Friday, 24 April 2015

Instinct

The blackbird leaps from the sill and pecks and scratches at the window pane, wings beating hard, until it falls back to the ledge exhausted. The bird gathers its breath for few moments, sucking air through its yellow beak, then leaps again attacking the window pane with all its might. I approach the window from inside and it flies off into a bush at the rear of my house. I know it will be back.

These attacks on the window pane began yesterday at dawn, and continued throughout the day. At first I was curious, then amused and finally very exasperated. ‘Stop, you stupid bird,’ I roared, but I might as well have been telling the waves to cease and desist. My irritation on the other side of the pane only served to scare it away temporarily. And from dawn today the pugilistic bird has returned.

I imagine the blackbird has a mate and a nest in the bush and is convinced its own reflection is a rival that must be humbled. Earlier this week, I read that visitors to a country house in Devon had complained that their car doors had been badly scratched. CCTV revealed the culprits: the peacocks that graced the gardens with their long, flowing tails were attacking their own reflections in the paintwork. It is of course the mating season for birds and many other animals.

I recall standing in Kings Square, Gloucester on Saturday afternoons with hordes of other teenagers to witness ritual fights between lads. These always started with jostling, then shouting, and in a flurry of fists and feet two lads would fly at each other. The girls on the steps of Debenhams howled to these jousting beaus in the square below: waving, shrieking and swearing their encouragement.

The fights were always over quickly; one rival choosing to trot away from the arena, wiping a trickle of blood from his nose or lip. The victor would raise his arms and receive accolades from the girls and his pals spectating from the steps. The teenagers would then reassemble, sitting back down on the steps of Debenhams to banter, jostle and laugh with each other again. Shortly after, the vanquished would return somewhat sheepishly to the edge of the throng.

I was fifteen, in Levis, Ben Sherman shirt and an army surplus parka, just like all the others. There was a pecking order; the lads on the steps were older or bolder. I watched the display from the sidelines, desperately wanting to join the throng on the steps but also afraid of doing so. I was a Saturday boy at Woolworths and saving up for a scooter. Next year, I told myself, I’ll join in.



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