I am an old goth. What does this mean? It means that when I was younger, in my teens to be more precise, I wore almost exclusively black clothes – including (importantly) a leather jacket. I used a lot of thick black eyeliner and purple eyeshadow. I kept my fake Ray-Ban dark glasses on even when it wasn’t sunny – and also indoors. I wore pointy black boots. I dyed my blonde hair black and crimped it within in an inch of its life. I smelled of patchouli oil. I went to a lot of gigs, in pleasingly dark venues, in the company of many other people with a similar dress sense. I listened to a lot of music by the likes of The Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Fields of the Nephilim, Creaming Jesus and dozens of other bands – many of whom most people have probably never heard of. To be an old goth is to never entirely leave all that behind. More than that though, it’s to deliberately hold on to wearing all black and never stop delighting in a certain kind of bass line or the chance to watch an old, black and white vampire film.
I wasn’t one of the most pretentious goths, but part of the very nature of being one was – if not affectation – then a kind of performance. To this end I decided I needed a gothic nickname and the one I chose was ‘Crow’. Obviously being all dressed in black was pretty crow-like, but both my mum and nan would sometimes refer to me in a lighthearted way as an ‘old crow’. As in, “You old crow!” if I’d done something mischievous.
I’m not sure whether my fascination with them stems from my being a goth, or whether choosing the nickname made me pay them more attention to them. Either way I’ve been fond of crows for decades – but recently two paid me a visit and I got probably my closest view of them.
A pair landed on the path to my front door – which also happens to be right outside my office window. I deliberately spill a little seed on the path when I go out to fill my front garden bird feeders, with the intention that collared doves will get to feed on it. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way and it seems crows aren’t averse to a few peanut granules and sunflower hearts.
Some people frown on crows, seeing them as sinister birds or harbingers of death and destruction. Partly this may come from their diet of carrion – the flesh of dead animals. It lends a grisly air that they ‘feast’ on dead bodies. Then again so do many humans, the difference being the type of body and how it came to be dead. Crows are also performing a service by clearing up dead things. In any case I think it’s a mistake to expect birds and animals to follow human moral codes.
I don’t find crows sinister or associate them with bad luck though. They’ve always brought me cheer. When I wanted to go by that teenage nickname, I used to see them flying by and think, “There I go!” followed by, “I wonder where I’m going?”. Which was sort of apt for that stage in my life.
Now I enjoy their gothic black attire, how they stand out against a bright blue sky (or the green grass as pictured) and their cawing – which I still think would make a fine ring tone. (When I first considered this, it was the landline I had in mind because my youth was unspoiled by the scourge of mobile phones).
Back to my two visitors though. I watched them from behind the net curtain (a necessity when your office window is so close to the street) as they got stuck in to their vegetarian lunch. One used the point of its beak, the other put its head to one side and scooped the seed and peanut granules in that way.
I grabbed my binoculars so I could see them in detail. Their feet are scaly; reptile-like skin betraying their ancestry. Three toes to the front and one with a large claw to the rear. They curl these feet into corvid fists when they take off. Up close they are far from drab. Their feathers are enchantingly shiny and not the slightest bit sinister. They are closer to the glamour of a black satin evening dress than they are to something morbid or macabre.
Too soon they have finished their lunch and fly away, but another day I hear a cawing coming from the roof opposite and realise the spilled seen has again been spotted by crows. One half of the pair calling to the other that their food is ready and soon they are outside my office window once again.
I think I’ll start putting out a bit of extra seed so the collared doves don’t go without.
Can you believe I got all the way through that without making a ‘Corvid’-19 pun?
Crow pic credit: “Crow in cathedral gardens” by Dunnock_D, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0