Last Wednesday was International Migratory Bird Day and I speak for the indigenous avian community when I say we’re happy to see the back of those annoying ingrates. I have never seen such arrogance and entitlement. Disrespecting international borders, they come over here every summer, exploit our good weather and do absolutely nothing to uplift the local economy.
I’m sorry, but it’s just not good enough to fly in on a balmy October morning and start shouting about your brilliant sense of direction when some of us struggle to find our way out of shopping malls. We won’t even speak of the flitting about hither and yon in the hope that someone will catch a glimpse of your florid undercarriage and cry out in delight.
Who do they think they are? They come from dinosaurs, for god’s sake. They’re pterodactyls. Sure, they have a better attitude, but only because they know that if they started snatching our children, we wouldn’t hesitate to make them extinct. Like we did with the pterodactyls.
Then, at the first sign of a chill in the air, they close their nests and bugger off to somewhere warmer without so much as a thank you. I spent the entire summer throwing my bread and spilling my seed into the garden and making sure the little bastards had water to bath their filthy lice-infested bodies.
Living alone as I do, they were the only friends I had. I was learning their language. Do you think they ever bothered to learn mine? Of course not. They are like the British who spend hundreds of winters on the Costa del Sol and still the only Spanish they know is, “Una mas cerveza and a steak, egg and chips, pronto Tonto.”
I’m not asking for a debate on Rabelaisian architecture – quite frankly I’m not sure Rabel was an architect at all – but a simple good morning would have been nice. There was one bird who appeared on the telephone wire at sunset who had a lot to say. He’s gone, now. Probably to the Canary Islands, where, if there’s any justice in this world, he won’t be allowed in because he’s not a canary. I suppose there’s a chance he is a local and can’t afford to migrate, in which case his sudden disappearance is quite likely linked to the neighbour’s cat.
I prefer to think that he was concerned about my well-being and was advising me to leave post haste because winter was drawing dangerously near.
“But where should I go?” I shouted into the twilight.
“Durban,” he tweeted. It’s true. He has a Twitter account. All birds do. They’ve just learnt not to follow anyone after that nasty business with Alfred Hitchcock when nobody got paid even though they totally carried the movie.
My feathered friend had been with me for most of the summer, arriving at dusk every day to see that I was okay. Or, more likely, to gloat. If I could fly I would so gloat at creatures that can’t fly.
He saw my living conditions, there in my shack in the milkwoods of Kommetjie, and must have known I couldn’t afford to migrate to the warmer breeding grounds in the north. He wasn’t even sure I was capable of breeding at all. Nor am I, quite frankly.
I had already been thinking about migrating to Durban for the winter, so please don’t assume that I take my instructions from birds. That would be mad. Unless, of course, it’s crows. You’d be a reckless fool to ignore advice dispensed by crows.
And so it was that on International Migratory Bird Day I fled my shack ahead of looming frontal attacks by wild arctic storms and clawless otters crazed from the cold. I snuck through the crippled milkwoods under cover of darkness and folded myself into the Subaru, hitting the road at 6.15am, the earliest recorded motorised departure in human history.
Apparently it wasn’t. Apparently there are other people on the road at this godless hour. Not one or two, either. Hundreds. Thousands. The entire M3 was backed up for 30kms. It was still night. I wasn’t even able to make out the occupants of the other cars. They could have been flightless birds – ostriches behind the wheel with hysterical penguins gibbering in the back seat – all desperate to migrate to Durban. Boots stuffed with illegal emus and cassowaries who came over by boat but lost their money gambling and can’t get back to Australia or wherever the hell they come from.
What a terrible world this is becoming. I want you here by 8am. But sir, the taxis are on strike, the buses aren’t running, the trains are burning, the roads are jammed, the robots are out, a stoned dodo drove into me … I don’t care. 8am or you’re fired.
We need another industrial revolution but with a lot less emphasis on the industrial. The original idea was eight hours work, eight hours play and eight hours sleep. Heavy traffic, exploitative bosses, watered down tequila and barking dogs have screwed with this formula.
Anyway. I don’t care. I’m in a bar in Jeffreys Bay drinking gallons of The Bird lager. It’s made by a mob of east coast reprobates at Poison City Brewing. I see it as part of the essential refuelling process, much like what the red-faced warblers do when they stop off in Morocco for a hit on the hash pipe before shacking up with those cute Portuguese birds on the Algarve.
Besides, one doesn’t simply spend summer in Cape Town and return to Durban in winter without stopping off in Jeffreys Bay to acclimatise. By acclimatise, I obviously mean surf and drink and gird one’s loins for the hell run through the Transkei. I can’t call it the Eastern Cape because it doesn’t behave like a normal province. There’s no corruption because the entire budget is stolen within minutes of being allocated. The traffic cops are trained in new and unusual methods of soliciting bribes – “Sorry sir. On this section of road, you are forbidden from wearing seat belts”. Dogs run into the street hoping to be put out of their misery.
Look, the notion of spending summers in Cape Town and winters in Durban appeals to me on a deep and primal level. Just don’t call me a swallow. Swallows are people who have a home in London and another in Hermanus. Swallows are wealthy and generally retired. I’m neither, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this.
It’s quite simple, really. After spending seventeen winters in Cape Town, nine of them in a terrible state of marriage, I never again want to be cold. Or married.