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Ciara O'Connor: 'I've moved to a garden flat... Every millennial knows this is the endgame'

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Ciara O'Connor

Ciara O'Connor

Ciara O'Connor

Until a few months ago, I lived above a train line. I got used to the noise and rumble, and my nephew loved it: a non-stop toddler film-festival. We'd sit on the balcony replaying the tiny ecstasies and griefs as trains approached and then continued on, over and over again. The steady movement, the whoosh, the diminuendo. It was satisfying, soothing, predictable.

But I wasn't sad to leave: I was moving to a garden flat. A garden! Every millennial knows this is the endgame; the key to physical and mental health. With a garden, I would become a more relaxed sort of a person; figuratively and literally earthy. It would require a wardrobe reboot (obviously) and I would become a proper writer!

I imagined myself a desk - a bureau, perhaps - looking out onto the grass and flowers, where I would write sometimes dreamily, sometimes urgently, as if a squirrel was dictating to me from 20 yards away. But I didn't account for the birds.

In matters of ornithology I am (for shame) a city person; birds were in nursery rhymes, storybooks, idioms, Disney. My childhood imagination was populated by wise owls, sly magpies, peaceful doves, happy bluebirds, insistent roosters, proud peacocks. IRL had pigeons and seagulls, but they were a nuisance. And then to school, where the book To Kill A Mockingbird was not about mockingbirds at all, and Birdsong (as far as I was concerned) was

about cunnilingus.

Drill after public exam drill: when is a bird not a bird? When it's a metaphor. The poet nightingale; the raven of never-ending remembrance. The first year of my degree was to the violent soundtrack of coercive group duck-sex outside my window. Mostly, when I have 'looked' at birds, I have been concentrating more on how I am appearing to be responding to the birds - Is this moving? Exciting? Am I visibly moved enough?- like a first date at a gallery. Nevertheless, if I was on Love Island and someone asked me my type, I would have to be honest and say, "Unconsciously, it seems: men from bird-loving families who appreciate a Red Kite. What about you, hun?" Now there's a garden full of actual living birds, and I haven't had a day's rest. Aesop's crow was jealous of the raven, which humans considered a bird of omen. Nearly 3,000 years later, it needn't worry. Two enormous crows came for a day to the garden and I nearly wet myself; what did it mean? On a birthday, a woodpecker; another day, 10 parakeets; one morning, there was an actual bloody heron. It's impossible it wasn't allegorical. I Googled it: solitude, or tranquillity, or something else.

I am tormented by magpies. Connecting their number with sorrow or joy or the gender binary comes more intuitively than lefts and rights. A starling limped to the shelter of the side alley, and we offered it hospitality, but when I checked again, it was dead on its back, wings akimbo like a pinned butterfly. I've watched enough movies to know this was an obvious portent of something; and also that I should be leaning in to examine the glossy breast to see purples and flashes of green and find some pandemic meaning.

The garden has made chaos of my internal monologue, unbidden metaphors literally flying at me all day. Garden People can suspend interpretation and see free pest removal, or something soothing like waves or a running river or a freight train. I'll get there. Maybe the single magpie is a sign of sorrow; maybe you've been too sad to fill up the feeders and that's the only mad bastard still hanging around. l

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