Waitrose and Partners Weekend Issue 579

8 25 NOVEMB ER 2021 IN MY OPINION Fi Glover The Radio 4 journalist airs her views IN MY OPINION i lover j l NEWS&VI EWS From seven a-swimmin medieval fe most elegan long been a Christmas, StephenMo Higginboth “Have you watched Schitt’s Creek ?” asked Serena, our unflappable live events producer, in a slightly panicked voice at 10.02am last Monday. I never have but it was so tempting to say: “Yes, marvellous isn’t it? Season two is my favourite, it’s such an acerbic commentary onmodern life, don’t you think?” Or silly words to that e ect so that I could appear so ‘in the loop’, while actually hoping the conversation wouldmove on quickly. Do you know that feeling?When you have a little fib about a book you’ve not read, a filmyou deliberately avoided and TV shows which you have to pretend to have seen, just so you aren’t the sad one with nothing to say at the o ce or round at friends? You are not alone. More than half of those surveyed by The Radio Times last week said they’d lied about having seen some of the biggest series of our time. More than half. That’s a lot of slow head nodding and chin stroking, with fingers metaphorically crossed behind backs. I understand the temptation. It’s not always about being embarrassed by ignorance – sometimes I’ve said I have seen shows because I’mbeing asked by someone who I know is then going to explain a plot tome, in real time, if I say that I ama Game of Thrones novice. We all know a bore who has studied the intricacies of season two of Stranger Things in the hope of one day appearing on Mastermind , but they’ll practice on you in themeantime. I admit I have said that I thoroughly enjoyed Better Call Saul , the Breaking Bad spin o , when in fact I just quite liked the first three episodes and then it faded away for me – but I don’t want to have to explain that to someone who adores it. It looks a bit slippy to admit that I’ma bit slippy. I also wonder about how truthful people are in surveys – who hasn’t ticked ‘strongly agree’ when, if you’re brutally honest, it’s neither agree nor disagree? I do it because strongly agree feels like firmer ground to be on. It’s the slippy thing again. Anyway, thank goodness I didn’t say ‘yes’ to Serena’s question. She was asking because another interviewer had called in sick and Dan Levy – co-creator and star of Schitt’s Creek – needed hosting on stage in London that night. Imagine the horror that could have been caused by a fibber doing that? It’s almost like the ironic plot of an acerbic comedy that is verymuch a commentary onmodern life. It’s brilliant – have you seen it? ‘Sometimes I’ve said I have seen shows when I’mbeing asked by someone who I know is going to explain a plot to me’ When you’re serving up the turkey on Christmas Day, consider this: once upon a time, if you’d been posh and rich enough, your festive centrepiece couldwell have been a stu ed swan. It seems KingHenry III set the trend in 1247, when he requested 40 swans for his Christmas banquet. Two years later it rose to 100, and over the following years, orders were issued to procure asmany swans as possible for the royal dining table. Unsurprisingly, the dish became de rigueur at the finest feasts, whether festive or otherwise. “The swanwas like a Lamborghini – it was a status symbol,” explains naturalist and author StephenMoss. “The king gave the right to own swans, andwould give them to his nobles, so it was like ‘look at me! I have lots of swans, I can a ord to kill one and serve it in a feast.’” By the Victorian era, however, the dish had fallen out of favour –which is probably just as well, given that birds, such as cranes, were hunted to extinction for theirmeat. And a worldwithout swans would be almost unthinkable. The biggest and arguablymost beautiful British bird, swans have been part of our lives formillennia, featuring in everything from ancient myths and fairy tales to literature, music and art. But it isn’t just the striking looks that entrance us: it’s theirmysterious blend of serenity and aggression. “Likemost people, I have a love of swans but they’re also slightly scary,” says Stephen, whose newbook The Swan looks at their life cycle and behaviour as well as their place in history and culture. “Generally, the swan doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t fly away when you go near – the opposite sometimes; they’ll kick you o their territory. In a way, I don’t think people regard themas a bird. They’remore a national treasure.” For such a familiar creature, it’s surprising how few of themyths surrounding swans are true. Yes, they (almost always) mate for life, but could they really break aman’s arm? “If you trip up and fall over you could break your arm, but that could be true if a duck was chasing you,” he says. “The idea that they can bash youwith their wing is nonsense. “The fact they all belong to The Queen? No, they don’t. Some do in a historical and ritual sense, but they’re still wild birds. And the fact that they are mute? Again, false. They hiss.” Similarly, the idea of a swan gliding serenely while paddling furiously under the surface is a lovely analogy, but also incorrect, as they arch their wings to formsails. “They’re paddling a bit, but it’s like windsurfing; they can cross a lake without using any energy at all.” Anyone venturing on a waterside walk this Our most elegant bird has long been associated with Christmas – from seven a-swimming in the festive carol to sumptuous medieval feasts – as naturalist StephenMoss explains to Emma Higginbotham ‘They’re so ubiquitous that we take them for granted, but they matter both as a bird and as a cultural icon. They’re special’ Swanning around Fortunately…with Fi and Jane and The Listening Project are on BBC Sounds @fifiglover