I love watching birds swinging on my bird feeder – sparrows, robins, chaffinches, bull finches, blue tits, and great tits. Their antics are intriguing but I wonder why, oh why, are some of them called tits? And why do the people who dream up biology exam papers set a question on them every year? Are they stupid? mad? or do they have an evil minded desire to blight the lives of all biology teachers? Have they never taught rampant teenage boys, such as Fred? To them tits mean just one thing and that one thing is nothing to do with our feathered friends. The way Fred caused mayhem filled me with evil thoughts of revenge.
Each year there is, or was, a question about food chains that runs along the following lines: fill in the blanks on the following food chains. And there in a prominent position at the top of the page in a food chain, written in bold type, is the name of a tit.
It was ‘teach food chain time.’ With dread in my heart I started on my usual speel as follows: ‘Today we’re going to talk about food chains. All animals depend either directly, or indirectly on plants.’
Fred appeared interested. ‘How’s that miss?’ he asked.
‘It’s easy. Cows eat grass, digest and use it to build their bodies. You eat meat from cows and drink their milk to build your body, so your body is built indirectly from grass.’
Then I thought, I’d better get tits out of the way, so I asked, ‘Can anyone think of another food chain?’ Nobody answered.
It may have been my imagination but I thought Fred’s face lit up. I suspected he knew what was coming next and a wave of happy anticipation swept round the class.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘greenfly feed on roses, ladybirds eat greenfly. Do you know what eats ladybirds?’
Fred’s hand shot up as he yelled, ‘Blue Tits!’
The class roared appreciation.
Teachers are good actors so I looked cross and scolded, ‘I don’t know what you’re laughing about. What’s so amusing about a small bird?’
Fred guffawed. ‘Sorry Miss. Tits, miss. Tits!’
‘I don’t see anything funny about that! There are all sorts of tits. There are blue tits, wood tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, green tits,’ and, added Fred helpfully, ‘Flat tits!’ That was followed by a moment’s mayhem until my schoolmarm expression restored order.
On the last day of Christmas term Fred stood in front of me, his eyes dancing with mischief, his hands behind his back. ‘Miss,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a Christmas present for you. I made it in woodwork.’
I smiled. ’That’s very nice of you, very forgiving as I’ve done nothing but girn at you all year. Thank you very much.’
He stood, convulsing with laughter, until I said, ‘If you’re going to give me a precious Christmas present, am I allowed to see it?’
He brought out an unwrapped, perfectly-made bird-box. ‘Miss,’ he said, ’it’s a box for your tits!’
Many years later it’s still hanging in my garden. I was revenged when I met Fred with his young wife. ‘How nice to see you,’ I said, smiling like a crocodile. ‘Do you remember that box you made for my tits? It’s given me great pleasure!’
Doreen McBride was an international storyteller who shared her stories at events in Canada, USA, and New Zealand. She retired from storytelling to concentrate on writing and has had short stories published and/or broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster, and has written plays that have been either broadcast or professionally produced and had many books published.