Wildlife, especially birds singing, distracts me in my day-to-day life. I’ll be having a conversation with someone and catch a sound on the edge of my hearing. Before I know it, I’ve missed the thread of things.
It can be truly dangerous too. When on a driving lesson a few years back, I spotted a small flock of waxwing and took my eye off the road. Not a good thing to do.
Almost as bad is when it happens at work. If you are a keen birder, this will be familiar.
Sitting in view of windows, in meetings, I’ve spotted things like Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, and Bullfinch. But that’s okay. That’s just looking. I’m still actually listening to the room.
The real problem arises with songs and calls, where you can’t quite see out the window. As happened to me yesterday (Day 25).
I’m pretty good on the sounds you hear around you, and normally can ID something without any real issue. But every now and again, even in an urban setting, you hear something that’s just not quite right.
“What’s that? I don’t recognise that. Probably just a Great Tit with a slightly anomalous call. Focus on the meeting”
“But wait a minute. Is it? It doesn’t sound like it. Maybe it’s something unusual? Oh, if only I could see out the window…”
Then begins a routing some of you will recognise. Trying to look, without looking like you are looking. There are many ways to do this.
Pretending to tie a shoelace is good for a quick peek. You bend down, you look to your side. You can get a good couple of minutes that way. Faking a yawn or a sneeze can get you a quick glance too.
But that may not be good enough. You can’t exactly whip the binoculars out, but you need a proper look. So you make it look like you are staring at a computer screen, then tilt your head, and now you are there! You can see it! You can have a proper hard stare at the bird and nobody is any the wiser. So you do.
“Oh, of course. Just a Greenfinch. What else can I see? Oh, there are some families of Goldfinches over there…”
You are now in a reverse of the original situation. Your focus is now out the window, and the meeting is on the fringes of your hearing. Until you suddenly realise…
“Wait. Did someone just ask me what I think? What I think of what? Uh-oh.”
It’s at this point you realise with horror that you’ve been looking out the window for a full five minutes! How do you recover from this?
There are two strategies.
One is honesty. You just apologise and ask them to repeat the question.
The other, you still ask them to repeat the question, but you make it look like you need more information. You lean back in your chair. You maybe put your hands behind your head. You stare at the ceiling. Maybe you tap on the desk, or a pad, or your laptop. Then you simply say “Can you just expand on that a little?”
They essentially repeat the question, you give it your full attention, and you can form an answer. Brilliant. Except of course…
“What was that I just heard? Was that the Greenfinch again?”
* This is a cautionary tale. I do not advocate staring out the window in meetings, lectures, or school lessons. Really.