69. What Sets You Apart From Other People?
Our brains are wired so that a set of familiar pieces of information, however fragmented or disordered, allow us instantly to recognise a word, a face, an object. For example, you probably won't have too much trouble reading this: Wulod you perefr to raed a parctcial tip or smoethnig taht maeks you tihnk? But what if the usual pieces of information were not available to you, would you still be able to recognise whoever or whatever it was? And if so, how? We have a little rented place in Hastings, on the south coast. There's a tiny back garden and in it you will often find Edward, a large seagull who appears with extraordinary reliability within moments of our arrival. It would be nice to think that he spotted us on our first visit and decided that he could see immediately what thoroughly likeable personages we were and that he would forthwith adopt us. But yes, as the more cynical among you will have already surmised, the chances are that the previous tenants fed him. But I don't feed him, and yet still he comes. Sometimes he sits on the back fence, sometimes he follows me upstairs and appears at the living room window. On one occasion I was sitting on the bench in the garden and he waddled to within a couple of feet of me and sat down, spreading his not inconsiderable rump over the warm wood, taking in the sunshine while looking at me out of one eye. To say that I was under no illusion that these companionable antics were anything to do with genuine affection would not be quite true, as I realise that I have, at some level, decided that he is fond of me. We have formed a bit of a relationship. So it was with some distress that I turned up a couple of weekends ago to find there was no trace of him. I looked hopefully out of the window at regular intervals, but again and again the garden remained resolutely bird-less. Sadly I had to leave on Sunday without seeing him. It occurred to me that some mishap may have befallen him, and I found myself feeling quite upset at the thought. I preferred to think he had gone fishing. Last weekend, again, there was no sign of him and I began to face the probability that he was gone for good. Perhaps some other resident had caught his fancy with some gourmet snacks, some pretty female gull had lured him away, or more sadly that he had gone to some back garden in the sky. These thoughts, though, didn't stop me from still looking for him on nearby roofs, studying the profile of every gull I saw; deciding that this one's head was too flat, that this one didn't have the same orange mark on its beak, and this one had an old injury to its claw that Edward certainly didn't have. Although the sound of gulls, their cheeky swooping on unsuspecting lunchers and their endless circling over the rooftops are all hallmarks of Hastings that I love, I never thought I would find myself examining them in such painstaking detail. Then, late on Sunday afternoon, I was in the kitchen doing some last minute cleaning when I suddenly saw an Edward-like bird sitting on the roof of the house opposite. Could that be him? Could it? He looked me straight in the eye and then hopped onto the back fence. There he sat for a moment, watching me, before taking another hop onto the decking. Again he looked straight at me. It was then that I knew; and it wasn't the markings on his beak, or the profile of his head, or the presence or absence of injury that were so instantly recognisable. It was his unmistakable behaviour that set him apart. Right up to the back door he hopped, just a couple of feet from where I was standing, and peered inquiringly up at me. There was no doubt, it was Edward. Try this: Imagine we all looked exactly the same. If you appeared at work, or to your family or friends, how would they recognise you? What are the hallmarks of your behaviour and demeanour? If you don't know, ask them! The question is, who are we without our physical appearance? Have a good week! Anita