The gull lines
Part 7: October 1975 As the light started to fade they came over in silent, plodding lines, with no deviation or hesitancy. I stood at an Epsom town centre bus stop and counted them. The counting was a means to an end, with me falling into their rhythm and entering a vaguely hypnotic state. My waiting for a bus coincided with the end-of-day gull procession, from the open Surrey fields to the west London reservoirs that offered them a safe, deep-water roost. My journey home from art college was, for a brief few days, aligning itself with that of the gulls. I found comfort in their appearance, a sign that the day had progressed as it should, that all was well with the world. They were silhouetted, and specific identification was beyond me, although I could safely assume that the smaller birds – quicker wing beats, narrower wings – were Black-headed, and that the bow-winged beasts were Herring, Lesser and Great Black-backed. My excitement rose if a great snaking line appeared above the clock tower, the central point of the line firm, with each end of the arm flailing in an attempt to keep together. Sometimes these lines joined, gathering and breaking, knotting and unknotting. They seemed to keep to similar heights, but those that ventured lower seemed messier in flock structure than those that stayed higher. Certainly hundreds were to be expected, thousands not unusual. As the light finally bled out of the sky they still carried on. I liked the thought that, even when I couldn’t see them, they were still up there, late for roost, skimming above the twinkling shop fronts, street lights and traffic below. What did they think, these wild birds? What did they make of us, crudely grounded, in need of brick, metal and electricity to survive these colder nights? I would later lie in bed, warm and still, and think of these very same birds, bobbing up and down in the pitch black night, facing into the wind and repelling the cold reservoir water below. They would be up and away before me in the morning, and if the day went well, we would meet again, over Epsom town centre that very evening.