I was standing outside yesterday (having a sneaky cigarette, naturally) when a flock of parakeets flew past me. I thought I was hallucinating for a moment. I’m not in the Tropics but in South East London. Then I remembered, there are colonies of parakeets all over London.
The urban myths are that they originate from a pair released by Jimmi Hendrix or that they escaped from Pinewood Studios during the filming of The African Queen. I prefer the latter explanation and like to think that these parakeets may be descended from a celebrity bird who perhaps had his stomach tickled by the steely Katherine Hepburn.
This is the kind of nature I like. Nature that’s close to a 24 hour shop, is in a grimy urban environment and in a place where there’s full reception on my mobile. It’s much safer that way.
Every morning a heron flies past my flat at about 7am. He’s huge, like a creature from pre-historic times. He glides over the courtyard at the back of my flat and I assume he’s on his way to work. I think he may be a commuter. He works long hours though. I’ve seen him returning at 7pm. He needs to get on to the ornithological union about his terms and conditions.
Two minutes walk from my flat is a little park with a lake. The lake is a water bird reserve and contains a variety of newborns at the moment. There are goslings with dense yellow fluff, clumsy little moor hens and a group of miniscule ducklings. These bring out the inner child in me and I can stand and watch them for ages. There’s a sign by the lake advising against over feeding the birds and this sign is a picture of a huge rat. This brings out the inner panicked housewife in me. I want to find the nearest chair, jump on and tie the bottoms of my trousers up.
An article in last week’s Time Out London did the same to me too. I never respond well to pictures of people holding up over sized dead rodents. I would have mounted the seat for ankle protection and screamed (a perfectly normal response to even the mention of a rat) but I thought that the other people on the train to Charing Cross might think I was odd.
At the weekend I saw a crow attacking a pigeon, pulling chunks of flesh out of its wing. It was a malevolent beast, mean and brooding yet beautiful with its shiny black plumage; like a pantomime villain. This reminds me of my love/hate relationship with the natural world and why I don’t watch wildlife documentaries. I always end up horrified by the expression on the little animal’s faces as they get eaten alive by lions and I end up perturbed. Why can’t they all be vegetarians? I suppose you just can’t get good quality Quorn antelopes in the Serengeti.
Yesterday I saw a dead fox. He was laid out on the window ledge of a big Edwardian house. He was magnificent and would have looked like he was just sleeping were it not for the little trickle of blood pooled around his mouth and the bone jutting out of his back leg. I squirmed a little at the sight but not at the corpse. I was more perplexed and disturbed as to why someone would have placed him on the window ledge. Surely a window ledge isn’t the ideal place to lay out a corpse? I’d hate to be that resident when they opened to the curtains. I’m not good with road kill.
The local high street on the way to work is a minefield too. As a child I hated visits to the local market in the Midlands town where we lived. There were always rows of dead rabbits hanging up and my father would show his usual sensitivity by singing ‘Bright Eyes’: the theme from Watership Down to me. The local high street has stalls with ‘boiling chickens’ hanging by their feet. These are plucked chickens with their heads still on but with jagged knife wounds through their scrawny throats. I’m not tempted by them.
As a child our house was a place that lacked safety from dead animals too. My father knew a man who knew a man who would provide him with game. I would skip into the pantry only to be confronted by a pheasant or a wood pigeon or a rabbit hanging by its feet. One time, memorably, I screamed to see a massive white goose hanging by its webbed feet. I suppose I should count myself lucky to have never walked in to find a deer hanging by its hooves.
I know its all part of the natural plan. The weak and soft get killed by the predators or the hazards. I don’t have to try to like it though, do I? I think for now I’ll stick to admiring nature in parks and stick to my humus and lentils. It’s safer that way.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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