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Letter to Wherever: Face Off On:2023-10-31 11:31:52

My Dear Wherevericans,

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, don’t drop your bird turd on me¹.
Does your lady friend
   Drive you round the bend?
Will it never end
   In its downward trend?
To the nuthouse send
   You! Quite crazy like me².
          Hee! Hee! Hee!

Well, I AM singing to a bird, moreover a bird that, taking its location and colouration into account, may well be a banana. Not as bad as the The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, but still...
Still it does illustrate the complexities of perception and that old, old battle between Type I and Type II errors³, you know rejecting a null hypothesis that is actually true against failing to reject a null hypothesis that is actually false, or to put it in a more realistic, down-to-earth way (and to take them in Miss World order because that’s marginally more amusing) Type II is when you don't recognise that that’s a tiger sneaking up on you in the forest and therefore get eaten; Type I is when you think you see a tiger that isn't sneaking up on you in the forest and therefore you run like Hell and escape it!
And then of course you trip over a root, fall and break your neck. And probably get eaten, but not, and this is the important bit, not by the non-existent tiger. And don't even get me started on Type III errors since most of my essays already give the right answer to the wrong question!
Anyway let's put considerations of statistical hypothesis testing and Darwinism aside, since they were merely a lead in to an admission: I must admit that I have great difficulty distinguishing not just birds from fruit, but more importantly one human being from another. It's not as though I have full blown prosopagnosia as I'm just a little bit prosopagnostic. I can't reliably recognise or remember faces and, since I don't seem to be able to remember names to any great extent either, you may suspect that this causes me some slight societal inconvenience if not incontinence.
On the one hand I am never completely certain exactly who it is that I’m talking to, or passing in the street, or has just greeted me even if that greeting is as from an old acquaintance, but on the other hand my attempts to compensate (or even over-compensate) for this inadequacy means that I am seen as very sociable by …um… by complete strangers.
And thereby hangs a tale.
Way back at the end of the sixties I was in south London living with four girls (that is of course not the tale, at least not of itself) and on a time we all went out to do the sort of things one did back then (which particular one of those things I don’t actually remember at this point but it doesn’t really matter) when a fifth girl joined, or more accurately latched on to, us. And I, assuming that any unrecognised person who started talking to me must be someone I know, chatted away merrily with her. At this juncture, and for a while, everyone else assumed that someone else was her friend, and by the time we (eventually even including me!) realised that she was indeed known to none of us, she had actually, indeed accurately, joined us.
After a time it became evident that joining groups of strangers was not her only idiosyncrasy, and that she was Swiss (not that those two things were at all connected): no it was that all of her behaviour was, how should I put it, odd! Very! Insanely!! At one point she was even frothing at the mouth! With actual froth! At the mouth!!
We gradually learnt, or rather figured out, that she had inadvertently (at least it was inadvertent by her) dropped (or, I suppose, been dropped at) some acid, you know LSD Lysergic acid Diethlyamide and had, as we used to say, tripped out: badly, crazily. After this discovery the girls adopted her, and we got her back to the flat (with only a modicum of additional mouth frothing) and, especially since a couple of the girls were student teachers, decided we should get her medical help. So one of us went down to the local telephone box (remember, sixties and we WERE all students) and called a taxi, making sure to emphasise the fact that one of the passengers might be mentally unstable. The taxi arrived in due time, and in an effort to keep our new responsibility happy, and moving, AND froth free we all whooped and danced down the steps to the road. So you can’t blame the taxi driver for enquiring quietly just WHO was the crazy one. 1n the end our tale had a happy one because the St George’s Hospital got her approximately sane, in touch with her family and back to Switzerland and then to our surprise some months later she found the flat and us and visited to thank us.
Just goes to show that a disability however specialised can occasionally be useful, and even provide help: in this case to….to….um…. to whoever she was.
Kindest regards,
Richard Howland-Bolton
and, of course,
Cheerio for now
from me!


1 Waste of time really, as birds tend to have little control over their defecation and 'turd' is probably not the best term to use for the semi-liquid effluvium that they eject. Bananas on the other hand...

2 This contrafactum is confected from a song popular in my youth, "Yellow Bird", which in its turn was taken (loosely) from a Haitian Creole poem, "Choukoun" by Oswald Durand, set to music by Michel Mauleart Monton in the 1880s
Yellow Bird Choukoun (Extract)  Translation By Dady Chery 
"Yellow bird, up high in banana 
Yellow bird, you sit all alone
  like me.
Did your lady friend
   leave the nest again?
That is very sad,
   makes me feel so bad.
You can fly away,?
   in the sky away.
You're more lucky than me"
Ti zwazo nan bwa ki t’ apé
Ti zwazo nan bwa ki t’ apé
Kon mwen sonjé sa
Mwen genyen lapen
Ka dépi jou-sa
De pyé mwen nan chen
Kon mwen sonjé sa
Mwen genyen lapen
De pyé mwen nan chen
Little birds, who listened deep in these
Little birds, who listened deep in these
When I think of this
It brings me such pain
Ever since that day
Both my feet in chains
When I think of this
It brings me such pain
Both my feet in chains

More can be found here and here

3 See here

4 See here

5 Depending on your definition of 'live with' I only did this with two of them. Whether this was consecutively or concurrently I happily leave to the mysteries of the old backward and abysm.

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