I wanted a pet, but not like this

"Ark!" We have a new resident at the Hovel: a fledgling seagull, who presumably fell out of the nest on the roof. I first find her cowering behind dead pot plant No 7 on the terrace while having a relaxing fag and listening to The Archers. (I am the one with the fag and the stupid radio programme, not the seagull.) Evidently, she has read my last column and knows that I have a dim view of seagulls who venture too far inland.

Laurie is delighted. "Can we keep her, can we keep her, can we keep her, please, please, please?" (She has decided early on that the seagull is an oppressed wimmin. Who am I to say otherwise? I dozed all the way through my seagull-sexing classes at school and have no intention of checking her out to make sure.) Laurie wants to call her Rebekah after some woman who's been in the news lately but I feel this is both an unwarranted libel on the poor bird and also lacks the avian note. So, rather lamely, but on the spur of the moment, I suggest Rebeakah and the name sticks.

“No," I say. "We can't keep her."


This exchange is repeated a few times until I give in. You know the drill. "OK, but you have to feed her and clean up after her."

I know from previous experience with children and their pets who's going to be doing the feeding and cleaning up.

At first, Rebeakah's parents, perhaps like Billie Piper's when she married Chris Evans, disapproved of the arrangement. Their disapproval mainly involved trying to peck my eyes out and shitting all over the place, but I am used to the ways of in-laws and we have now reached a fairly easy détente. After all, I am providing free board and lodging. Laurie, who I suspect believes in the innate goodness of the entire animal kingdom, thinks Rebeakah eats grapes. She does not. She eats bread and regurgitated fish. I didn't think this was going to be part of the plan - regurgitating fish to an unfortunate seabird at my time of life. I wanted a pet but not like this.

The vexing thing is that my gentler side has been exposed. To think that, only the day before, I was thinking of getting my dad's air rifle out of storage and blasting away at these pesky fowl until they got the message and moved to Thanet. Now, the whole bird world knows me as a soft touch. My friend H was recently delegated by her flatmates, presumably because she's the comeliest, to ask the downstairs neighbour if they could use his garden this summer. He said that it would be fine, if she gave him a blow job.

I got hugely indignant about this for about half an hour, until it occurred to me that maybe this neighbour was saying no in a way that didn't make him out to be simply mean-spirited (and which also carried the - admittedly faint - chance of getting a blow job). I, however, can't refuse to be hospitable. I don't seem to have it in me.

Flying the nest

So the Hovel's terrace fills up with seagull crap. As my children observe when they stay, it looks as though a scoop of chocolate ice cream has been put on top of a larger scoop of vanilla ice cream and then been allowed to melt - thus putting me off both chocolate and vanilla ice cream for the rest of the summer.

She has a penetrating voice, too, does Rebeakah. You can hear it from the other side of the building: "Ark!" It means “I'm hungry", but sometimes I think it means "I'm bored". Meanwhile, her parents are swanning off, or I suppose that should be seagulling off, to various parties and barbecues while I wonder whether the next shower of rain will be strong enough to sluice the poo away.

I am besieged by advice, except from where I want it. The RSPB passes me on to the RSPCA. The RSPCA says that all its lines are busy but if I have a fledgling bird knocking about the place, press 1. It is, ominously, the only option. Pressing 1 results in my being told to leave the bird alone, as her parents will provide.

Will they hell.

So what's in it for me? I think of Kehaar, the black-headed gull who somewhat improbably helps the rabbits in Watership Down. Will Rebeakah and I forge a lifetime bond, resulting in her being my loyal protector, following me around like one of Philip Pullman's daemons? Or is she just going to carry on going "Ark!" and eating me out of Hovel and home, while crapping everywhere? When and, come to think of it, how is she ever going to fly the nest?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the far right