Sunday, September 5, 2010

My new non-human companions

A birdie

For about the last three weeks, almost every day, a plain brown bird, probably a female common blackbird, has been tapping on my bathroom window intermittently throughout the day, fluttering away when I rush to intercept her. I’ve christened her Mabel.

There’s a wisteria against the back wall of the house, and I thought for a while Mabel was trying to pull off wisteria stems to build a nest. But now I don’t think so. I’ve learned to creep up to the bathroom door and peer at it in the mirror on the right-hand wall, which is at right angles to the wall with the window, and when I do this I can see Mabel knocking on the glass with her beak.

The insistence of this task suggests that she’s worked out that the glass is a genuine substance, not mere air as those unfortunate birds who knock into windows think it is, and has decided that if she knocks for long enough and hard enough she can penetrate it.

No matter how quiet I am, Mabel knows when I creep up, and she stops her tapping and stares at my image in the mirror with trepidation. When I creep quietly through the door to look at her square on, she flaps away.

I glimpse before she flutters away a look of curiosity and interest on her face. She seems fascinated by the sheltered foreign world behind the glass, even eager to enter it – perhaps it seems like an incredibly safe and obvious place to build a nest? On one morning recently she’d brought what was probably her mate along, a much darker blackbird, to observe her efforts.

Why this one bird? Why is she so fascinated by the glass? Why don’t other birds of the same species act this way? Is Mabel dumber than her peers or more intelligent? If more intelligent, could she breed a series of superbirds that might become more intelligent still?

But if she seeks the strange new world she glimpses in the shadows behind the glass, why doesn’t she fear it, knowing that a huge human lurks behind it?

She’s tapping much less often now, down from her maximum of perhaps four or five tries a day, but she still hasn’t given up. On one morning she started early, while I was still in bed, and I even thought I heard her a few nights ago, but peering through the darkened window to see if she was still there was futile.

My writerly brain is always trying to find a symbolic or spiritual meaning when there is none. Does Mabel’s urgent tapping mirror my own attempts to rejoin the human race? Is that also a futile task? Or is she a spirit in human form trying to convey some vital message from the other side?

More importantly, how do I explain the scratches on the window to my landlords?

A computer

I’ve just bought a new computer and the whole thing cost me a lot more than I was expecting to pay – almost a thousand dollars more, if you count the $240 I spent for the nice computer man to come and set it up for me. This decision felt incredibly indulgent at the time – the technician who fixed my computer last time quoted only $70 to install the new software and copy the files over, but he would only do it at his shopfront.

Given the things that went wrong with the set-up (my old printer incompatible with Windows 7; the surge protection power board activating the safety switch for the circuit, causing the electricity on the circuit to turn off) I’m just relieved I chose the more expensive route. I thought I was pandering to my chronic fear of things not going right but it turned out to be a necessity; simply having these problems occurring with someone there to comment on and diagnose them was important. I bought a new cheapo surge protection board, and I’m adjusting to my dad’s old desk jet printer, while he’s been promised my seven-year-old HP laser printer as he’s on an earlier version of Windows.

It infuriated me that my old printer was still going strong but was being forced into unnecessary obsolescence – HP have created some Windows-compatible drivers for some of their older models, but not this one, and I was told that the older the model the less likely they are to do so in future if they haven’t already. I mean no offence to users of desk jets, my dad included, but it feels like going back in time after a laser printer! I’ll buy a new laser printer at some stage, but HP has lost my vote for good.

This is the first time I’ve bought a new computer in five-and-a-half years and I’m noticing a similar situation to the one that occurred last time. I’ve tried to avoid unnecessary bells and whistles (no blueray DVD player for me) but I have the same sense I did last time of a whole lot of new features on the standard programs, many of which might be helpful but that I’ll probably never get around to finding out about, as if an ideal technological life (that I’d paid for) were passing me by.

I’ve also been keeping Norton busy with some glitches while using its anti-virus program with Explorer, and was in danger of becoming a nuisance caller. Luckily I’ve cleverly worked out that I can easily test if the anti-virus program is to blame just by turning it off temporarily. And simply observing as the Norton techies temporarily take over my computer and do their swift and magic checks with their invisible hands has been both weird and instructive. Through sheer necessity they seem to know far more about the glitches that Explorer can cause than Microsoft ever will.

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