Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!

`One bird sounded so much like a mobile phone I got up to make sure it wasn't mine'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"I WAS woken by the birds this morning," said the man at the bar. "Five o'clock. Bloody racket. Why can't they get up at a proper hour?"

"They do," said the woman with the red hairdo, who used to drink orange juice when she had orange hair but has switched to red wine to match her new hair colour. "They get up with the sun, same as the rest of us should. In the old days everyone followed the natural pattern of days. Now only the birds do."

"At least they don't sing when they go to bed," said the man with the dog. "Can you imagine what a dusk chorus would be like?"

"Bloody racket," said the man at the bar again. "I lay there listening to them and wondered why anyone ever described the noise as singing. Nothing much musical about it. There was one bird who sounded like a mobile phone. In fact, it sounded so much like a mobile phone I got up to make sure it wasn't mine."

"And was it?"

"Of course it wasn't, as I would have known if I hadn't been half asleep. You don't get mobile phones 20 feet up a tree, looking for mates."

"It might have been a starling," said the resident Welshman. "They're very good at imitating things. Maybe it's been living close to a mobile phone and liked the sound of it."

"There's no reason why it should be imitating anything," said the man with the dog. "Maybe it just sounds like a mobile phone naturally. Maybe this bird, whatever it is, has always sounded like that, way before mobile phones were invented."

"Are you saying," I said," that mobile phones imitate starlings?"

"No," said the man with the dog. "You might equally well say that a bird imitates a plane when it's flying. But it's quite possible that a bird might sound accidentally like a mobile phone."

"If that's true," said the man at the bar, "then nobody would have realised it before now. I mean, say all through the 1950s this bird was singing its heart out like a mobile phone - well, nobody would realise what it sounded like because mobile phones hadn't been invented, and there would be no record of it because nobody would describe it in those terms. Amazing thought."

"There might be a bird out there right now which sounds like something that hasn't even been invented yet," said the red lady.

"Such as?" said him at the bar.

"How should I know?" she said. "It hasn't been invented yet."

"Whatever it is, I bet it's that bloody bird which does one single high repeated note over and over again," said the man at the bar. "That drives me wild."

"That's already been invented," she said. "It's called the sound of a lorry reversing, telling you to get out of the way."

"That would be tragic," said the lugubrious man who never spoke unless he had a macabre thought. "It would be tragic if you heard the bird, and thought it was a lorry, then jumped out of the way and got run over by a real lorry going forward."

"I wonder if people do any market research when they invent new noises?" said the man at the bar, ignoring him. "I mean, when they have to devise a noise for a computer or a machine, are they careful to make sure it doesn't sound like the call of some well-known bird?"

"Would it matter if it did?"

"It might do," said the lugubrious man again. "Imagine if there was a bird which sounded like the noise made by pedestrian crossings to tell blind people it's all right to cross."

"What would happen?"

"They'd hear the bird, think it was all right to cross, step out into the road and get run over."

The lugubrious man smiled. It was, by his lights, a really cheerful thought.

"Of course," said the man at the bar, "if it is possible for a bird to sound like a mobile phone before mobile phones were invented, it is also possible now for a bird to sound like something that has been discontinued."

"Come again," said the man with the dog, and I think he spoke for all of us.

"Well, there are certain inventions which have become outmoded. The steam engine. The spinning jenny. Old-fashioned cash tills which jangled. Typewriter bells. They all had their own sound. What if there is some bird somewhere which makes a sound exactly like one of those?"

"Tell me what a spinning jenny sounded like and I'll tell you if there's a bird which sounds like it," said the red lady.

There was no answer to that and by common assent we moved on to a completely different topic.