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View From The Hill – Nicholas Lezard

I’ve lived in Brighton for more than two years now and every day I love it a little bit more. Daily compound interest over 800 days adds up to quite a lot, so I’m very happy here. Except for the seagulls.   

The thing is, you cannot have Brighton without seagulls. The idea is ludicrous. In West Hill, the gulls are relatively discreet. I had a soft-headed next-door neighbour who used to leave an open packet of Wonderloaf on the front porch for them but eventually she was lynched and thrown into the sea. After that the seagull menace at 42 Dyke Road was a spent force, and we went back to our daily routines. 

Elsewhere it’s a different story. By the sea they become aggressively predatory. You can always spot tourists because of the unguarded way they saunter around with their chips. Sooner or later they are going to learn the way to eat them is to hunch over them, maintaining ceaseless vigilance. This is not easy, and can make you look furtive, as if you are concealing a dirty secret. 

But you don’t have to be a visitor to become a victim, as I found out a few weeks ago. I had decided to treat myself to a bacon double cheeseburger from the Burger King in North Street – I allow myself about two of these a year – and was enjoying it mightily, until… There was a sudden blur of white, and a BOF noise and the next thing I knew my hand was empty, and four seagulls were picking over the scraps of bacon double cheeseburger a couple of feet to my right. 

One does not expect altruism or even basic consideration from the animal kingdom, but even so I was outraged. My initial instinct was to call the police. Those burgers cost nearly a fiver, and I am not made of money. I was impressed, though, at the clinical way the operation was conducted. The seagull is a large bird, but at no point was I struck or even touched by feather or beak. As impressive a piece of flying as I have ever seen. What also impressed me was the reaction of my fellow humans. Instead of laughing, they stopped to console me. I wonder whether I’d have reacted in as kindly a fashion. But then these were Brightonians: they knew the score. They know the menace that lurks in the air above, that perches on the chimney-tops, or struts around the streets as if they’re saying “come and have a go if you’re hard enough.” 

   I’ve recently heard that black-headed gulls are now invading the town and destroying seagulls’ nests. These are twice as big as native seagulls, show even less fear, and do not bother with humans. Until they do, they get my profound encouragement.

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