The seagull has landed – An Irishman’s Diary on an unexpected guest
Fred the Seagull
Recently I was attacked within moments of leaving my home. I was spotted coming out my front door and the enraged assailants swooped. My heart raced and my hands dropped the headphones I had been planning to push into my ears. My body shifted to fight-or-flight mode.
Fortunately there was a mature tree on the far side of the road. I got to it safely and huddled in its cover. I had recently finished Max Hastings’s book on the Vietnam war, and imagined images from that conflict flashed through my mind as, hunkered down, I made my way along the footpath, hurrying from tree to tree, noting as I did so how the mesh of overhead electricity and telephone wires were providing further cover from my dive-bombing assailants.
A black estate car that was passing screeched to a halt. It was my older brother. He just happened to be driving by. “Are you being chased?” he asked through the scrolled-down window. “Yes! Quickly! Open the doors!” The car’s sunroof was open and through it came the angry screams of my frustrated attackers. “Go!” I panted from the back seat. “Drive!”
The reason for the attack was not a mystery. That morning, in the bathroom, I had looked out the window to the side-garden and noticed a visitor.
As with all true war stories, this is a sad one
It was a beast, the same grey as a wood pigeon, slightly larger, with immature feathers and webbed feet. It was pecking at the lawn and seemed happy enough.
I went down to the kitchen and took a closer look out through the door. Ah, I may have said, as the penny dropped somewhere in my early-morning mind; a baby seagull, fallen from the roof.
Over the following hours we grew fond of the thing, and christened him Fred.
He walked happily around the grass, pecking at the ground, and seemed to waddle towards the kitchen door any time he heard any of us in that room.
When I came home from work I found him standing outside the front door, as if waiting to be let in.
When I closed the door in his expectant face, he appeared to feel hurt.
It was when I was heading out later for a run that I was attacked. A seagull on the roof of the house opposite raised the alarm as he launched himself into the air.
He was immediately joined by two other birds (a spouse and one of Fred’s uncles, I decided), and they swooped down in waves like fighter jets delivering doom.
After my run, I considered whether I could return to my home in some unconventional way, say by successively trespassing into neighbouring back gardens until I came to my own.
But macho pride, (and fear of being attacked by a dog), prompted me to bravely head off once more along my own Ho Chi Minh Trail, under the cover of the suburban trees.
I was close to the house before a seagull on a chimney pot recognised my face (or my nervousness) and raised the alarm. Cue more swooping, screaming gulls. I made it to the safety of my hallway. Whew.
That evening myself and my other half celebrated with a few glasses of Picpoul de Pinet while on the other side of the kitchen door Fred waddled around, and on nearby rooftops his relatives scowled. At one stage we even put out a bowl of water, from which Fred drank heartily.
As with all true war stories, this is a sad one. I was woken in the night by screams. There was a different beast in the garden, this time a lovely-looking, red-brown fox.
There was no clear flight path along which Fred’s relatives could make their approaches and they were forced to make near-vertical dives, like shrieking German Stukas from the second World War (apologies for introducing another war).
The fox, moving regally, ignored them with an insouciance that I decided I would not mention when I came to tell my story.
There was no sign of Fred.
Later that morning I rose early for work. The sky was blue and the silence was serene. I dared go to the shed in the side garden to fetch my bike. No-one attacked me or expressed outrage from a nearby roof.
There were no scattered feathers on the grass, or trails of blood across the paving stones to the gate. Yet I peddled off down the hill, unassailed, fearing the worst.