When I was doing my Friday morning volunteering at the windmill last week, I was on duty with two lady volunteers who preferred to run the new cafe. One of them asked me if I would be OK with opening up and checking the windmill, and I readily agreed to take on that job. The cafe is a good idea and it has been well-received, but I am not very adept at catering, even the low-key system that we are currently operating.
Besides, I do enough washing-up at home.
So I headed over to unlock the windmill, and run through the routine of opening to the public. Put out some benches, as the weather was good, remove the shutters from the ground floor windows, check that all the lights are working, and clean up the small grindstones we use to demonstrate flour-making. Insert the instructional DVD into the wall-mounted TV, and tidy up the desk and paperwork. Check that the leaflets are sorted in their slots, and that there are enough of them. Place the ‘open’ sign around the front, where it can be seen from the road, and then I was ready to check the upper floors.
We always have an exhibition arranged over the various floors. Sometimes pictures from local artists, or school projects from the various schools in the Dereham area. The current one is from a junior school, and the theme is ‘Dragons’. I make sure that all the pictures and displays are straight, and that none have fallen off. Moving to the next floor, I also straighten the visitor information cards, and check that all the windows are secure; all the light bulbs are working, and the safety signs are clearly visible. Up above, everything is in order, so I make the climb to the very top section, known as ‘The Cap.’
Before my head clears the stair-well, I can hear some frantic flapping, so assume a bird is loose inside. I peer over the edge of the floor, and see a large pigeon beating against a closed window on the southern side. It is flying into the glass constantly, unable to understand why it cannot get through into the light. Around the inner section at the top, we do have wire mesh, to hopefully stop this sort of thing happening. When I look up, I can see that it has been bent inwards at the top edge, presumably by the bird trying to escape after it managed to squeeze in from outside. I walked towards the distressed pigeon, making nonsensical ‘cooing’ noises, in the hope of calming it. It was having none of it though, and began to frantically fly in circles above my head, bouncing off the beam above, like the ball in a pinball machine.
I retreated to the stairs, hoping it would feel less threatened. I decided against opening the window, as it is rarely opened, and I might not have been able to secure it later. Eventually, the bird returned to its perceived escape route, fluttering against the window until it wore itself out. It sat on the ledge with its back to me, hoping no doubt that if it couldn’t see me, then I wasn’t there. I moved quickly, and seized it as gently as possible, holding both wings against its body, and making clicking noises to soothe it, which didn’t help in the least. I have no idea why I kept making these supposedly reassuring noises, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
I now had a dilemma to solve. I had the bird, but the gap in the wire was a good five feet above my head, and I had no way of getting up there. I thought of dragging the attendant’s chair over with my foot, and gaining height by climbing on it. However, it is a rickety old thing, probably from the Victorian age, and I didn’t fancy the chances of keeping my balance on it, whilst trying to insert a reluctant pigeon into a small gap above. For some reason, I thought of the sport of rugby. Perhaps it was because the well-fed bird resembled the shape of a rugby ball in my hands, and I decided to attempt a ‘pigeon line-out’, by lifting the bird above my head, and flinging it into the right area. But I was never any good at rugby, so I don’t know what I was thinking.
A 63-year-old man who has seen better days, would do well to think on that before attempting a new form of avian sport. I leapt as high as I could, both arms extended over my head, and gave a heave, with as much aim as I could muster in the circumstances. The hapless bird hit the wire, missing the gap by a good six inches, then flew around the top of The Cap in complete panic. I gave it a few minutes to settle down, and sure enough, it returned to the window ledge. By now, I considered myself something of an expert in bird capture, and the associated art of bird-flinging too. Marking my spot, I caught the bird once more, and threw it without hesitation into the gap above the wire. It walked around a while, before sitting happily enough, not far from the place where it had gained access in the first place.
My sense of achievement was out of all proportion to what I had done. I didn’t quite punch the air and shout ‘YES’, but almost. I was very pleased with myself, and congratulated myself on a job well done, both for the windmill, and the bird. If it had been left there when the windmill closed, it might well have died of thirst or hunger eventually. As a bonus, I had even avoided the expected pigeon poo, expelled as it flew in panic. It had hit the floor, and was easily cleaned up later.
I returned to the cafe, to hand in the keys, and tell my colleagues that the windmill was officially open. Pat looked at me and said, ‘You’ve been a long time, what have you been doing over there?’