Despite all that Ciara and Dennis could come up with between them, the wildlife in E14 has heard the call of Spring, and once heard, never forgotten. No matter that the waves on the dock outside my front window have whitecaps, that the spiders who live on the window have all huddled in the corners of the frames, that the trees in the garden are almost horizontal in the wind; furred or feathered, one and all, they know what season it is, and what they are meant to be getting up to in it.
It all makes for some truly shocking public misbehavior.
Reynard – where in London is there not a Reynard, I ask you? – goes trotting down the quayside of an evening, tail bushed and whiskers twitching; and just in case the fact that this is date-night somehow slips his mind, Mrs Reynard, or Mrs Reynard-to-be, rather, serenades us from the centre of the garden at 1am, sat there on her haunches as if she owned the place, shrieking ‘I want a boyfriend and I want him now!’ Cue the snapping on of lights all over the building, the wailing of children startled from their slumbers, and AirBnBers staggering out onto their balconies, peering down into the darkened garden, trying to identify the spot from which the desperate shrieks and screams are issuing and what on earth it is, down there, that can be producing them. Last time it happened, some newby, uninitiated in the ways of London wildlife, and convinced that somewhere down there in the garden, murder was being done, actually called the police. We all got back to bed at three-ish. Hey ho.
Then there are the seagulls. It’s too windy for them out at sea, so the dock at present is thick with them, squabbling and yawping, and performing the kind of aerial ballet just outside the windows guaranteed to drive a kitty-cat insane. Bird – by far the smarter of my two felines – hunkers down and watches them entranced, nothing moving but the ears; but Daisy (smaller, dumber) goes into a frenzy every time, leaping up onto the arm of the sofa, tail lashing the air, and doing this demented feline machine-gun impersonation – ‘Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-AH!’ – as if shooting the gulls down mid-air. Any one of them would be big enough to carry her off as the giant roc did Sinbad. Seriously, the idea of this cat lasting even five minutes out there on her own is absurd. There’s something about small seems to double-down in the natural world on feisty: shrews pursue each other through the chippings on the flower-beds, sending dusty puffs of bark into the air whenever they meet, like small atomic explosions; whilst the colony of wrens who have taken up residence in our otherwise undistinguished selection of spiky shrubs have territorial sing-offs and joust almost to the death. There are grebes out there on the water, a pair of them doing their springtime disco mirror-dance (head up, head down. Head up, head down. Head bobble, head bobble. Head up, head down. Big fish, little fish, cardboard box); prelude to tiny baby grebes, stripy as toothpaste and streamlined as if extruded from a tube. There are cormorants, too, also bobbing up and down as they fish (‘Guess where I’m, going to surface next! Nope, fooled you!’), then hanging themselves out to dry off like big tattered flags. Why Mother Nature thought there was a place for a non-waterproof diving bird in the grand scheme of things I have no idea, but no corner of the dock is complete without one of them at present, wings extended, baring their all. C’mon ladies, they seem to be saying. Smell me pits.
And then there are the coots. I should preface this by saying that technically, my neighbourhood coots are citizens of Millwall, and then further explain for those not up on English football that for years, the favourite chant from the terraces for any Millwall fan was ‘No-one likes us. No-one likes us. No-one likes us. We don’t care,’ sung to the tune of Rod Stewart’s We Are Sailing. During the worst of the bad old days of football hooliganism, Millwall was synonymous with getting your head kicked in. It’s moot as to how much, even then, Millwall deserved their lousy reputation; but clearly it was something in the water, because the Millwall coots are thugs. They’re bloody awful parents too, apparently, semi-starving their multitudinous broods of chicks until the weakest ones quietly die, but the anti-social behaviour sets in long before that. Let one Millwall coot spot another Millwall coot in the water at this time of year, and the pair of them round on each other, heads lowered, and power forward at ramming speed, like something out of Ben Hur, whilst the cootettes gather in a huddle to the side, squeaking ‘Leave it, Gary, leave it! He’s not wurf it, you know ‘e’s not!’ Not only that, but let any bit of seasonal bovver start up amongst the moorhens, say, or the resident mallards, and every coot on the dock streams toward the aggro at once. I’ve watched one have a go at its own reflection in a floating plastic bag, piling in with those comedy lobed willow-green feet in a slap-fest of fury. The amount of testosterone these daft birds have in their systems in spring-time is absurd. They’re positively fizzing with it, like an out-of-date yoghurt. No flipping wonder that they’re bald!