This Gull knows which side her bread is buttered…

First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 14th August 2020

And you thought it was only M**ST*N that caused outrage.

I have recently come across another issue that brings on the invective. “I hate them,” said an acquaintance recently, with the sort of vengeance I would reserve for someone who’d wiped out my entire family. “I love them,” says my friend Janice, mistily, declaring when I send her a photo of one washing his feet: “He is beautiful.”

I am talking, of course, of those flapping, squawking, Marmite-creatures – the Thanet Herring Gulls.

I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but poking about in local groups online, I have been astonished by the level of passion they arouse. People claiming they are vermin (actually they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), people wanting to shoot them or give them birth control, others saying they are driven insane by the noise. It’s called ‘Living by the Seaside’, love. Would you rather put up with inner-city fumes and sirens wailing all night?

Gulls can be trying, I agree. Especially the seagull kids. Two of which are tromping about, incessantly squeaking and trying to chuck my flowerpots around, as I type. My neighbours probably assumed we were mid-domestic the other afternoon when I was shrieking “That is IT! Get out, Get out, you b*****d!”  In reality, the bigger of the Gull-kids had just uprooted a pansy for the fourth time. I think he is attracted to its lime green pot.

Bracing myself, I will confess: I have fed the seagulls for years. I see them as the perfect eco-food-disposal-system and one which means we have no food waste at all. Anything vegetable-based goes in the compost, but each evening I carry all meat or fish scraps – including the scrapings from plates – up the garden on to a specific patch of grass, they are already watching. There is a brief Hitchcock-type flurry and pow, it’s all gone. With nothing left to fester unpleasantly in the bin. I threw that horrible brown, council-issued slop bucket back into the recycling years ago, the very day it arrived.  And thank God I did, in this heat.  

There are drawbacks to this method, for sure. Once you’ve started, it’s hard to stop. The latest family adopt us as a food bank every year, and pretty much insist on getting their rations. In the summer, if I want to leave my backdoor open, I block the opening with a chair. Otherwise, what is probably now a 10th generation gull will wander nonchalantly into the kitchen and finish off the cat’s food or stroll into the dining room in case there’s anything else to be had. My garden pond has to be covered with netting all year round; I occasionally have to hose down poo.

So, yes, I am stuck with them. But if you disapprove, as so many do, think of it this way. Come winter when the seafront pickings dry up, and the blighters are here in force, it’s my kitchen window they’ll be banging their beaks on. Rather than yours.

I AM thrilled to hear that the Dalby Café in Cliftonville has scooped a Traveller’s Choice award from Trip Advisor, a recognition that puts it in the top 10% of rated restaurants across the world. Not just because I love the Dalby – home of the best breakfast for miles – but because this accolade is a triumph for the importance of getting the basics right. Owner Mark Ezekiel told the Isle of Thanet News that the café spends “about £200 a week on good butter.” Oh, if only they all would. The benchmarks of a fine breakfast are many – thoughtfully-cooked eggs, decent coffee, proper bread etc – but for me, it’s whether they use actual butter – rather than that margarine muck – that’s the real deal-breaker. I’ve breakfasted all across the Isle and been disappointed in how many establishments will serve up Flora – or worse – and think that’s OK.  When it so clearly isn’t. I’d always pay more for the real stuff and shell out over the odds to get quality butter at home too (my current favourite being the French sort with sea-salt crystals. Wonder if that will survive Brexit?). Good-quality butter transforms everything it touches, whether you spread it or cook with it – and I do both. It’s probably why the seagulls keep on coming …

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