Once, in another incarnation but in this life, I worked in a fishing village next to the great Atlantic Ocean.
It was a pretty village, steep-laned and geranium-hung, with impossibly picturesque whitewashed white-and-blue cottages lining its bowl-shaped progress to the sea.
At high tide small fishing craft moored in the greystone bay, regarded with measured approval by the Methodist chapel-turned -pottery and the old customs house.
At low tide, tanks at the rim of the bay held jewel-clear atlantic brine to accommodate the catches of crabs which provided some of the livelihood of the fishermen.
I worked at the top of the hill. I was that most unfortunate of creatures in Cornwall, a manager. Authority is dealt with in ingenious ways, down there on the peninsula which knows it is its own country. They generally, affably, ignore it.
Sometimes, they ignore it less affably than others: and it was on one of these occasions, when I had had a very bad day indeed, that I worked late in a desperate bid to show I was in charge, and then shut up shop and walked out to the car park with an ocean view.
I felt low, I will not dispute that. I seemed to be working from 5am to 10pm, providing all-singing, all-dancing leadership of what I considered to be a most superior kind: but in reality, I was digging myself a deep hole very fast indeed.
I turned the key in the lock. The dusk was falling, and light rain dampened what was a musty experience, on the whole.
I got into my car automatically and settled my bags and my heavy heart.
And then I looked up at the windscreen.
And I discovered that my view was irrevocably obscured by the largest splat of seagull poo any seagull has ever bestowed on any windscreen in the history of British Management.
I had no social media, 12 years ago, with which to trumpet my chagrin. I had no cloth: nor any wash-wipe sudsy water. It seemed I must use the doubtful windscreen wipers and the Cornish mizzle to persuade the grudging grey-white matter in the direction of the side of the screen, and make my moping way home peering though semicircular tram-lines of despair.
Misery hath no marker like a gull’s dung.
This week we have been staying by the sea, and once again these wonderful creatures have been making their presence known.
One sits stolidly on the lamp-post opposite our picture window. I would give anything to see what he was thinking. He just watches the tankers go by, and the tourists amble up and down the cliffs, and he emanates the impression that he is In Charge.
Others choose high vantage points. Those that can’t get rooves pick on the highest car and settle themselves comfortably for the day. They take off now and then to stuka-dive-bomb some poor fishing vessel which is attempting to get fish to the market on the quay. They stalk around, shouting.
Others monitor the snackers at the harbour. We bought bags of chips on Tuesday and ambled back past all the fishing boats, munching the distinctive yellow soggy potato delicacies which only a Britisher could love. I told everyone: don’t drop one, you’ll encourage the gulls.
Then I dropped one.
What to do? Turn, and make an exhibition of oneself by flapping at the Hitchcock-like flock of gulls which were closing in rapidly, each with just one chip in their line of sight? Or walk on and pretend, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that that chip was not yours, and that you were not the Bringer of Gulls?
I walked on, looking straight ahead. “Come on, children!” I trilled nannily.
But gulls aren’t stupid. If she’s dropped one chip, they reasoned beadily, she’ll drop another. We were accompanied all the way along the harbour wall by an airborne deputation, only just keeping its distance.
Yesterday any hint that seagulls are carnivores vanished in a puff of sea wind.
The sun has shone over the past few days: an unusual event. And so we have been eating outside on the deck with a stunning sea view.
There was a choice of leftover chilli from the day before or some nice cheese and tomato pizza. We ate, making companionable small-talk, there on the edge of the glistening channel.
Surprise is a gull’s chief weapon. From nowhere he swooped and grasped – not the meat chilli, too squidgy to get a good grip- but a hefty slice of cheese and tomato pizza. Seamlessly, without even landing, he hovered, and then winged his way to the neighbour’s lawn, where he knew we could not reach him.
He ate voraciously, without small talk, watching his back.
And the last thing we saw of that gull, he was pottering into the neighbour’s house to take a look.