Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. If your name is Malvolio or ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt you can legitimately make such a claim, but what about all those others who go in search of greatness for its own sake?
I have no problem with them. Ambition can be a curse, but it can also offer motivation and inspiration in the pursuit of excellence.
You see, I don’t care how ambitious or star struck or bohemian or avant-garde or downright quirky people might be, just so long as they aren’t interfering with my life or hurting others.
But what, I hear you ask, about those ambitious people who seek to interfere and, in some cases, actually govern our lives?
These people are different. These people are politicians, irrespective of their particular brand of rhetoric or grandiose titles or clawed responsibilities. They are politicians, and would smell the same by any other name. Presidents, ministers, prime or otherwise, secretaries of this, secretaries of that, judges, magistrates, mayors, councillors, committee members, the list goes on ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
The Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, a man not unfamiliar with ambition, once joked that ‘the desire to be a politician should actually bar you from ever becoming one’. I have to agree.
While understanding the need for responsible government, I do feel that politicians should be reluctant servants rather than ambitious masters.
With that said, I guess the fact that I have clashed with these people throughout my life will come as no surprise to you.
This was just one of many such occasions.
Now, I have always loved animals. I feel that as, arguably, earth’s most intelligent life form the human race should look after and care for its fellow creatures. I also believe that this responsibility should encompass every creature, from the tiniest insect to the greatest mammal. . .
And that brings me to seagulls.
I can understand how Daphne du Maurier gained inspiration from Cornwall’s sea birds. They are noisy, quarrelsome, impudent, larcenous, aggressive, and, given half a chance, will crap all over both you and your ice cream.
But, despite all that, or maybe because of all that, I rather like them.
When my wife and I lived in Cornwall, we had a family of seagulls living in our chimney, or to be more precise between the chimney pots. My wife, Pam, christened the mother ‘Jackie’, don’t ask me why, and ‘Jackie’ became a sort of extension to our family; or to be more precise, we became an extension to hers.
Every now and then we would hear a high-pitched squeak coming from the chimney breast, and know that ‘Jackie’ would soon be knocking on the door, because she had another fledgling to feed.
You don’t believe the ‘knocking on the door’ bit? I promise you it’s true. I’d be upstairs, working in my study. Pam would be downstairs, working in hers, and we’d hear it. . . a tap, tap, tapping on the French doors leading to our garden.
Into the kitchen we’d go, and there would be ‘Jackie’; sitting on the back step, peering through the glass, and waiting for her food. Over the years it became something or a ritual. Just as, a few weeks after that, the appearance of mottled infant with neck not yet fully extended, and proud mother warding off all the other seagulls, would herald a welcome cessation to the tapping.
Which is part of the reason that I became so incensed when I received a letter from Cornwall County Council, ordering me to stop feeding the birds.
In truth there was something of a history to it, because a few years prior to that my neighbour – a man I was never especially enamoured of – extended the spikes he’d installed on his roof, to include the fencing between our two properties.
On the roof he’d installed them to impale the webbed feet of seagulls. On the fence he’d installed them with the specific purpose of impaling my Burmese cats.A major row ensued. I threatened to impale a specific aspect of his anatomy with one of his own spikes, and we didn’t speak a civil word to each other from that day forward.
But then, as with so many petty conflicts, the situation worsened.
Apparently my interfering neighbour had decided to escalate our particular Cold War, to open confrontation at the thirty-eighth chestnut paling. To this end he brought in the not inconsiderable interference of Cornwall County Council’s very own Joseph Stalin; to dictate how I, and my extended family, lived our lives.
‘Stalin’ advised me that he had ‘received reports’ of me feeding birds, and in particular feeding seagulls. He went on to say that I should immediately desist, or face the considerable wrath of the elected ‘local authority’, which I assumed to be something akin to the tanks rolling into Prague in 1968.
I wasn’t having that.
I wrote to the council, and explained that I fed all birds, not just seagulls. I pointed out that this included sparrows, robins, thrushes, starlings, jackdaws, crows, pigeons, wrens, swallows, house martins, and even the occasional disoriented pheasant.
I then went on to advise him that I had the United Nations on my side, otherwise known as The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I finished my letter by suggesting that, if he knew of a specific law against feeding birds, he should quote chapter and verse of said law, and I would obviously comply.
Having tried and failed with the battering-ram approach, our very own Secretary to the Cornwall County Council Presidium then tried reasoning. He wrote of the very real dangers to life and limb, and enclosed some press clippings of seagulls apparently attacking human beings.
While loving the aforementioned Daphne du Maurier, I did feel that he and the various ‘local rags’ might be confusing fact with fiction. I wrote and explained that, if idiot tourists waved their Cornish Pasties around like bait in a trap they shouldn’t be entirely surprised if hungry birds tried to steal them.
I then went on to ask the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. . . Which is the more aggressive, a hungry creature or a well-fed creature?
I didn’t hear any more for another eighteen months, but then received a second missive from another of Stalin’s Presidium protégés, ordering me to stop feeding the seagulls; it was almost like ‘Groundgull Day’.
I referred him to my earlier correspondence with the council, and heard nothing more.
And that was where we concluded matters; a sort of Cold War stand-off, Cornish style.
As with the cessation to hostilities in Korea, our cessation to hostilities was never formally negotiated. My neighbour and I still glared at each other across the spike-encrusted thirty-eighth paling, and the council presumably sat seething in their Kremlin chambers; no doubt awaiting a time when they could bring in some sort of legally-enforceable bye-law to prevent anyone flouting their authority and feeding birds.
For her part ‘Jackie’ showed no sign of moderating her procreational activities, and continued to tap on the door at shamelessly-regular intervals.
Now that I no longer live in Cornwall, I do miss Jackie and her broods, and I often wonder whether or not she still taps on the door of my old house.
I also wonder whether or not the new owners continue to feed her, as we did, or if they lie awake at night dreaming Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock inspired nightmares, of the sinister Bodega Bay and a wild-eyed Tippi Hedren.
I do hope, for both Jackie and their sakes, that it’s the former.
Have a good one