I am no stranger to a bit of forensic investigation (or nosy self promotion, as my husband refers to it). If there’s something to be understood, located or generally ferreted out, I’m snout in, sifting through the evidence to get to the root of the problem.
Even the simplest of one-celled creatures is tuned to ‘recognise’ and ‘respond’ to signals provided by its environment, its food source, its competitors, predators, and potential mates. Sometimes these signals are subtle and sometimes glaring. Our ability to respond to these signs is predicated on our sensitivity to them. Take for example the signals given off by beloved Mr B when he’s about to embark on his annual car change. There are three definitive stages to this process, which will result in the purchasing of yet another useless, unloved and neglected vehicle that will squat in the middle of our drive until I get rid of it.
Stage one is characterised by love and admiration for the new purchase. It manifests in a reluctance to let any one else drive the new vehicle, outrage at finding litter in any part of the interior and a full tank of diesel. Stage two heralds the beginning of his falling out of love with the vehicle. Anyone is allowed to drive it, including our under-qualified and over-revving older children, ‘Snickers’ wrappers appear in the foot-wells and an orange warning light in the shape of a ‘petrol pump’ flashes ominously on the dashboard. The final stage, which will culminate in the vehicle’s disposal, can take anywhere from several weeks to months, depending on how desperate I am to get the horrible thing off the drive and whether Mr B has been browsing his Auto Trader app.
There were clear visual warning signals given off by the African Grey parrot that bit me today. Unfortunately, as I was chatting to the owner and not paying much attention I am now sporting a large plaster where a divot of flesh has been removed, at lightning speed I hasten to add, by Clive. He is generally quite happy to have the back of his neck tickled, if approached cautiously and asked. If he’s in the mood he will lower his head, placing it against the bars of his cage and if all is well I am allowed to gently stroke the side of his beak. Today, I was not talking to Clive I was banging on about squirrels decimating my horse chestnut tree to the shop’s/Clive’s owner. Clive placed his foot against the bars and uncharacteristically, I gave it a rub too. He didn’t withdraw his foot but as I moved to tickle his neck, he whipped his head round and gave me a good one. Thankfully, he let go immediately and then shivered, with what emotion I’m not sure. I apologised quietly to Clive and slunk off.
“He bit you then? Well he’s never done that before has he?” observed Clive’s owner chirpily.
“Nope,” I said, nursing the injured finger and my pride.
“He likes you,” he stated, glancing at Clive, who was staring intently into the middle distance.
“I wasn’t paying attention. I was talking to you,” I replied, trying not to sulk.
“Ah,” responded the owner, with the sagacity that comes with having several divots of his own removed over the years. “You don’t want to do that! Keep your eye on him. He doesn’t like it when you take him for granted.”
I nodded. “I shall give Clive my full attention from now on,” I said, with feeling.