It’s raining and I’m sitting in the car waiting. I’ve finished the newspaper, which is full of sport and t.v. personalities I’ve never heard of. I’ve listened to the radio until I can’t stand it any longer and I’m now staring through the windscreen at the pouring rain and the traffic on the road below. And I may have an hour to wait yet, who knows?
I’ve put the car in a spot as far away from the supermarket entrance as possible, to avoid the inept manoeuvres of the intellectually challenged morons who simply can’t bear to walk more than five yards between the car and the supermarket and then back. Watching their bizarre attempts at parking is, in its way, an entertainment in itself but it does pall after a while. The desire to rant becomes almost unbearable. At the able bodied drivers who park in the disabled bays, out of pure idleness; at the super lazy, who block the aisle, leaving the engine running while they queue for the cash machine; at the terminally unaware, who reverse without looking and who appear to have no spacial awareness whatsoever. The need to hurl myself, screaming obscenities, out of the car and into their faces, violently remonstrating to them about the error of their ways, becomes overwhelming after a while. So I’ve parked as far away from them as possible; for the sake of my, and their, health.
The rain is worsening by the minute and puddles are forming in the road, where passing vehicles send up fountains of spray, without, of course, reducing speed in the slightest to accommodate worsening driving conditions. Gazing at the road is less relaxing now, as visibility is reduced for me and for the drivers.
To the side of the car, through the driver’s window, is a thorn hedge, densely leaved and glossy, branches trembling under the weight of the rain. In the corner of my eye I see an odd movement and turn to look more closely. It takes a few moments before I manage to focus on the source but, finally, I can see a bird, apparently panicked about something, although I can’t see what. She’s a blackbird, fluttering from branch to branch, twig to twig, clearly in distress. I scan the ground around and about for signs of a cat, a dog, a fox perhaps. Nothing. The poor creature is frantic now and keeps returning to the same twig and crouching there. I watch helplessly. The rain is torrential and at times I can hardly see her, even though she’s only a few feet away. Foolishly, I open the window to see better. I am immediately drenched as the cold spring rain is blasted into my face but I have seen something, a glimpse of yellow.
It takes me a few moments to identify what it is and then, without thinking, I am out of the car and across the tarmac. About three, maybe four feet above the ground is a nest with chicks in it and, as I watch, it is filling up with rain. The shelter of the thickly packed foliage is simply not enough, in these conditions, to keep the rain out. Those chicks don’t stand a chance. It’s a hawthorn hedge and the thorns scratch my hand, arm and face as I lean in, cupping my hand over the nest to stop the chicks falling out, tip the branch so that the water in the nest runs out over my fingers and the nest is almost empty.
The blackbird has flown away at my approach but she hasn’t gone far and she is perched a few feet away, chirruping angrily at me.
“It’s not me, you daft thing,” I want to say. “I’m trying to help.”
The nest still has a little water in the bottom and the chicks are very, very wet. I shrug; what am I supposed to do about it? I’m already soaked to the skin; the water is coursing down my face and my shoes are filling up. Feeling a bit of a fool and glancing round sheepishly to see if anyone has noticed me, I get back in the car. No-one has noticed me. They’re all too busy dashing with their laden trolleys across the car park, into the paths of oncoming cars to notice me.
Back in the warmth of the car, I shiver, pull off my jumper and rub my face and dripping hair with it. My shirt is wet and I can feel water trickling down my lower back. Immediately, the windows start to steam up and I turn the radio back on. It doesn’t help. I’m thinking of those chicks, now invisible because of the steam on the windows. The water will be filling the nest. It’s no good; I’m going to have to do something.
In the boot there are bags of shopping, as well as the usual collection of things always left in there in case of need. This includes, ironically, an umbrella, which I had forgotten about and therefore didn’t use. I needn’t have got wet at all. I run a mental check on what is still in there and then get out of the car again. First, the umbrella and then over to the nest, which I carefully empty again. It’s already quite deep.
I inspect the jumbled contents of the boot and, struggling to hold the umbrella between my head and shoulder and risking permanent damage to my spine in the process, I start to swap shopping from one bag to another. Among them, I see a pack of kitchen roll. Careful to keep it under the shelter of the boot lid, I unwrap it and tear off several pieces, putting them on one side.
