I am ornithophobic that means I have a fear of birds. It’s a little more complicated then that. There is not a specific thing I am afraid of. Logically I know the bird probably won’t do anything, but if it’s anything bigger then a sparrow I freeze. I’ll wait for people to be nearby and then proceed. Pigeons, seagulls, magpies, swans, pukeko’s ducks, chickens, budgies I hate it and the closer they get the worse I am.
It was much harder when I was young and couldn’t verbalise what was going on. So people would make basic assumptions. I spilled a pot of chips once during a school trip, seagulls all around me and I panicked. “Oh he watched The Birds, it’s just a movie.” I hadn’t actually but that was good enough explanation for some people.
I’m selective about telling people because the inevitable “What do you think will happen?” comes up. I don’t think anything will happen. The best way I can describe it is that my body goes through the chemical reaction of fear. Like I said I know nothing will happen, but I can’t help it. My mind starts racing, I don’t scream but I am looking for ways around the bird or for something to startle them so they fly off.
When we filmed Rollmance my producer got us The Pumphouse as a location. There was no way around it. The Pumphouse is home to a large number of swans that aren’t afraid of people. I told him I had a phobia and it was serious. We put someone on bird duty. I watched The Birds the night before, I handled it and while it would seem that is my worst nightmare it had no effect on me, it’s a film and I know it’s history. I have friends who perform at The Pumphouse and now a days I can’t go alone. I want to support my friends but I can’t handle the level of fear there. If a group is going I’m fine but on my own, no way.
A seagull got it’s head stuck in a box outside work once, I had gone down 3 flights of stairs and I was tired. So I waited inside. The bird kept squaking and playing with the box. I walked back up the stairs and got an editor to come down and get rid of it. It was embarrassing.
The worst was inside a food court. I was seated with a friend who knew about my phobia but didn’t take it seriously. A pigeon flew on to our table, my friend started laughing until he looked at me, I wasn’t making a sound, I can’t remember much but he told me later that he had never seen anything like it. He got rid of it quickly because I looked terrified.
There is a photo of me as a baby in hospital, I had a bit of surgery back then, there is a set of plastic birds above me. It seems I associate birds with surgical pain.
My phobia doesn’t effect my day to day life that much. But it is an annoyance when it does.