2 MAY 1987, Page 42

Home life

In two minds

Alice Thomas Ellis

My usual course when faced with a single magpie is to bow low and utter a Gloria; Janet affects not to recognise the creature and remarks airily, 'That was a big pied wagtit,' and the son has now elected to follow the advice of Jemma and salute it with 'Good morning, Mr Magpie, how's the wife?' Since then an extremely old and distant cousin has died, but I'm not sure that that is sufficient bad luck to soak up a magpie banging on the window. Unnerved by all of this the son put on his — no, not his, somebody else's — pullover (it's sort of grey with a chequered pattern in pink and yellow if anybody's looking for it) inside out. He was about to rectify this when everyone screamed that he mustn't, because it was unlucky. Then what was he supposed to do, he inquired, half in, half out of the pullover and sounding exasper- ated. If he counted to nine, I told him, before changing it round, he should be all right.

Recently I read a review of a book which suggests that we all have, not one mind, but as many as a fly has facets to its eyes. I have never had much trouble simul- taneously entertaining diametrically opposed propositions, and welcome the possibility that this is not because I have one mind and am out of it, but because I have lots of them, all beavering away on their own. I know perfectly well that magpies are powerless to influence our fate or foreshadow misfortune and I also know with certainty that they jolly well can.

Apart from the above instance, I once put forward the notion that the Egyptians and the Welsh had similar tribal customs and family structures and must have com- mon origins. One of my minds clearly took this quite seriously, or else I'd never have thought of it, would I? But the dominating mind of the time thought the whole idea frightfully funny and wildly improbable. Then, stone me, what do I read in the papers a few days later but that a respected academic has, after much research and profound concentration, come to the con- clusion that the Welsh and the Berbers spring from the same stock? They've got the same genes or something. I know the Berbers aren't the Egyptians, but the principle's the same, is it not?

Take this morning, for example. I was just about to wake up when I found myself complaining (silently) to an unseen person of lower rank that I had only been chosen for my present position because I was a popular and respected local man and, now that everything was over, not content with having used me they proposed to make me Area Commander, and it wasn't fair. I knew as I became aware of what one of my minds was doing that the person speaking was a native of wherever it was he was speaking from; that he was a military man, that the person he addressed was certainly inferior to him in class and rank, but that the person speaking would not have so confided in him had they not both be- longed to the same military organisation. Is that clear? It may not be, because another of my minds was wondering whether there was any bread left for breakfast, whether the third son had remembered to fill the Aga, and whether I might just possibly have left a few fags in a coat pocket somewhere. As I crawled out of bed the military intruder made a final effort, in- dicating that he was fed up with his native heath and wanted to go for a holiday somewhere in the warm. My minds came together for a moment there. It's freezing cold, and soon it's going to rain. And I've just seem a simply enormous pied wagtit wheeling down the valley. I think (with one of my minds) that I'll pack up and go off with the soldier.