“There’s no such thing as seagulls, they’re gulls.”
I’m told this a lot but I’m from a village in Lancashire on the rural–urban cusp, it’s not one thing or the other, no discernible identity but dull and unsexy instead, a tired sparrow’s wing of a place. I didn’t see seagulls as I grew up, so to me they mean the sea and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, pirates, journeys across the globe, adventure, birds carrying the souls of dead sailors and pursuing dreams cut short. In Lancashire there is no sea and instead ponds of gloomy black water solid with tadpoles in spring, but the rest of the year? Nothing.
I left Lancashire behind years ago and last month I was sat outside a Liverpool city centre pub drinking beer in the sunshine on a Saturday night watching two seagulls have fisticuffs over a discarded Happy Meal. It all felt very British and unapologetically northern, two lads squaring up to each other, chests stuck out, alpha males scrapping, each appalled at the affront of the other as they danced straight faced, yellow eyes unblinking, long curved scythe beaks jabbing the air. Those birds mean business; mean business.
I was at a gig in a flat nearby a few weeks before, three floors up on a warm evening, the windows open, you could see for miles, a lighthouse view of the city. The singers sang and played, the Anglican Cathedral chimed bells prettily, the seagulls flying overhead guffawing (or so it seemed to me). It was a very Liverpool night, the gulls and church bells stamping their own identity on it and making it theirs – and ours. The mix of people in the flat, the music, the ambience outside; it couldn’t happen anywhere else and was as romantic as Liverpool has ever been. It was beautiful.
Then two of the seagulls start shagging on the roof above our heads. It killed a part of me, a little bit; lowered the tone, at least.
But seagulls, I like them. I always vouch for the underdog, I can’t help it, and there’s so much anti-seagull propaganda and rhetoric now; seagulls are yanked down to the lowly level of asylum seekers and “that bloke down the road who’s never worked in his life, the arsehole”.
Nicked my chips once, the cheeky sods just swooped down.
They shit a lot, why don’t they ever stop shitting?
A seagull ate my hamster.
We’re dancing into David Cameron territory here, happily and easily, with immaculate quick step, in perfect time. Swarms of seagulls could be a thing if we try hard enough, with walls at Calais keeping them out. If only they were born as Zimbabwean lions with nerdy British sounding names, they’d be golden. As it stands, the anti-seagull brigade would wring Jonathan Livingston-Liverpool Seagull’s neck and stick him in an artisan pie with a craft beer brewed especially to match. Familiarity and shagging above peoples’ heads, it breeds contempt, that’s the seagulls’ problem. Maybe they need to make themselves a bit scarcer? Develop a less rustic palate, shift from junk food to quinoa, chia seeds? Go all hipster and authentic, rebrand themselves as gulls? People would fall for that.
In case you’re wondering, the fighting seagulls warring over the Happy Meal on that Saturday night, neither won. A patient pigeon sneaked in and scoffed the burger and chips while they flapped their wings at each other. There’s a lesson in there somewhere I think; for the seagulls and us.
(One thing I do know, experience dictates it, that the odds are both are sure to have got laid later on).