I was taking a walk this afternoon when I saw a middle-aged man in a thick blue jacket standing up on a pier wall, walking along in parallel. Around his head he was flinging what looked like a yoyo, in a circular arc. Whenever the arc narrowed and weakened, he would renew his vigour, looking as if he were playing an absorbing game.
As I passed him, I smiled at him. I liked that he was, as I saw it, a little crazy. But when he caught my eye, he greeted me and then explained:
“There was a hawk flew away from its cage, I think. It had chains on its legs and the other birds were bothering it. I tried to get close to it, but it flew off. I called the bird people but they couldn’t come out. Hawks are trained to fly with these, so I’m flinging it around my head to get its attention. But,” he added sadly, “I can’t see it anywhere. I’ve got some food if it comes back.” And on he went with his flinging.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
I promised that if I saw a bird of prey with chains around its legs and could persuade it to listen to me that I would try and direct it his way. But what really struck me was the quixotic heroism of a man who would go to the trouble of procuring a yoyo-like object and hawk food for this bird which could not be seen. And he had no special interest: he did not own the hawk or have any link to it – other than that of pity for a fellow-animal which was needlessly suffering.
I’ve often felt disillusioned about this country and its people. But I thought: if we can produce a man who would stand up on a pier wall and fling something around his head, all to catch a hawk which may well have headed to Wales or Wexford – well then, our existence, our humanity is not a waste of time and space.
There is something indescribably touching about that fine, eccentric, courtly and, well,masculine dignity. I am not saying that females do not have it, but there is something about the heroic, the quixotic, that especially belongs to the male quest narrative in a way that is quite beautiful. And that reminds us, poignantly, that we are losing our men in far too large numbers. We think we don’t need people to stand on piers to catch the hawk any more. Why waste time with a hawk? When there’s work to be done, children to feed?
And yet that courtly dignity lifts us up in imperceptible ways. When I recently blogged about the anniversary of Kate Fitzgerald’s death, I got a few retweets when I put the link in twitter. I thanked the people for the RTs and a gentleman, I think it it was Keith Bohanna, replied simply – “Any time for #katefitzgerald”. There was something about that quietly protective comment which made me realise that we erode male confidence at our peril. We need that valour, that ambition, that gentle protection, that ability to dream. Both sexes do. I am part of “the other half of the sky” – but only half the sky.
I hope that hawk found its way home.