Oh yes, I think I have a problem. My problem is this: I am in love with an owl, a female owl, living at an unspecified location in the Netherlands. It's bordering on a dangerous obsession. I can watch her sleep for hours, indeed I have just this evening sat motionless for twenty minutes as she plumped up her feathers and shifted around slightly. I have watched the clip where she gets all excited when Mr Owl brings her a rat (described with admirable economy on the log of events as: 'man brengt rat', which should surely be a film title) then she swallows it whole in the manner of the Bronx Zoo Python coming across an abandoned Big Mac at least 12 times. I get an indescribable thrill when she looks straight at the camera with her gigantic, scathing owl eyes, as if to say 'what the fuck are you looking at?'. I'm not too concerned about the effect on my productivity, partly because I could arse about pointlessly for hours without bird webcams, and partly because I find them enormously soothing. I can watch the storks' feathers blowing gently in the wind and feel my pulse slowing (well, until some bastard knocked the webcam. Now I can just stare at a close up of some twigs).
Anyway. I am in love with an owl. Earlier today, returned from my entirely unnatural weekend I turned on the webcam, greedy for some soothing owl action, and watched her dismember some creature (a bird, I think), dispassionately, efficiently, with long breaks for little sleeps next to a pile of feather and gut. It was perfect. It's oddly moving watching birds nesting. Seriously though, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be alive at a time when such a thing is possible, as opposed to sitting in some damp corner of the northern hemisphere with binoculars, a wet arse and a clammy slab of Kendal Mint Cake, all for the occasional distant glimpse of a wingtip of some hard to identify brown bird, as the previous generation (including my own mother and father, freaks) was required to do. I am turning into my parents, but with better technology.
On the basis of my lengthy observations, I am very taken with the owl approach to child rearing. There are supposedly two chicks in the nest now, but she seems utterly unmoved by their presence; they have not put her off her intensive programme of sleeping, occasional grooming, and extra hard staring. For one terrifying moment last week, I thought she was eating one of them, but it was only an empty egg. Not that I would put it past her. So far, however, her approach is entirely constructed around ignoring the chicks 23 hours a day, and occasionally flying off for a snack. She is sometimes gone quite a while, and you can just make out their wobbly, fuzzy heads, staggering around the nest in atavistic panic. I read an article in French Grazia on the train this weekend about parents who abandon their children for the evening to go to the pub, or out clubbing and leave them at home, or locked in the car. Being French Grazia, there was a lot of philosophising about the nature of the pressures of modern motherhood, and the mental tipping point where something culturally aberrant becomes imaginable, as opposed to UK Grazia, where I imagine they would have:
1. Made the offending mothers stand in a field somewhere overcast, their hair blowing in the wind and their hands in their coat pockets looking soulful;
2. Taken them for a special 'feel more like yourself and get back the old you' makeover, probably featuring a new hair colour and finally:
3 Put them on a special 'gain maternal instinct on the three eggs a day!' diet.
Anyway. I am telling you right now, there would be none of this soulsearching with owls. If she was caught snogging a bouncer after 23 blue WKDs whilst her chicks woke the neighbours with their panicked crying, Mrs Owl would not be all shame and contrition. No. She would barely pause to claw your face off before heading off for vole and chips and a lock-in somewhere.
I need to come over a bit more Owl with my own children, who have just reached that delightful age where absolutely nothing is more fun than beating the shit out of each other. I am ill-equipped to deal with this stage (which kindly observers tell me is likely to last "their whole lives"). Not only did I never have a sibling of an appropriate age on whom to enact hideous acts of mental and physical cruelty (I blame the parents), but worse than that, I was educated by Quakers. Pacifists. Basically, we were taught to sublimate our angry and frustrated impulses into (a) candle dipping (b) egg cup painting (c) Scottish country dancing; and (d) Singing the legendary Quaker anthem 'Old leather breeches, Shaggy shaggy locks (OH WOW THAT LINK JUST BLEW MY MIND. It launches straight into the audio and then goes round and round for ever. Quite loud on my computer, which is set to 'loud enough to hear the faintest rustle of an owl)'*. You had to see that of god in everyone, which, at least theoretically, precluded calling them an imbécile and hitting them over the head with a giant plastic iguana.
As a result, I am wholly unprepared for the repetitive, loud, amazingly annoying phenomenon that is small boy conflict. It makes me by turn panicky and furious. What would Mrs Owl do, do you think? I am tending towards 'ignore them completely', but also wondering about 'peck them to buggery'. Either way, I know it would be swift, low impact, and fiendishly effective. I really need to work on my owl parenting. I think I need to watch a few hours more, just to make sure I've got it...
*Strictly inaccurate picture of Quaker life for comic purposes, though I did do all of those things repeatedly in the company of Quakers at various points. I love the Quakers and have nothing but gratitude and affection for them. They are lovely. Including George Fox, and not just because of his leather breeches and shaggy shaggy locks. His implacable opposition to maypole dancing endears him to me greatly, and I bet he'd have had no truck with Morris dancing either.