Now I have an empty plastic carrier bag and several sheets of kitchen roll. These I tear into strips and then leave on one side for the time being. At the back, tucked in under the rest, is a laptop computer in its case, which I drag nearer, searching the various pockets. After some impatient fumbling, I find what I hoped would be there; five paper clips of differing sizes. Bingo!
By now I’m on a mission. I’m my own little “A” Team. The paperclips go in my shirt breast pocket; the plastic bag is in my hip pocket and the umbrella, whose sole purpose in life, it seems, is to encourage the rain to focus on different parts of my body in turn, preferably giving me both curvature of the spine and pneumonia in the process, is closed and thrown without ceremony back into the car boot. Finally, I wrap the torn pieces of kitchen roll in their original wrapping and stuff them into my front trouser pocket. I slam the car boot shut and return to my soggy little chicks and their still frantic parent.
Oblivious now to the unceasing rain, I assess the situation and then leap into action. First, the carrier bag, which I spread across the branches about eighteen inches above the nest. Crouching, pushing my face as far into the hedge as I can, without losing an eye in the process, I reach in and twist the paperclips around it in strategic places, to hold it so that the water will run off to either side. It takes some time to get it just right and I have scratches on both hands, as well as down the side of my face, by the time it is done. As I step back and straighten up to check that it is really up to keeping the water out of the nest, my sleeve catches on something and there is a tearing sensation near my shoulder.
I barely notice. The bag needs a little adjustment to prevent water getting into it and dragging it down but that’s easily dealt with and now the chicks are in no danger of drowning. Gently, I empty the nest again. They are very, very wet, all three of them, their orange/yellow beaks gaping and their immature feathers plastered to their skinny little bodies.
Time for Phase 2 of Operation Chick Rescue. Careful to take out a little at a time and keeping it in its plastic wrapper until the last moment, I start to stuff little pieces of the kitchen roll into the bottom of the nest. I try very hard not to touch the chicks, although they feel no similar inhibitions, pecking at my fingers, no doubt under the impression that they are fat, juicy worms. The first few pieces of paper are immediately soaked by the water remaining in the bottom of the nest and I take them out again and drop them on the floor for now.
I gradually create a warm, soft, dry lining for the nest and, finally, risk giving each chick a gentle dab or two with the remaining paper, to take off some of the surface water. I am desperately afraid that the mother, who has been hopping from branch to branch some feet away, giving typical blackbird warning cries, will abandon both nest and chicks because of my interference. It was a risk I had to take because otherwise they would have drowned and she would have had neither chicks nor nest left to abandon. They might still die of the cold and wet but I’ve done everything I can think of.
I go back to the car and gradually become aware of how cold and wet I am. My hair is plastered to my head; my clothes are truly soaked, even down to my underwear and socks; my shoes squelch when I walk. I tip a bag of shopping out into the boot and spread the plastic bag on the driver’s seat before I get in. It’s a hopeless gesture really. I use my jumper, which I had left in the car, already damp, to dry off as much as I can. It’s not much. I turn on the engine and put the heater on full blast because I’ve suddenly realised that I’m cold too.
There are smudges of blood on my jumper from the scratches on my face and hands, which have now started to sting. The germolene is in the first aid kit in the boot. It can stay there. There’s a tear about an inch long at the top of my right shirtsleeve and I’m sitting in the car, shivering. The windows clear of steam after a few minutes and I look over to my makeshift shelter in the hedge. It appears to be holding up well and, as I look, an adult bird appears, beak full of who knows what delicious items and she bobs under the sheltering carrier bag and into the nest. I feel myself beaming.
My phone rings, making me jump and I fumble to answer it.
“Hullo,” I say, my eyes still on the nest.
“Hullo. Where have you been? I’ve called twice.”
“Oh. Sorry. Didn’t hear it.” Which is true but not easy to explain.
“Well, anyway, I’ve finished, Can you come and pick me up?”
“Yes, of course. Where shall I meet you?” I drag myself back to real life.
“Well, from the hairdressers of course. I don’t want to get my hair wet do I?” There’s a tinge of impatience in her voice.
I look at myself in the rear view mirror, wet hair, scratched face, shirt torn and soaked, shoes still bubbling and squelching, beaming grin.
“Of course,” I say, putting the car in gear, ”I’ll be right there.”