This article appeared in the December 2011 edition of Birdwatch
I have a pact with the fragrant Mrs Grumpy – or ‘the voice of reason’ as I have been instructed I should refer to her. If I have been exceedingly good (cleaned the shower after me, prepared veg, washed up and so forth) then I may, on selected occasions, stay in the car while she goes into the supermarket.
This is precious ‘me time’ as my granddaughter calls it, for me to people-watch or use my mobile devices; the most recent being a Kindle™ stuffed with SciFi. Yesterday, snuggling down into the warm folds of my car seat I positioned the reader on the steering wheel when gulls called raucously. Coastal living (any further southeast and I’ll develop a French accent) means barely a minute passes without gulls mewing, or dive-bombing my goldfish. Nevertheless, my attention was drawn by their loud remonstrations.
Fifty yards away a Herring Gull pulled a package from the litter-bin and tried to unravel it while simultaneously fending off his fellows. By the time it tore open the plastic, spilling half-eaten noodles across the pavement, the gull gallery had grown to five. Each time one interloper was chased off another had nipped in. I watched ever more gulls pouring in, figuring out that the finder had spilled the meal for an immature gull, presumably a relative that ate without challenge while other gulls were scolded or chased away. The principal gull eventually ate a little but only after dozens had scrapped over the spoils of his enterprise.
In a seaside second the pavement was cleaned, all bar a grease smear and a dribble or two of noodle stuck to the bin that was eventually polished off by lurking Black-headed gulls.
Meanwhile, thirty yards closer, another litter-bin was under scrutiny. Unnoticed, a gull had lowered himself bodily into the bin and was rooting about for more goodies. Sure enough he emerged with a carrier bag, which he shook like a Jack Russell dealing with a rat. From its folds slipped a pack of ready sliced cheese… after which pandemonium ensued.
With the ingenuity sadly lacking in many of us who have passed beyond our fifth decade, the gull released the contents from its vacuum pack, without even asking for scissors. Cheese slices scattered, as did the gull troupe – with two or three gulls to a slice, short work was made of the snack and most took flight for the nearest lookout point. Some sped to the awnings and porches, others to lampposts or gutters… a couple braved hostile shoppers and perched on their car roofs.
One gull was not among them; he had managed to get his head twisted through the carrier bag handle and was now trying to untangle himself.
Entertaining as all this was to the casual ornithologist, much more grist was spread out before the anthropologists’ grinding stones.
By this time I was observing human reaction and wound down my window so I could hear too.
In my lifetime many of the great divides seemed to have pulled shut like the returning waters of the parted Red Sea. Black and White, Left and Right, Muslim and Hindu, North and South are less far apart now than at any time in the historical record. Spring first sprang in the East and now sweeps across the Arab world, with the exception perhaps of the emerging ‘Tea Party’ things are coming together (and even that aberration is explained, as it is led by someone who is mad as a rabbit).
Other schisms now slice humanity like grand canyons. As far as I can see it splits now between those who think cats are cuddly and those of us who believe they are the spawn of the devil. The great divide is between PCs and Macs, Rap and Country, Dolce & Cabana.
I watched such a chasm opening before me. Most people laughed at the gull being shackled by our discards and fumed at their waste food larceny. People in knots nodded their agreement that ‘something should be done about them’. Returning motorists raged at their web-footed cheek and waved them from their chariots.
I, on the other hand, not only marvelled at the larid ingenuity and acumen but applauded their role as scavengers, well needed Wombles™ cleaning up the rubbish that other folks leave behind.
Here in Kiss-me-quick town many of the roofs have netting round the chimneys to stop them nesting, but a few of us secretly encourage them to snatch our cornets and pinch our chips!