August 09, 2006

This parrot is now reversing

I'll be on a ferry on Sunday, Caen to Portsmouth, taking a van across the Pyrenees and France for three days. I've not been on a ferry for a while: it used to be aeroplanes I could never afford, so much so that after making a plane journey in 1991 it was ten years before I took another. Even now, when I fly regularly between Zaragoza and Stansted, when I'm blasé enough to talk about the time "it usually arrives" as if it were a bus journey, I still make sure that I am far enough ahead in the queue to get a window seat so that I can watch the country I am leaving, as it recedes, and the place to which I travel, as it looms. I used to do much the same on a ferry, watching the land behind me until I could see it no longer, then hoping to catch the sight of new land before anybody else, as if there were a gold coin for the first of the ship's company to see it.

I took a ferry from Ramsgate early in the morning once: sufficiently early that I had to stay in a B&B the night before, on the cliffs above the ferryport. The one I stayed at had a parrot, presumably to convey the idea that the proprietor was an old sea-dog who, though now retired, could hardly bear to be out of sight of his beloved sea and who had brought home with him a parrot he had acquired on his travels. In all probability neither parrot nor proprietor had ever seen any more of the sea that one can see when standing on the land, and certainly the parrot's interests clearly lay in the freight lorries that made use of the port rather than the ferries to which they transferred their containers.

I knew this - I could hardly not know it - because with immensely impressive skill and attention to detail it had learned to imitate the sound of a lorry's alarm and the warning message lorries play when they're reversing. The lorries are, I believe, restricted in how much activity, and therefore noise, they are able to generate at night, so as not to unduly disturb the residents. The parrot however was not apparently subject to this restriction and made the most of his freedom from red tape: all through the night, just outside the window, emitting the same phrase over and again:
Beep! Beep! Beep! This lorry is now reversing!


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