A little bird told me: how a magpie taught me I could be a father

A little bird told me: how a magpie taught me I could be a father

Charlie Gilmour never wanted to have children – his father had abandoned him at six months and he feared he’d do the same. But then a magpie came into his life and changed everything

It wasn’t long after our wedding – on our New Forest honeymoon, in fact – that my partner gently raised the prospect of having children. On paper, the moment couldn’t have been more perfect. Down a deer track, through a thicket of waist-high ferns, we’d discovered a clearing of sweetly scented camomile. Everything around us was bursting with life: pheasant cocks scurrying through the undergrowth; resin dripping indecently from the clefts of the evergreens. But off paper, it felt as if all the sap had been sucked from the scene. Babies, as far as I was concerned, were like unexploded bombs, at once fragile and potentially devastating. Certainly best left for the experts to handle.

Brephophobia is the fear of babies. My particular version of it had roots in my own infancy. My biological father had, as far as I could tell, been broken by a baby and he seemed, in many ways, a more capable man than me. When Heathcote and my mum Polly met in the late 1980s, he was on the brink of becoming a bestselling poet with his epic Whale Nation – although that wasn’t the only string to his bow. He was a playwright, tipped by Pinter and Burroughs; an actor beloved of Derek Jarman; a radical housing activist who’d helped found the Independent State of Frestonia, sheltering the homeless; and an accomplished magician who used his conjuring abilities to rob Harrods.

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