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I’m every different type of bird

Subletting in London and New York can lead you to some strange nests

When someone shouts "Oy, bird", I look. I think they’re calling me because I’m a bird made up of all different types of bird. Nobody shouts that at me, but you know how topical cat calling is.

I’m migratory. For three years in a row I spent every Irish winter in Australia. Too hot for me really, but I flew there because I’m some kind of dark eyed junco. I’m a swallow, I’m a finch, I’m a European pied flycatcher, a clever bird sidestepping the cold.

Then one year I stayed home in Dublin because my Australian producer dropped me. I felt the the seasons change  - slowly - I felt that in my bones, I felt that in my waters.

I didn’t feel wham a wall of hot dry no-ozone layered air, instead I felt a gradual… maybe I don’t need my coat, maybe failure is teaching me things, look at those little buds on the tree by the canal.

I felt like hey – time is passing. I wondered then, is this staying and feeling the right thing to do?

Will this help me to understand? Before I found out, I flew off again.

I’m a little bronze cuckoo you know, because I go sneaking into nests that aren’t my own. I settle right in. No shame at all - subletting straight to my heart.  Last year I lived in a couple’s house in North London – they were scientists and had books about geology and physics in the office where I sat and wrote jokes about a cat I used to own that I gave away because I moved around so much.

I love, love poking around other peoples’ things. A terrifying thing I read once was that this woman filled her bathroom cabinet with marbles so she would know when her dinner party guests were nosey parkers.  They’d poke their way into her cabinets and the marbles would cascade out, crashing onto the ground, alerting everyone to their poking. In a sublet you can nosey parker your heart out – pretend you’re looking for superglue, organise all the lunch box lids, borrow another life.

There was a mirror in the scientists’ bedroom with printed writing on it saying things like "Absolutely stunning – you are beautiful – look at your nose – it’s unrepeatable – uniquely you - just look at you - wow – you are a wonder". My guess is, that mirror belonged to the girl scientist.  The words obscured my reflection and it was impossible to put my make up on.

I flapped over to New York and now I’m trying out a new nest – it belongs to a yoga teacher who is spreading her wings in India. I never met her but there are clues everywhere, in the form of words. It says "believe" in swirly writing over the bedroom door and there’s a smooth pebble on the toilet painted with the word "empathy". The power went off for three days and for some reason that made her mad at me. She typed. "I lived there for 10 years and this never happened!! Do NOT call an electrician" Her yelling was followed by her automatic sign off "In love and service" which was followed by her made up Sanskrit name.

I’m a songbird, a marsh warbler. I feel pretty endangered in this town as I go on singing out my pointless songs.

Sometimes people catch a strain and pause to listen, other times they close their windows, curse the noise. I’m irritating but maybe necessary in ways that are not clear to myself or anyone else. I worry that I’m just peacocking. I worry so much that I stop. There’s not a peep out of me for ages. Finally, I understand that I’m being a goose, and I’m sick of myself. I remember then that hope is the thing with feathers – the best bird – so I start again.


Maeve Higgins brings the pain - of laughter! She is a comedian standing at 6”4 or thereabouts. She is working on her second book and living in America, for the smiles and portion sizes.

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