I witnessed an amazing event earlier this week. I was walking along the canal path in Edinburgh, near Fountainbridge where the waterway ends, when I noticed something rapidly scurrying across the path in front of me, before just as swiftly plunging into the water. It all happened so fast that I was temporarily dumbfounded and when I refocused I saw that it was a rat, speeding through the water. The body was partly submerged, with a long tail floating behind and by its size I figured that it was a fully formed adult. As a youngster I had been terrified by the stories of how dangerous a water rat's bite and even worse, its pee, was, as we spent our summers 'doon the burn'.
I still vividly remember the sound of rustling and then a splash as one of the gang shouted 'water rat' and we all ran in fear of our lives. However, I have grown to suspect that these supposed 'water rat' encroachments were nothing other than one of the older weans furtively hurling stones into the rushes and water in order to spook us younger ones. And it worked.
As our rat sped across the water, I noticed from the corner of my eye a massive seagull, mid-dive. Its undoubted target being the rat. Everything happened in a matter of seconds, the seagull bared its claws as it moved towards the water ready to snatch up what looked surely to be the doomed prey. Just as it was about to lift it, the rat disappeared with a plop under the water. My stomach flipped in the way it used to do at the side of the burn when we heard the splash and ran as youngsters.
The rat had prevailed against its predator. I'm not ashamed to say that it was an emotional moment and I was relieved that it had happened this way. The rat, who I had previously always seen and thought of as vermin, living in dirty conditions and providing a constant threat to me as a child, was the prey and for that was the underdog. Naturally for me, I became its champion.
Rats have always had a bad press. Looking back as far as the Middle-Ages, they were blamed as carriers and spreaders of the Bubonic plague, a reputation they have not to this day been able to shake off. Seagulls, to be fair, are not the most popular of creatures either, especially at the seaside where they are apt to dive bomb and snatch up chips, or worse still, to drop guano on unsuspecting day trippers. However, which one of these issues is more likely to affect the population as we move out of lockdown? Exactly.
As I wandered along the canal path still in disbelief at what I had witnessed, it occurred to me that on this walkway, a similar food chain or to be more accurate, hierarchy was being forged. With dog walkers, bicyclists, runners and casual walkers (or non-dog walkers as I refer to them) each vying for primacy. This struggle though, to be fair, really annoys me, as clearly dog walkers should have priority over the others. Given they are on the canal path in an altruistic, caring capacity, tending to the welfare of the companion animal with whom they share their home. The others are, you could say, a bit self-serving. However, I confess, I have yet to see anyone from any of the tribes described above attempt to eat anyone from any of the others.
Back to the seagull. I have since formed the image in my head that maybe it could have caught the rat but deep down it didn't want to. As a benevolent predator, it was making a show of going for it so its fellow gulls did not suspect. This was a perhaps a seagull that appreciated the balance of nature and respected other creatures' right to live and thrive, not to be killed, oppressed or supressed. Perhaps that being possible, this seagull and its conduct might be a lesson for us all. What a lovely thought.
So that was Easter that was. Interestingly, what seemed to worry people most was that the shops ran out of chocolate eggs, bunnies and there was a shortage of hot cross buns, all of which have nothing to do with what it is all about. As far as the egg shortage is concerned, having grown-up when the eggs were hard-boiled, dyed different colours and had faces painted on them, I do not feel much sympathy for those complaining about loss. But maybe a hard-boiled egg is not considered a childhood treat these days.
So far being single, ancient, vaccinated, with no close family afflicted, the pandemic year has been annoying, depressing but not one in which I could claim to have suffered. However, it has had its problems like those that happen when technology lets one down.The sewing machine the late Betty Hutton used to sing was a girl's best friend. I wouldn't know about that, not being a girl, although my mother used to spend a lot of time on her Singer, turning the handle to make it work and getting a sore shoulder as a result. Those were the days when women made their own clothes.
My best friend is my landline telephone. Recently BT has installed fibre optics in this part of town and while my computer has not been affected, my landline telephone has died. My broadband needs that line and my computer is operating perfectly well, but I have had for some three-and-a-half weeks, and still counting, a dead phone. Ring me and you get the answering machine to be told I am out please leave a message. But I don't receive it and cannot check on whether there have been callers or messages left, with those callers thinking I have, at the worst, died or am just rude.
Once upon a time, one talked to the operator about faults by dialling 100 but these days you go to the BT website which does not give someone to talk to if it can help it. Instead, there is a list of questions, the answers to which it is assumed will solve everything. Eventually, having avoided the broadband trouble shooting that the system was determined to believe was causing the problem, I discovered how to check on the state of the landline phone. This told me there is a major outage in my part of town and BT's engineers are working to resolve it by the end of the week. The next time I checked the date had changed and on it goes ever farther into the future. I did once get what I wanted – a voice. I explained the problem, adding that I had no family to fix it for me and was, as the voice should know, much too old to understand how to negotiate the site. 'Do not say you have no family,' replied the voice. 'You belong to the BT family.'
The customer relations adviser who dreamt up that little line for the book of answers for general use when dealing with angry callers should be strangled – preferably with the cord of a landline phone. Nor have my neighbours been of any help. When asked whether anybody else had a dead phone, they all said they only used their mobiles.
These days it is the fashion for people from tiny tots by way of students to senior citizens to complain on television that lockdown has affected their mental health. Until my phone went dead, I thought they were just saying what the interviewer wanted them to say. Silence may be golden, but if this one goes on much longer I too will fear for my mental health. If I am found self-strangled by a landline telephone cord, blame BT. And now I am going to go boil some eggs.
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