plainly jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

WHEN I wake up in the morn­ings I lis­ten to the birds mak­ing a huge amount of noise. As this is usu­ally quite early I try to tell my­self to turn over and go back to sleep, as there is lit­tle I can do to amuse my­self at that time of day. It’s also when all the neigh­bour­hood dogs go on the rampage, try­ing to chase away the builders who are as busy as they can be. So best to stay away from that.

I try to lock it all away from my mind and chant a lit­tle song — you know, the one that goes some­thing like ‘‘ some say the birds are on the wing but that’s ab­surd; the wings are on the bird’’. Or boid, as my fa­ther would have said, be­ing Ir­ish.

I am some­times quite puz­zled about the be­hav­iour of birds in our neck of the woods. In the front gar­den they shriek shrilly; on the har­bour side they tweet tweet tweet quite gen­tly. I there­fore thought it was about time to find out more about birds.

I do know that birds of a feather flock to­gether but not a lot more, so I flung my­self down to the near­est book­shop and bought a hefty hard­cover book ti­tled A His­tory of Birds. Or, as it says in big type on the cover, His­toire

des Oiseaux, as it is by French­man Fran­cois Ni­co­las Martinet, who did the most beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions. It also fea­tures text in French, Ger­man and Span­ish, which is fun, and English, which is even bet­ter as I don’t speak any of the other three lan­guages.

Some friends of ours are soon vis­it­ing South Amer­ica, so they will no doubt come across the mul­ti­coloured Amer­i­can pel­i­can, which may


be my favourite bird at the mo­ment. There are, ap­par­ently, loads of them along the Pa­cific and At­lantic coast­lines and they tend to hang around fishing ports where they have a good chance of get­ting an easy feed. Oth­er­wise they catch fish by div­ing from the air, which would be more work.

On my re­cent trav­els I was re­ally look­ing for­ward to meet­ing the wood­pi­geon of Mada­gas­car. They are also very com­mon, which makes them eas­ier to find but per­haps less of a coup to see, which makes it all the more vex­ing that I failed to spot one.

His­toire des Oiseaux has been a rev­e­la­tion and I feel quite chuffed with my­self for gath­er­ing so much knowl­edge. And amuse­ment. The pic­ture of the crested hen, for in­stance, made me just about cry with mirth.

This one looks very pleased with it­self, hav­ing just laid an egg. Ap­par­ently th­ese hens have a most in­quir­ing mind, which gives them a good start in life. All this is lead­ing to the fact that I once had lunch with a bird, of the feathered kind, and it was one of the most un­usual din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of my life, which is say­ing some­thing.

A friend emailed me and asked whether I was busy, and if not, he and two friends were din­ing to­gether and would I like to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion. Nat­u­rally I said I would be most pleased to join them and the emailer said, ‘‘ well, so-and-so is bring­ing a bird’’.

I rolled my eyes, im­me­di­ately think­ing the ob­vi­ous and not much want­ing to see peo­ple of a cer­tain age flirt­ing. But it was a real bird, hap­pily set­tled on the man’s shoul­der.

Nor­mally such a pair wouldn’t find a ter­ri­bly warm wel­come at a de­cent restau­rant, which this was. But it was a Mon­day and not a huge day for busi­ness. So the pro­pri­etor did what any­one with any nous would: he ush­ered our party in and closed the door, put­ting out a no­tice that said some­thing to the ef­fect that the restau­rant was very full and it was point­less for any­one to hang about hop­ing to get a ta­ble.

Inside, our small group had quite a time. The bird was a ma­caw with beau­ti­ful and striking feath­ers, which it liked to show off. Wait­ers kept giv­ing it nuts and raisins, and it went around the restau­rant on their shoul­ders which was fine by them as they didn’t have any other cus­tomers to look af­ter.

I felt as if I were in some weird dream and that at any mo­ment the bird would be butchered for our lunch. It didn’t hap­pen of course. We had chicken in­stead and it tasted pretty good.

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