The phone rang on Sunday at its usual Watkin time, around 10.00am. Retreating to the study I arranged myself at the desk for a serious gossip.
“Can you come over, dear?”
It was ominous. He didn’t start with “My Dear Chris, How are you?…” Some affair of the heart needing my wise counsel? An urgent reading from Conrad or Shaw? Unlikely. The tone of voice was too sombre.
There was a lengthy pause.
“There’s a fucking pigeon loose in the Library…” He paused for a very long time. I imagine him now furtively looking round to check. “And it will shit on my books.”
Oriole and I jumped into the car with large sheets of brightly painted hardboard and a huge cardboard box. We parked in the Mews and crept slowly to the front door of number six where the ashen-faced owner was cowering, holding the door tightly shut.
“So good of you come. Be careful now.” He led us in and, almost immediately, ran upstairs, leaving us alone to spot and corral the beast. I thought at first this was a strategic move on his part to cover a potential exit. The poor terrified creature had come down the chimney overnight and was collecting its thoughts while perching uneasily on the early twentieth century Chinese screen mounted to the Lounge wall.
Our best bet, we agreed, was to open all doors and windows. Approaching the quivering bird in a pincer movement with a sheet of hardboard each, we thought it possible we would drive the pigeon down a corridor of space, away from the books and out of the kitchen window. It had indeed deposited small parcels of shit around the Lounge but not, as yet, on the books.
The open front door had attracted the attentions of a diminutive and powerfully formed builder in tight denim shorts whose appearance forced the bird to veer into the kitchen, where as far as Mister Watkin was concerned, it could shit as much as it liked. With a surge, it was out of the back door and up into the clear Brighton sky.
We congratulated each other on the success of the mission. And in due course, there was a sound of the lock on the bathroom door being drawn back, and a sheepish David Watkin made his entrance.
“Has it gone?” He glanced nervously around and began to check his bindings for smears. We had a coffee and were home before noon. Despite a regular policy of admitting he was a natural born coward, he always maintained he had just taken himself away that day because he was so useless at matters of dealing with animals. I told Scott and Jozef of the morning’s expedition. “You should see him with spiders..” said Scott.