We met up with a couple of friends D & L for dinner downtown last night. L arrived first, and got us a table outside at Ash St Cellar, which, by the way, is lovely. The atmosphere is gorgeous, the wine list considered, and the food – tasting plates, and they are TASTY – scrumptious. I may want to smack that smug look off his face every time I see it in the newspaper, but I will say this for Justin Hemmes: he runs a decent outfit. I think Ash St Cellar is great.
Anyway, Llew, L and I were sitting there with our first drink when D arrived. He scanned the outdoor area, missed us, and headed inside.
“There’s D!” I said. “D!”
He didn’t hear. We could see him through the glass scoping the indoor seating.
Then out of nowhere, L makes this single, improbably loud CLUCK noise. D’s head instantly reared up. I saw it. His ears actually pricked. He turned and followed the sound of the cluck. He’d found us. Llew and I stared at L.
“What was that?” Llew said.
“What did you just do?” I demanded. “Do that again.”
L did it again, louder this time. People turned uneasily in their seats. What was happening? Where was this noise coming from?
It’s their signal. They. Have. A. Signal. L does something powerful and disturbing with her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She can control the volume on this thing, too. Soft cluck clucks right through to booming CLUUUUCKS. I was riveted.
“So, um, L,” I said. “How did this clucking noise develop? This is just something you guys developed between the two of you or what?”
“Oh no,” she said. “It’s my family signal.”
Take a moment, if you like, to let that sink in. I did.
“What?” Llew said after a stunned silence. “Are you trying to tell me that you all do it? Your whole family? I’m sorry, but Germans are just weird. That’s it. Case closed.”
“What if one of you couldn’t make the noise,” I said. “Can you imagine how isolating that would be? You’d feel like a total failure. You’d be sure you were adopted. Here you all are with your special family clucking sound, the way you find your way home in the dark, the homing signal, as it were, and one of you can’t do it. Horrible.”
“All our friends’ families have their own signature whistle,” L offered helpfully.
“No,” I said, trying and failing to keep a straight face. “No, I don’t think they do. They can’t. That’s just too much.”
“No, they do,” confirmed D. “It’s a German thing.”
“I’ll say,” said Llew.
“They’ve got one whistle for family members,” D went on, “and another one for the dog.”
“That’s what you looked like!” I exclaimed, pointing at D and wiping the tears from my eyes with my free hand. “You looked EXACTLY like a dog hearing its master’s call!”
“You can take the boy off the farm,” agreed D.
“Right, right,” I said. “That explains it. That’s why you’re a complete natural at this. You understand it. You hear the call.”
“It cuts right through music,” D enthused. “I hear it across nightclubs, restaurants, rugby matches. You know what it’s like when you’re somewhere really crowded and you all get separated and you don’t know where you’re supposed to be? Well, I just listen for the signal. I follow the sound.”
“That is amazing,” I said. I turned to Llew. “What would our family signal be?”
Llew’s CLUCK wasn’t bad. L was impressed. Mine was piss weak. It wasn’t cutting through any music and probably wouldn’t even rouse Llew from the couch. So we tried whistling. Again, Llew’s was quite solid. I whistle like I am eating crackers at the same time. No one is coming running at the sound of my whistle.
“What about clapping?” I suggested. “I can clap. Single clap, staccato clap, slow clap, you name it. I’ve got clapping down.”
I’m also, I’ll have you know, a truly excellent waver. That’s generally how I direct people to the table… but clearly that’s just me.