Thursday, 8 December 2011

Low on High

In my previous post I mentioned how, for my seventh birthday, I received a pair of Greenfinches.

   At seven I felt I knew all about Greenfinches, I knew their diet, how to sex them (“the female is more dowdy than the male”), the size of their clutch and the incubation period of the eggs therein. This information was gleaned from copies of “Cage and Aviary Birds” a hobbyist newspaper that, as a result of my birthday present, my father could now bring home as a matter of course rather than as an occasional and guilty luxury. I would pore over each word of every article paying particular attention to the price lists placed by dealers who advertised inside the back cover. The motivation for scrutinising the price lists was to see how cheaply I could create in my imagination the most comprehensive collection of birds, particularly parrots. The exoticism and rarity of parrots were reflected in their price – even in the 1960s it was a month's wages for a Hyacinth macaw, despite these beautiful birds being less rare then than now. There were no restrictions on the importation of birds at the time, it was never reported how most died in transit, at least not in “Cage and Aviary Birds”. It never crossed my mind that for the vast majority of exotic birds their being for sale was to the detriment of their wild populations. For a boy of seven all that is beyond immediate experience is immutable.

   There was an anomaly in my closed world of birds, and that was the presence of Rosemary Low, a journalist who wrote in “Cage and Aviary Birds”. My avian world, save for Ms Low, was uniformly masculine; men ran the pet shops and the dealerships where we bought the birds, I saw only men at the bird shows I was taken to, and of course, towering over all, was the very male figure of my father. I found Rosemary Low intriguing, a parrot enthusiast who kept, it seemed to me, every parrot species that existed. Week after week she would churn out lucid, authoritative articles usually accompanied by a black and white photograph of yet another successful brood of wobbly, fledgling parrots that had appeared in one of her innumerable nest boxes. I know the articles were lucid and authoritative because I still have a scrapbook of her clippings. I recently looked up her name on the Internet and was heartened to see that Rosemary Low is still writing and is now universally acknowledged as a world expert on all matters psittacine.

   I have since bought one of the twenty or so books Ms Low has written on parrots. It seems inevitable that, like the Holy Ghost in Flaubert's Un coeur simple, she will one day in the distant future assume the form of a gigantic parrot and ascend, screeching, heavenwards.