Green Parrots, Yellow Diversion signs…
One of the main tasks of our job is to keep focussed and try to ignore the myriad of distractions assailing us from every angle. We have to deal with other vehicles, pedestrians, cycles and motorcycles coming up both side; and there are all those yellow signs informing us of diversions and closures that we feel compelled to read every time we pass one. I recently had another distraction as I made my way into the West End to start my working day. I came down Avenue Road and made my way on to the Outer Circle. Just as I turned right I saw a flash of green. I looked up and saw a large green bird fluttering in the trees of Regent’s Park. It was bigger than a budgie but smaller than a parrot.
Was I seeing things? Did I imagine it? I checked out exotic birds on the internet when I got home. Apparently, there are lots of parakeets living wild in the UK. They get as far north as Manchester, but seem to prefer the slightly warmer, dryer, climate of the south. Parakeets favour the leafy areas around Richmond, Kingston, and Twickenham. So long as the weather doesn’t become excessively cold, parakeets can live quite happily here.
Many years’ ago I considered getting a parrot, but I wasn’t sure what the cat would think – and I still wonder who would win in a fight. I don’t have a lot of close-up experience with exotic birds, but I had a brief encounter when visiting a pet shop some months’ ago. While the wife went over to ask about rabbit food a cockatiel started pecking my sleeve. It then pecked my hand when I went to stroke it. It also spoke a few rudimentary words to me.
I don’t think London is home to the exotic animals said to be found in other areas of the country: wallabies, panthers, &c., but we boast a good range of birds. I saw a kingfisher one Christmas Day in Northampton. Driving up and down the M1 I often see birds of prey, and I’ve seen a red kite in Oxfordshire. Apparently, London landmarks such as the Tate Modern and Battersea Power Station are good places to observe the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon. This large bird of prey has no natural predators so can pretty much do what it wants. They now inhabit a range of urban areas around Britain.
I’m sure most of us have seen foxes out and about. I’ve certainly seen more foxes in London than in other towns; or in the countryside, where they’re meant to live. I’ve seen them in Southwark Street, New Bond Street, and St James’s Square. I once saw three in a Blackheath street in broad daylight, and I’ve seen one sitting on a wall at Paddington Station.
I don’t talk about it much, but I’ve actually spent a few years of my life living south of the river. One time I lived in Holmesdale Road, right by Crystal Palace football ground. One sunny afternoon I looked out on the garden to see a fox curled up at one end and a cat curled up at the other end. Sadly, my rented flat also became infested with rats. The bloke from the council said rats had become a big problem after they dug up the roads for the Croydon tram lines. I don’t know whether a cat might have sorted the rats out. My current house tiger likes his food prepared and cooked to strict specifications and wouldn’t lower himself to chasing rodents.
Yellow warning signs also thrive best in the urban environment. During the writing of this article I noticed signs at the top of Regent Street warning of a closure to facilitate the Christmas lights install, on October 17th. I kept re-reading the signs thinking there might be some mistake: maybe they meant to say November 17th? However old the signs are, we still feel compelled to read them, and we always feel disappointed: we don’t need to know about closures that happened in June and July, and we all know Torrington Place has been closed since November 9th, 2015 – there’s no need to keep reminding us of that black day. I look at those signs every time I drive around Russel Square just in case anything’s changed and Camden Council have changed their minds. The council haven’t changed their minds, so when in Bloomsbury all I can do is hope for a glimpse of the sheep and goats at Coram Fields to cheer me up.
Well, I now have exotic birds to look out for. I find it more rewarding looking for a flash of colour in the trees, than reading yellow warning signs. Those yellow diversion signs make me as sick as a parrot. Could the parakeets be taught to shout things out at Uber drivers driving down one-way streets the wrong way?