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The Mom’s back garden is, these days, a thing to behold. A thing of beauty. When I was younger, I didn’t really appreciate how lovely it was. I always just thought The Mom slightly batty when she’d excitedly shout, “Come see the cardinal!” Now, though…

Now, when I am in London, and preparing to go home for my eagerly-awaited summer visit, I picture her back yard and plan long afternoons spent on the deck, Mrs Beeton nearby, the tree filled with other birds, all chirping away. A few butterflies, the pesky chipmunks and squirrels and the odd duck quacking in the background complete the picture. I imagine myself absorbed in a book, with nothing to do but enjoy it.

And it is so lovely. But this year, the weather hasn’t been great and so there were a few days when those long afternoons spent curled up with a good book have had to be relocated to inside. And the thing about that is that inside is where the computers are. And the computers have internet which means YouTube which means, you guessed it, a short educational programme for the inside birds.

I love our pet birds. Always have. They are a fascinating lot. And I can spend hours, days, weeks in fact, watching them. Staring at them. The canaries aren’t too keen on this. They have things they need to be getting on with and don’t want company. When I was living at home, during the Dark Winter, in between trips to the bathroom, I got it in my head that the birds, stuck in their room all afternoon, as I was, might also be, as I was, a bit bored. So I decided that they needed stimulation. I tried reading to them, but they didn’t appear interested. Dad, the head canary, I do believe actually fell off his perch. I stopped reading to them then, and told The Mom that they didn’t enjoy it. My feelings were hurt and The Mom, who is incredibly adept at sensing when one of her children is feeling particularly hard done by, managed to approximate sympathy. I knew she thought I was losing what was left of my mind, but she managed to put up a good front.

I quickly moved on to things I thought the birds might enjoy more, namely, birdsong on YouTube. The nightingale was a hit. As was the Algerian goldfinch. The birds would come alive, and when all the canaries get going at the same time, it’s piercing. They need nothing in the way of amplification. They can be hear throughout the house. In fact, when I’m in London and Skyping The Mom, I can hear the birds singing.

When I come home to visit now, the canaries get moved into The Mom’s rather grand bathroom. It has much better light and the minute they get settled in, they start singing. Mrs. Beeton, who in summer joins them only in the evenings, seems to love it as well. She hops from cage to cage, peering down at her friends, and listening to them sing. And she’s learning. She does a very good canary impression now.

This all started of course, ages ago, when Newton, the deceased parakeet, was in need of similar stimulation. At first I started him off with an electronica album by the band FourTet. This album was his favourite. His particular breed of parakeet doesn’t often sing, they are notably shy, but when they do, it’s a very sweet, delicate series of not-connected chirps, squeaks and burbles. It sounds like an imaginary machine winding down or up, depending. When it was time for our swim, I’d leave him out in my room, with the album on. He’d sit in front of the laptop, or on it, depending, and sing away to himself whilst we did our laps. If we were lucky, and quiet, when we returned, we could stand at the door and hear him. The minute the door opened though, he’d stop.

I asked The Mom if Mrs. Beeton also has a secret song. She said she didn’t think so. But I think The Mom hasn’t been listening hard enough. Because that’s the thing about her garden and her birds, there are secrets there, if you’re willing to wait.

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