We are being stalked and it's all our own fault. It began innocently enough, the admiring glances and a few kind words. The breakfast meetings were probably a step too far. I see it now. It didn't stop there, soon they were banging on the side of the boat at lunchtime and suppertime too. I thought that if I gave them what they wanted they would go away, but no, they lingered silently in the darkness not accepting that no means no. After a week or so we moved a few miles down the canal. They followed us at a distance until the first swing bridge and then they were gone. We missed them despite everything and our uneaten crusts went to the ducks.
Then, the evening before last I was standing on the stern listening for owls when I heard a familiar sound. "Ship ship" they said. "Ship ship". They knew we had been to a farmers market and had fresh bread. They sounded like the mute swans we had left behind some days previously, but I did the lettuce test just to be sure. According to the website of a swan rescue centre, they can be fed bread and green leafy things like lettuce or spinach. They need to drink with their food so it is best thrown into the water. I threw some lettuce out to them, and sure enough, Mr Swan nibbled half heartedly while Mrs Swan swam in supicious circles around the floating leaves. I went and got some of the good stuff.
I am not alone in being fascinated by these birds, they have been at the centre of myths and stories for centuries. They have a reputation for agression, and according to a present-day myth can break a man's arm with a single flap of a wing. I'm sure this might be possible...if the swan has been trained in unarmed combat by the SAS. In truth they are far more vulnerable than dangerous, being at risk from discarded fishing tackle and power lines.
I want to write more about the birds that live on and around the water here, but for now, it is getting late and if I turn out the lights and keep away from the windows then I might just get to the other end of the boat without being seen...