all those words which come to mind. Let’s just say: Feed the Birds.

In Mary Poppins, the parents of the two children were too busy, too wrapped up in their own little world to see this; in fact the father – a banker – placed value on everything. To him, spending as little as tuppence on a bag of bread crumbs was not as important as investing it in the bank. And when the son, Michael, refuses and says he wants to feed the birds, calamity ensues: a run on the bank and George Banks is sacked. But it is with only losing everything, with losing his job and position in the bank that his eyes are open to what truly matters: his family.  Jane and Michael try to show their father how much they worry and care about him, by giving him Michael’s tuppence. The tuppence which caused the run on the bank. And which Michael had wanted to show love and kindness with by simply feeding the birds: love is nothing unless you give it away.

We need to take stock of what matters in life. We need to pull back from being “are too busy doing their things, to give that little tuppence a bag.” We need to being, every day, in love: rummaging around in the pocket of our heart, and finding that tuppence “that little tuppence a bag.”

Kindness, love, empathy and compassion cost nothing. Not even tuppence. But, at the same time, they are priceless. Love and compassion are not just the key to Mary Poppins, but the key to our own life.

What will you spend your tuppence on?

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