I know the weather is getting warmer when the magpies start their turf wars. They send their chiming cries out over the tops of the gum trees which are on a low simmer beneath the pale blue skies. As the days grow closer to summer the skies turn even bluer, so blue you cannot believe someone hasn’t thrown enormous tubs of dye up into the air. You think : ‘There is no way that colour has occurred naturally.’
But it has.
The magpies are building their nests, checking out suitable locations like mobsters in well-cut Italian suits. Smaller, more timid birds like wood pigeons have the heavy put on them and are forced unceremoniously, to leave their favourite tree. It is brutal out there in bird land. But no less brutal than the pecking order among humans, I suspect.
They swoop and circle, diving and falling like kites for hours on end, their calls weaving through the branches like bells. It is a call that for me is reminiscent of warm, summer days. I know when I hear it the air is fresh and clear and that soon the evenings will be lighter.
I know the weather is getting warmer when the combi vans come, backfiring and spitting oil onto all the streets facing the bay, and the tourists parade up and down Glebe Point Road with their T-shirts that say I Heart Sydney.
Every year he comes. The German. The blondest man I have ever seen. Hans Von Breckendorf. At 24 years of age he is a seasoned traveller. Sydney is his second home. He lives in his combi van – The Love Machine – from late September to January, partaking in all the delights Sydney has to offer in the summertime.
His speech is peppered with Dudes, Whatevers, Totallys and Sweets. So much so that I think he has mistaken Sydney for California. He has a bumper sticker on his van that reads –
‘If the van is rockin’, don’t come a -knockin’.’
I believe that Hans is the ultimate optimist, because in nearly four years, I haven’t seen that van rock once.
But he is here – a fixture. Already forming volleyball teams in the park.
Once when I was very lucky, I saw the two things that remind me of summer together. Hans had spent the night in one of the many youth hostels on the main drag and was hanging some washing on the line on a breezy morning. A magpie watched him from the fence, stretching his wings. Magpies like to steal shiny things to decorate their nests and I could see him eyeing Hans’ blond locks. As Hans hung out his smalls the magpie watched, waiting for an opportunity to snatch the coveted golden prize.
Hans pegged more of his laundry, reaching down into the basket containing the clothes and the magpie struck, swiping and tugging at the blond hair until he emerged neatly with a single, golden strand. Hans called out but laughed when he saw his hair being carried up into the sky.
I have often wondered if the magpie chicks who found themselves in that nest with the golden strand of hair felt more special than the other chicks in the neighbourhood.
Magpies and combi vans. A welcome gauge of summer, a sign that the bluest of blue skies are on the way.