Every morning, half a dozen or so large seagulls gather on the roof of the house opposite H’s study window. Well, perhaps “gather” isn’t the right word, since they’re never all there at the same time. They compete for the premium locations: the tops of the two chimneys. They chase one another off them with an intense campaign of plaintive squawking and swooping, their huge white wings practically glowing in the sunlight, or like cardboard cut-outs against a lead-grey sky. Sometimes, they bring a take-away breakfast, which they feast on at leisure, often in pairs.
My new friend, just a few doors away, is a grey tabby with a fondness for climbing motor vehicles. She’s often found sprawling on the roof of a car or mini van. Once, I even saw her promenade on top of a removals van. Whenever she sees me, she runs towards me, greeting me with a loud, protracted Miiaaaooooooooww! Miiiiiiaaaaaaaaoooooooooooowww!! The kind that makes passers-by turn around and give me puzzled looks. I scratch the right side of her chin, she cocks her head lower and lower, pressing against my fingertips, until it’s practically resting on the pavement. I start scratching the other side and she immediately straightens up and dives to her left, her eyes half-closed with pleasure. When I try and keep walking, she bounds ahead of me only to prostrate herself on the pavement right at my feet.
The first thing I do when I switch on my laptop in the morning, while drinking my hot water and lemon juice, is to go onto the Norwich Cathedral website and follow the links to the webcam spying on the family of peregrine falcons, and check what they’re up to. For weeks, I’ve watched the chicks go from bundles of white fluff with bright pink mouths to handsome, grey and white birds with forbidding, sunflower-yellow eyes and jet-black pupils. Now there’s a reality show worth watching. Now that the three surviving chicks are fully-fledged, you can see them circling the cathedral spire, surfing the wind, gliding up there, way above the rest of us. There’s something very focused and almost mathematical about the flight of a peregrine falcon.
There are many dogs in Norwich, and H and I have made up a classification system for them. There are the petits bouts de chien. I’m still not sure if these are actual dogs, or rodents mistaken for canines, at some point in History, by visitors from another galaxy, and so the misapprehension persists to this day. These include, mini-Yorkies, Dachshunds, and the least dog-like of them all – the Chihuahua. One struggles to fathom how any of them could have ever been bred from wolves. They have high-pitched, ear-drum-piercing barks, seem permanently nervous of their surroundings, and angry with you for being, in their view, so inconsiderately tall.
Pooches cover anything vaguely small or medium-size, fluffy, friendly, tail-wagging, undemanding, doe-eyed, sweet-natured, and – in H’s opinion – with long ears. Westies, King Charles Spaniels, and miscellaneous sweeties.
Hounds are those huge, naive-looking creatures that generally stand next to their owners with their mouths ajar. When I approach them to put my arms around their necks, they lift their bulks on their hind legs and place their heavy paws on my chest, making me lock my knees so I don’t fall over. Then they swipe my face (generally my mouth) with a soft, wet, tongue kiss.
Then there are the doggy-dogs, small to average build, highly-strung, purposeful, with a gravelly bark, always looking very busy, trotting ahead of their humans – the Artful Dodgers of the dog world. Jack Russells, Parson Russells, and other intense, no-time-to-waste kinds of dogs.
All other canines awaiting classification, we simply refer to as “dogs”.
When you take a walk by the river in the evening, bats whizz past the weeping willows, along the embankment wall, doing air acrobatics at phenomenal speed, as though someone were after them.
On the river, swans glide silently in pairs, stretching their necks towards you, then drifting away. You’re not worth their time if you have nothing edible to give them. In the past few weeks, fluffy grey cygnets trail behind them, trying to learn all about style, grace and dignity before their first birthday.