Round Robin: A Christmas Adventure.

If I could imagine my age I must have been about nine or ten, and it was the hottest summer ever, when the songbird thrush fell from the window ledge outside my house and onto the slabbed path at my feet. Then again it might have been a plague beaked starling with plumage like an oil-slick, for such are the tricks of memory. I picked it up, intent on saving it-although I wasn’t quite sure how-but dropped it just as quickly as the fleas, knowing more, ran from it to me.

I’d just finished watching Wallander and as newsreaders and weathermen (or women) seem to love telling us, it’s the coldest ever December since records began. As the last one on earth not yet hibernating that singular joy of taking the dog for a walk fell to me. I usually take him on a fixed circuit around the old railway ditch and round by the fenced in canal. The grassy knolls were hidden under snow. Dogs, of course, are like humans, they can shit anywhere. The night before last he was on the canal chasing a fox. I can assure you there was no cracked ice rescue plan I was off to my bed regardless. Last night I was miles ahead of him, keeping my pecker up with chewin’ tobacco and lascivious thoughts when I heard a thump and something scrambling about. Usually, that means a grey squirrel. They usually panic when they see the dog and jump from the tip of one branch to another, like Tarzan, only quicker, or scramble from the fence on the canal and run vertically up the walls at the side of the houses. Sometimes they pause and look back and then panic some more when they see the dog running back on forth on the footpath barking as if it’s going to run right up the wall after them. The dog’s not that daft. It just likes running and barking. I like neither so the thought of a sideshow at night with a mad barking dog and a demented squirrel didn’t fill me with Christmas cheer. I saw a shadow scrambling in the snow by the low metal fence on the corner of the flats, erected presumably to keep dog-shitters out. Anarchistic dog owners of course, defied such municipal measures by flinging sticks over and encouraging said dogs to jump over fences, -covering their eyes first in case they were put off by the sign- but in the main its proved effective in that dogs now shit directly onto the pathway. My eyesight is terrible even with my specs on. I couldn’t see anything at first, but the human, like any other animal is hardwired to detect motion. Then I saw it, a little Robin Redbreast. Like any little bird in cold weather there metabolic rate is high, but they have no fat reserves so they need to keep moving and eating. It was late at night and minus seven so it could do neither and just keeled over. It scrambled about, flying and crashing, before I caught it. I cupped it gently in one hand. It weighed less than a 10p packet of crisps and with its little head-poking out I wondered if it was still alive. It was in my right hand and I’m right handed so my house keys were in my jacket pocket at that side. I tried to get my house keys out of my pocket with my left hand and the clumsy movements made its wings flutter. I got the door open, but then didn’t know what to do with it. We’ve got a cat and a dog so it would need to be kept away from them. I’d left a plastic butter container on the work-surface in the kitchen. I took it over to the sink and punched holes in the top with my left hand at the sink. Then I peeled little bits of bread from our Hovis loaf and put it in the container. The bird just fitted inside it with the lid down. I put the container on the kitchen table and looking for something to weigh the lid down put the downstairs’ laptop on top of it and turned the lights out. Then I thought what if the cat hears it scrambling about and knocks the computer off and what if the holes in the plastic are covered over with the lid of the laptop and it suffocates? I picked the container back up and holding the lid down cuts the four corners with scissors so that it would have air.

I then decided to put it in the living room, shutting the door behind me. I looked about for something to weight it down, but couldn’t see anything. I felt sorry for it not being able to see light, but thought that might calm it. We’d one of those fancy Christmas’ candleholders at the window. When I took out the candle it was a perfect translucent cage and I though that might be better than an old butter dish. All it needed was some kind of lid, but figured I could use my hand until I found something. I tipped the butter dish gently towards the candleholder and the bird appeared fluttering half in and half out. I was too late in catching it as it flew up and over to the other side of the room, hitting the glass on the French doors and scrambling up to the curtains. I carefully shut the living room door behind me.

My partner has a tendency to sleep when she’s in bed, but I’ve also got a tendency to talk when I’m awake so I told her about the bird in the living room. She’s one of those kinds of people that don’t want to read or hear about anything happening to animals in the newspapers or on TV. So I go to tell her about…she’ll say… ‘don’t tell me’ and hold her hand up. I’ll tell her anyway, of course, being part of the hunter/gatherer fraternity thinking it’s for her own good and usually laughing because it’s also a man thing. She asked me if I thought it would be alive in the morning and I admitted that the shock and the cold would probably too much, but being out of the cold for a few hours would give it a chance. She also asked me if I’d left it any food. I told her not to be daft. That would be like holding a knife to someone’s throat and asking them to eat a meal. She said I would, which I admitted to, but only if it was something I liked like chicken curry, but also admitted to sneaking into the living room and tipping some bread out on the windowsill.

It was still cold at 5.45am. I didn’t turn the lights on just sneaked into the living room like a boxer short wearing Santa. I thought the little Robin would be lying behind the couch, beside the Christmas tree. As soon as I walked around to look it flew over the other side of the room and battered itself off the windows trying to escape. I didn’t want to chase it. I pulled the curtains over the panels of the French doors. The two doors opened outward onto the decking and into the back garden. I opened them as wide as they would go. I figured if I walked towards the window it would fly past me and out into the light. But it kept trying to scramble through the glass. I didn’t think I’d be able to catch it a second time, but soon I had it sitting in my hands again with its little head poking out. It was still foggy with cold morning mist and well below freezing. I placed it carefully down on the table on the decking. It seemed to slide on the snow then took off scooting up and away over the rooftops and out of sight.

My next project is to fit the cat, who is fat and self satisfied as a banker with cat-wings and see if I can boot it up in the air high enough so it too followers the migratory path.