Susan Morrison: I've punched puffin, a Highland cow and a horse

It has to be said that I am not great fan of swans. Well, to be fair, I'm not that great a fan of wildlife in general.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 4th May 2018, 8:00 am
Among other violent encounters with animals, Susan Morrison once used her umbrella to see off a swan (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)
Among other violent encounters with animals, Susan Morrison once used her umbrella to see off a swan (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)

At various points in my career, I’ve punched a horse, a Highland cow and a puffin. In my own defence, I punched the puffin in error. It flew towards me at speed, and, being a Glasgwegian by birth, I naturally assumed this was an attack and decked what I perceived as an enemy.

Please believe me, gentle reader, I was driven to these extreme actions, and yes, I know horses and Highland cows are not exactly ‘wild life’, but anything with four legs always looks pretty mad to me.

I’ve also had a face-off with a swan. Many years ago, when my son was a toddler, we were taking the air around St Margaret’s Loch when a swan indulged in a display of temper by doing that big-wing-neck-stretch thing they do, hissing at my son.

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Fortunately, I had an umbrella about my person, and I fought the beast off with a snappy open and shut manoeuvre in its beaky face. It may have been protecting its young, but so was I.

Having said all that, swans are a pretty addition to our landscape. Here in the Republic of Leith, we have a couple of pairs who sail the waters like gleaming battleships, bullying the other birds out of the way whenever a likely looking source of contraband bread comes into view. Yes, I know there is a sign saying ‘Please do not feed me bread’, but the problem is that swans cannot read. I bet the mallards can, they look like sharp cookies.

The swans are nesting now. Mamma looks every inch the serene mother-to-be as she nestles down in her self-built maternity ward on the Water of Leith. Now and then, she rearranges her brilliant white feathers, and she will lift up that long neck of hers, presumably up to see where Dad’s got to.

She has to stretch pretty far, since it’s difficult to see over the wall of stinking rubbish that’s collecting around her nest.

The Water of Leith has long been a ‘working’ river by the time it hits the Shore. The pretty stuff is upstream. Now it looks like a dying river. Rafts of empty plastic bottles drift about like ice floes. There’s a weird, thick, chunky scum building up under the bridges and around the swan nests. It seems to comprise mainly of decomposing leaves, empty bottles and rubber tyres. It whiffs a bit, too ...

Where have all the fish gone?

Even more sinisterly, little seems to be moving in the water itself. Only a few years ago, a friend and I spent a happy half hour watching some fairly large fish swimming about. Sorry, no idea what they were. If they don’t come dipped in batter or surrounded by salad, fish species remain a bit of a mystery to me.

Even when the larger fish were being coy, it was easy to see the baggie minnies swirling about, although if we are on the subject of species naming, I’m fairly sure that ‘Baggy minnie’ isn’t a term David Attenborough would recognise. Even they seem to have vanished.

It’s a river that’s silting up, surely, but not slowly. Each new big rain or snow brings water down and with it branches and boughs lost from trees upriver. A series of islands is starting to clog up the waters down by the Shore. Baffled birds find themselves wading when they should be paddling. Pretty soon the build-up will be big enough for a property developer to stick in planning permission for ‘Island Homes on The Shore’.

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Cleaning up the Water of Leith is a task I fear may be too great for even the fabulous team at Leithers Don’t Litter, although I wouldn’t put it past them. This needs heavy-duty dredging.

Alternatively, we can just wait. Methane is a volatile gas, known to explode. It’s done it once and rocked that poor wreck of a boat quite dramatically. If we just leave the methane to build up, we could have ourselves one of the most explosive farts in history. And the flying muck might make it clear to the Parliament.