This morning I heard a thump. Not an inside sort of thump, such as Richard dropping something important on the huge journey from kettle to cup, but an outside one, a window thump. I know it well. Balanced precariously, and wobbling somewhat, between the pansies and the blue flowers that always fall over in the wind, huddled a young bird, one of this year’s chicks. It was upright, which relieved me, so I didn’t have to dash out to lift it gently and to run my softest finger down its spine (did you know that’s how to revive a bird after a Glasgow Kiss?). I just watched as it shivered and gradually recovered and then turn around to face me. I gasped. On its head was a perfect oval of bright yellow, bright as sudden sun, and I just had to know what it was. 3 bird books later, and there was not one picture that told me fanny adams. Through the written descriptions, however, we decided it was a young Red Poll, and went back to our boiled eggs.
The encounter made me think of many things. Not sealing wax or kings, but of being right, or of not being right and about whether or not it matters. Having made most things up over nearly 60 years, I am fine about a loose truth, on a light-hearted level. One of my sons says ‘why let the truth get in the way of a good story?’ and I agree. Obviously there are fine strong truths that need to remain so, and be honoured always, but as to whether or not there was a young redpoll or a lost canary in our flower bed, is not in the least important, although it might be to the one with an empty cage.
I remember, once, when driving back from the mainland, seeing a mass of Caribbean feathers squashed on the road. It’s a parrot, I said, to myself and accepted it completely. When I came to relate my observations, I met amused comments upon my mental state and, indeed, questions as to whether I was really on the Yellow Brick Road, and not the A84 after all.
Sometimes, I meet people who do need to be right about everything, people who must correct what I say, pick up the words from the sentences I lay down and hold them up for deep scrutiny. I feel no judgement when that happens, I just feel that their colours must run into grey, and I am glad I live in wonderland. Oscar Wilde said once that he loved the Incredible. That’s me, and that is how I taught my children to see life. I like mystery, I like not knowing, being unable to explain everything. I also know, as a writer, how words can mean different things to different people, in very big ways. In an argument, it often gravitates, quite quickly, to a disagreement on the way a feeling is described, and the feeling itself is of secondary importance. A whole new monster now grows, with teeth and horns; a monster that can hurt, deeply. I often wondered, after such an altercation, why I felt so damaged, so cut up and yet could not remember what the initial argument was all about, although I still felt the feeling. A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.
In international relations, it is essential, sometimes even a matter of life or death to a relationship to know precisely what a word or phrase means in the other country’s language. Body language is also important to understand and yet we are never taught these vital things in school. We may know precisely where an African state is situated on the map, when it gained independence and at what cost in lives, but could we talk to the people, listen to them, if a few of them walked into our homes or offices? Actually we don’t have to go to Africa at all. We could stay right here in Scotland and ask the same question, but, if our hearts are right, if we genuinely don’t care whether the bird is a redpoll or a lost canary, we are free to imagine, to have fun with what we say, to become more child-like in our approach to the mystery of life.
We may be able to measure time to within a billionth of a second, but who can tell me what will happen in the next?
Not being right about the facts, is a freedom. In quieting the ‘corrector’ in me, I actually hear what the other person is saying, and, even if I struggle with their accent I can hear what they are really saying, which is always the same thing in many combinations of different words……’please love me?’
The canary came indoors, although not intentionally I imagine, or was it? I heard it chirruping underneath the big oak dresser and we peeked at each other for a little. With a final few sentences, that sounded chipper enough, it decided to leave. Richard ducked as it flew over his head and we watched it loop away, trailing a black cobweb.