Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hard day at the office

There was a gentle, metalic clanking noise outside my office window the other day. It was the sort of noise one associates with pipes or beer kegs being rattled. A man's face rose slowly into view on the other side of the glass, a large piece of scaffolding in his hands. He was on top of a slightly wobbling tower of tubes and struts. He briefly looked up at the jungle ecosystem of my bosses' gutters then began to disassemble the platform he was standing on. In a quarter hour, he was back, this time suitably steadied and stabilised. His partner, below, passed up readymade pieces of the giant Mecanno kit, tied on various ropes and pulleys, crawled carefully up the outside and joined him at the top.

"They've finally come to clean the gutters," I said to the office at large. Some curious necks were craned towards the windows. In a few minutes large sods of peaty, weed-choked soil were pulled out and dropped into the courtyard below. The courtyard is surrounded on four sides by a three storey building. The scaffold was tugged and pushed along on large castors over the slabbed floor until the entire square had been properly cleaned. Then they took the whole apparatus down again and moved it bit by bit through the ground-floor corridors to the next courtyard on the other side of our communal office, the courtyard above which last year's seagull had been hatched.

This year's hatchling is almost fully grown though not as adventurous as the first one we saw. It sits dutifully on the ridge tile over a nook created by the louvre-windows waiting for its parents to return with lunch. I suppose not much happens in an average day sitting up on a roof. Nothing that includes visitors from below, anyway.

The man on the scaffold inched over to the gutter below the seagull's ledge. A long, white feathered neck rose up over the ridge tile above.

"Shree! Shree! Shree! Who the fuck are you?" it shrieked.

The man lowered himself a little to the platform and consulted with his partner on the ground. He rose up above the rim again, one eye on the bird which had both eyes on him.

"Shree! Shree! Shree! Get away from that, you bollix!"

A shadow passed over. There was a chorus of "Shree!" noises, as one of the parent birds landed beside the ledge nest.

The man gripped the head of a dandelion and pulled a sod of muck out of the gutter, dropping it into a bucket.

"Shree-Shree! Shree-Shree! Shree-Shree!" the two birds screamed at him. The chick nestled down a little behind the frame of the louvre window, perhaps to hide. The parent marched up and down the ridge tiles, neck thrust out aggressively. Everytime the man bent down to lower the bucket, the cries ceased. When his head was thrust back up into sight, threats and screams rained down on him from above.

At last the scaffold had trundled out of the danger zone and was being disassembled for another trip through the offices to the next courtyard. The birds gave one final triumphant "Shree-Shree-Shree!" then closed their eyes and rested in the afternoon sun.

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