The orchard gull is a bird I remember from my childhood. It was often to be seen perched on the railings around the plot of what once had been a thriving orchard, now overgrown with weeds and nettles. The trees were dead or dying. The gull was alive and raucous.
It was a one-legged gull, its other leg a stump, having suffered a catastrophic bird injury. I admired its ability to balance on the railings. I admired, too, its inhuman savagery. Birds are not like us, not at all.
At a loose end one day when Harold Wilson was prime minister, I fashioned a doll orchard gull from a wire coathanger and cloth and rags and cotton wool and pipe-cleaners. I used lollipop sticks for the legs, snapping two-thirds off the length of one to represent the stump.
I finished making the doll at ten o’ clock in the morning, and went mincing off along the lane towards the orchard. I placed my doll on the railings, near to where the orchard gull often perched, though there was no sign of it that morning.
When I returned home, my Ma and Pa were discussing the death, recently announced, a month short of her ninetieth birthday, of Alice B Toklas. I remember how they got into a spat about her middle name. Pa swore it was Blossom, while Ma was sure it was Babette. Ma was right, but it was several days before she was able to claim victory, when the mobile library, with its reference books, came to our neck of the woods.
Late that afternoon I returned to the orchard to see how my gull doll was getting along. As I approached the railings, I saw that it had been rent asunder, torn to shreds, clearly with inhuman savagery. The orchard gull itself was nowhere to be seen, but I had no doubt it had attacked and destroyed my doll.
It pained me that the orchard gull had, plainly, loathed its likeness. I gathered up the few stray remnants of coathanger and cloth and rags and cotton wool and pipe-cleaners and lollipop sticks and returned home, resolved to make a more flattering replica.