There were eight magpies in the field behind the house.
One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. That’s how the rhyme goes.
So what did eight magpies mean?
It could be a girl and some silver, or two joys and a boy. A secret and a sorrow, or some joy and two girls. Two boys. Four joys. The permutations spread far beyond my ability to calculate them. It could even mean eight sorrows! I was amazed that no-one had given the matter further thought.
“What do you do when there are eight magpies?” I asked my wife.
“What?” she said.
I pointed out of the window.
“You know, magpies. One for sorrow, two for joy…the rhyme only goes up to seven. What happens when there are eight of them?”
She followed my finger and looked out at the field where the birds scratched at the dull ground.
“Those are pigeons,” she said.