I opened the bedroom window to throw out some tat.
The tat is the stuff and dregs of my pockets: dried skin (heel and finger), screwed up Co-Op receipts, mini Post-Its; the waste bin in the bathroom seemed too far away. The Velux window is hinged from the top, quite smart but weighty so I can sneak out stuff without it being seen. Two floors down the garden would be a desert of slate gravel speared by two dried and sickly palms, but for the unopened celandine and stonecrop greening out of winter slough. It belongs to The Downstairs, who aren’t above reminding us tenants of their ownership. It’s Sunday in its January grey when the day hardly wakes.
From left, a dark arrow, dark, quick, barely an armslength below, an absence of light, flint-arrowed wings, silvery trine low on its back. It must have been haunting under the eaves. It’s ushered away by a plump and purple pigeon, beyond the Victorian villa opposite. It? The Collins Bird Guide says, Do not hope for or pretend reliable identification of all birds of prey in the field — ever. And anyway, who ever sees a bird of prey from above?
I clomp into the living room and announce to wife and daughter, “I’ve just seen a peregrine and I’m going out to see it I can see it again.” No-one says anything.
I followed where I’d last seen it, around the old soap factory alongside the railway line, looking up when I could, assuming I was on a hopeless chase, but at least I was out of the house. Then there, after a hundred yards or so, it is: it’s blackness etched into the colourless sky, being mobbed by a gang of grey gulls, much bigger than — him (not it: too small for a her). And then, flap and glide, he was gone.
I went back home, completing a circuit, still finding tat in my pockets. No-one seemed surprised that I’d seen him. A few days later the snow came.
photo from What’s That Bird? / Hayman, Everett / RSPB