The ASBO gull

One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. I was ten years old when I watched it with my childhood friend, M. Such was the psychological terror inflicted upon me by that movie, that after it ended, I had to get M’s dad to drive me home even though I only lived around the corner. It took me a while to get over the trauma of The Birds. That said, I’ve since encountered things that, let’s just say, have triggered memories of that film.

The best thing about spring is the lighter mornings. When the radio comes on at 6.30am I no longer wake up thinking I’m in a dark cave with Heart FM’s Club Classics bouncing off the walls. The spill of daylight makes me want to spring out of bed and sing, The Hills are Alive like Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music. Okay, that’s a stretch. What I’m trying to say is that these days I have the feeling that I could leap out of bed if I wanted to. There is, however, a downside to lighter mornings and it has something to do with a particular bird.

Spring cometh and so do the seagulls. En masse. And they are loud. They also breed like rabbits. I know this because we have a nest somewhere at the top of our chimney. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was convinced that a baby had been stashed in the chimney flue. Every morning around 5am I’d hear these heartbreaking whines echoing out of the fireplace. I thought it was some sort of sign associated with the growing bump within, but I couldn’t figure out what. It was only when I heard the ear-piercing shrieks of a seagull swiftly following these mournful cries, that I realised a nest of baby gulls lay somewhere on our rooftop. It’s been the same each spring and summer over the last five years, and given I now have children, I know what one sounds like when it’s crying – and it sounds nothing like a newborn chick. Clearly, pregnancy – the first time around at least – did something to my hearing.

Listening to the seagulls’ calls should remind me of my childhood memories growing up by the sea. They don’t. Unlike their placid, coastal cousins, central London urban gulls are the equivalent of the ASBO hoody. They hang around in gangs. They intimidate. They’re prone to sporadic acts of terror – episodes which my Better Half and I have witnessed. Tippi Hedren’s well-documented ordeal while filming The Birds hardly compares to our run-ins with these feathered beasts.

Run while you can ...

Run Tippi, Run!

We’re lucky enough to have a roof terrace. During the first two years of our tenancy, a Dickensian representative from our landlord, the Howard de Walden Estate, was tasked with negotiating our annual rent. He would always start the (one-way) discussion with a preamble of how we had the biggest roof terrace in the area, before going on to inform me that he’d be increasing the rent by 10%. Part of that hike reflected, apparently, the benefit of having a large amount of private outdoor space. Benefit? What benefit? Just like the London mews house (who really wants to live in a freezing cold, cramped two bedroom house with barely any light?) the whole roof terrace thing is a total scam. In a heartbeat, I can cite four reasons for this:

(1) The hours of sunshine we get in this country severely limits its use. I can count on my fingers the number of times we have ventured outside.

(2) It’s south facing with no shade. When the sun does come out, within five minutes you feel like a roasting chicken.

(3) On account of the fire escape leading off it, I can’t exactly open up the doors and let my two children run free, as said fire escape is a steep, rickety staircase running down to a neighbouring roof. There isn’t a gate at the top of this staircase. When I asked the Howard de Walden Estate to install something to prevent my children from accidentally falling down, they refused, citing health and safety reasons. I know. Figure that one out …

(4) It’s home to a breed of psychotic gulls – and there’s one in particular who makes Daniel Day Lewis’ Bill The Butcher Cutting from Gangs of New York look like a teddy bear.

The fact that we rarely use this wonderful roof terrace is not only a travesty, but also a haven for the gulls. It’s their den. They can party party party like it’s 1999. All the time. And beware those who dare encroach upon their space. Come spring/summer, on the occasions we do go out there, we get attacked. Kamikaze seagulls circle above our heads before hurtling down towards us with the sole aim of pecking out our brains. They’ve even flung sticks and bones our way, performing their missile attack with such fearsome glee that if they had teeth, they would bare them.

One day, events took a strange turn. It was early evening. My Better Half and I were in our living room when we heard someone knocking on the door. Naturally, we went to answer it. But no one was there. Even so, the knocking continued, on and off.

Knock-knock, knock-knock.

Yet each time we went to the door we were faced with an empty hallway. On and on it went, until we realised the sound came from upstairs.

“I’ll go,” my Better Half said.

“Don’t!” I exclaimed, imagining a mad axeman lurking on the terrace.

My Better Half gave me The Look and went on his way. Well, I couldn’t let him go alone – you know – just in case he needed support to fend off said axeman. When I rounded up the stairs, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Both of us, for that matter, were transfixed by the sight.

A nutjob of a seagull had clearly decided to take things one step further by trying his hand at breaking and entering. There he was, whacking his beak against the French windows. When he saw us, he reared his head and flapped out his wings before uttering a shriek so primal that I would have legged it then and there. Except I was glued to the spot – I’d never seen anything like it. Forget The Birds, this scene was a combo of surreal and funny. And when I burst out laughing, the ASBO bird appeared to take offence, diverting his attention back to the windowpane with such ferocity that it pained me to see him use his beak that way.

We realised there was little we could do. Besides, the seagull had no chance of penetrating our double glazing. Eventually, we got bored of watching him pecking away, and headed back downstairs. Little did we know that our feathery Jihadi John had other plans.

Seconds later, he swooped down the side of the roof to one of our kitchen windows where he next set his beak to work. That the seagull worked out another way to get at us was actually quite unnerving. Yet there was little we could do. He wasn’t the type of bird you could just shoo away. He knew what he wanted, and what he wanted was to get into our flat and attack, attack, attack.

He must have been there for fifteen minutes, maybe longer, before he finally gave up and flew away. We never encountered him again. Maybe he was the most rotten apple of all within the seagull clan. Maybe he was a lone operative, a psychotic gull who decided to have a bit of fun at our expense. Who knows? Still, the seagulls plague us, either with their dawn wailing or surprise missile attacks. Perhaps it is a sign after all – that maybe, after five years here, it’s time for us to leave.

Until next time!


The Silent Children  - Amna K. Boheim