Everybody loves garden wildlife – but many people don’t like it in their own back yard.
My neighbours are not insensitive to nature. They think wildlife is fine. In its place. Its place, however, is somewhere else – not in, on or over their home.
We were gossiping recently when we were distracted by a flypast of the ‘Green Arrows’, a small squadron of ring-necked parakeets. I smiled. My neighbour winced. “You must agree, Bill – that is a horrible noise,” he said. I did not.
“They’re going to cull them,” enthused the lady of the house.
I disillusioned her. “No, they’re culling monk parakeets. Ring-neckeds are here to stay.”
“But that dreadful noise! It’s like, it’s like…” She searched for the right simile. “It’s like a dentist’s drill!”
I was taken aback – not by the vehemence of her outrage, but by the inappropriateness of the comparison. A dentist’s drill? The call of the parakeet could perhaps be likened to a screeching banshee or a jay with a loudhailer, but a drill? “Think yourself lucky you don’t live in Australia,” I muttered, where all kinds of avians make a racket in town gardens.
So, my neighbours don’t like nasty noises. Well, neither do I, especially the most intrusive, ear-offending, teeth-tingling and unnecessary noise of modern times: the roar of the leaf-blower.
And here’s the irony. From whose garden does this emanate? My neighbours’! It seems to me that there are people who enjoy watching wildlife but not living with it.
The bloke on the other side loathes woodpigeons. He once prompted calls to 999 by firing fusillades of gunshots from his garden.
When I enquired what he was doing, he replied: “It’s the pigeons. They keep messing on the garden furniture. It’s okay – the shots are blanks.”
I know that woodpigeons produce purple poo that quick-dries to the consistency of reinforced concrete, which can desecrate both garden furniture and windscreens, but that is no excuse for sitting in your town-house garden, blasting away. As the police told him.
It’s all a question of attitude. Just as one man’s weeds are another’s wildflowers, one man’s pests are another’s ‘pets’.
Next door’s wasps are likely to feel the fatal thwack of The Sunday Telegraph, while mine are coaxed into a wine glass with a postcard and released to freedom.
The velvet-furred family of baby rats that played among my gnomes two years ago were as cute as any mice, but next door muttered about “getting a man in”. I suspect he did. I haven’t seen a rat since.
I am also sure that somebody “got a man in” last year, when three fox-cub corpses were found in various gardens. Though I don’t believe that it was next door, because they have become rather fond of our local fox. This is despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that he is a bit of a scamp.
Recently one morning, I heard an incensed curse from over the garden fence: “That bloody fox!”
“What’s he done now?” I asked, with appropriate neighbourly concern.
“The damn thing’s gone and stolen my slippers!”
“The fox came into your house?”
“No. I left them out on the patio, and he’s had ’em!”
I had to chuckle. So did his wife. Eventually, so did he.
“I’ll have to take it out on the leaf-blower,” he sighed.
The cacophony of my neighbour’s infernal machine almost masked the startled squawking of half a dozen panicking parakeets that had been dangling on my peanut feeders.
As they swooped over my neighbour he looked up, and I swear I could read his lips: “They are rather pretty – but what a horrible row.”
I agree. Like a dentist’s drill!
Former Goodie Bill Oddie, OBE has presented natural-history programmes for the BBC for well over 10 years, some of them serious and some of them silly. This column may well be a bit of both.