This chalet in West Bay is called ‘Sunset’.
‘Sunset’ is on the northern edge of the lagoon formed when the river Brit meets a kind of barrier with sluice gates which prevents it, I suppose, from washing away the rest of the town or something. On the other side of the lagoon, you can people-watch for hours – they cross and re-cross the bridge, and as you gradually relax into a more natural pace of life you can spin imaginings about who they are, where they’re off to or returning from, whether they will get or have got whatever it was they are or were hoping for… But mostly you can watch seagulls.
I’ve always thought of them as sea-thugs, and I haven’t entirely modified this opinion. In their natural element, the air, they’re certainly graceful, even beautiful, like penguins in the water; but standing still they are menacing, their cold staring eyes looking as if they’ve been reincarnated from somewhere down the Jurassic Coast and want to take revenge. (They are dinosaurs, you know.) And floating, they just look petulant.
The pit bulls of the shore. You can see about ten of them in this picture,
but there would often be thirty or forty. You will know from the media of their aggressiveness and uncalled-for territoriality, but it’s a bit scary to see them operating at full tilt, against each other. A few hours’ observation, though, revealed some subtleties. There seemed to be two separate flocks, and a queuing system was in operation. One bunch would graze, squabbling, on the plankton or whatever it is, whilst the others would perch on a couple of nearby rooftops, garnishing them with guava as they waited their turn at the feeding grounds.
And the noise! I worked out after a while that they have a vocabulary of five words, four of which mean “I’m angry!” [on a scale from “I’m rather cross” to “I’m spitting feathers (yours!”)], and the fifth of which means “please, I didn’t mean to [insert infringement as appropriate, e.g. ‘steal your chip’, ‘crap on your car’, ‘crash-land on your breakfast table’]”. (I discovered their attempt at a dawn chorus later.)
Finally, they’re devious. Oh yes. This particular character had devised a trick of perching on the wall, looking as plaintive as a Jurassic throwback is capable of looking. It had only one leg. We were starting to feel some sympathy for this evident runt-of-the-litter, being tempted to toss it a crust, when I caught it in the act:
The little bleeder was faking it! Talk about refugees on the Underground! I half expected it to hold up a sign saying “CRIPPLED. HOMELESS. FOUR CHICKS. PLEASE HELP ME”, before flying off to one of those penthouses across the bay.
So all in all, I wasn’t warming to them. That is, until the real pit bulls turned up. Human sort. There were about eight of them – four male, two female, assorted sprogs. Alpha Dweeb launched an inflatable dinghy and proceeded to row straight into the floating gulls, uttering his distinctive loud, hoarse, threatening cry, echoed by his onshore companions. He circled the lagoon over and over for about an hour, plainly bent on disturbing as much peace as he could find, egged on by the rest of the pack. The gulls at first shrugged and flew away, but some invisible line – who knows the mind of a seagull? – was crossed, and they decided enough was enough.
One by one, they started to swoop – at first at some height, then progressively lower, until they were no more than six feet up. Alpha Dweeb thought this was hilarious, and began to swipe at them with his paddle, cackling. I thought of calling out a warning – they can take out an eye or rip off an ear without breaking wing-flap – but decided it would be unfair to oblige the poor lads to have to hurl yet more abuse around, so I left well alone. Eventually someone shouted “PUB!” (one of the few intelligible sounds I heard) and they packed up and left.
So, I still wouldn’t feed the gulls, but I did end up slightly more benevolent towards them.
Feeding the ducks is okay, though.