I may have been a bit too smug when I bragged that my cat, Frank, is no threat to birds and wildlife, preferring to stalk and kill a far more wily prey – the elusive elasticated hair tie.
I was sitting at my computer yesterday when I heard an intermittent tapping noise in the wall. My first thought was it was a disgruntled poltergeist. Our usual one bangs the toilet door, but when I was recently confined to a wheelchair we had to take the door off, replacing it with a curtain, so I could fit through.
We haven't replaced it yet and I imagine even the most patient poltergeist would get tired of trying to bang a curtain.
I grabbed my crutch – in a "needing it to walk" way, not a Michael Jackson way – and went to investigate, noticing as I did that Frank was crouched in the lounge, fixated on the china cabinet.
I assumed the latest hair tie had shot under there to hide, then realised that the tapping sound was coming from behind the cabinet.
That wasn't good. Behind the cabinet, where most sensible people would have a wall, we have an old fireplace.
When Frank was a kitten she crawled under the china cabinet and discovered the old fireplace, finding it the perfect place to climb, get covered in soot, and then come out and share said soot with the floor and the furniture.
Hence the board. Quite a substantial board, hefted in from the shed and jammed behind the china cabinet, in front of the fireplace. Problem – and a certain amount of draftiness – solved.
New problem caused.
When you add springtime and chimneys together you often get starlings. Some starlings cleverly nest in disused chimneys. Other starlings stupidly fall down them.
This tapping I was hearing sounded like the stupid variety of starling, fallen and trapped in our barricaded fireplace.
Hampered by a handful of crutch and unco-operative legs I decided I would ignore the bird's plight until someone more able came along.
But it kept tapping.
I wondered how long it had been there. Was it thirsty? Hungry? Was it sitting there, all sad and sooty, losing the will to live? What if it was injured?
Besides all that, the tapping was annoying. And if the bird died in there it would pong.
I decided I would have a go at releasing the captive.
First I had to remove all the things from the top of the cabinet, many of which had been confiscated from the youngest grandchild and put up out of her reach. Several unshelled pecan nuts, cutlery – mostly forks, pens, reading glasses, several books and a couple of refugee house plants were slowly shuffled to the coffee table before I attempted to slide the cabinet a few inches clear of the fireplace.
As it happens, crutches make quite good levers. The board was a little more stubborn but I pried it open with my usual tool of choice – a knife from the kitchen drawer – and at last the sooty, stunned starling staggered free.
And Frank jumped on it.
Because I hadn't thought that bit through. Nor had I thought to open the doors and windows so the bird could get outside.
I shooed Frank with my crutch and she dropped the bird, which promptly flew towards the nearest – closed – window and knocked itself silly and fell to the floor.
And Frank jumped on it again.
I flapped a magazine at Frank and shouted at her and she dropped it once again, only to have the bird head for the kitchen window – also closed – and knock itself into the sink.
Frank headed for the sink and I shuffled furiously after her, fending her off with a tea towel as she launched herself at the bird, which was now floundering frantically from the kitchen window to the French doors and back again, headbutting the glass and getting tangled in the curtains.
Frank was following the bird and, at the same time, dodging my crutch and tea towel as I stumbled after her.
Finally the bird rebounded into the laundry and I went in after it, slamming the door in Frank's face with a triumphant "Gotcha!"
But I hadn't. Because the bird was slumped, panting on the floor and I, reliant as I was on a crutch and dubious balance, couldn't bend down to get it.
The bird and I looked at each other. Then I looked at the long-handled brush and shovel that sat in the corner.
Propping myself against the wall, I swept the bemused bird into the shovel, held it there firmly with the brush and opened the door.
"Nothing to see here," I told Frank as I shuffled to the back door and flung my sweepings swiftly outside.
The bird flew off, wobbling a bit.
Frank looked disappointed. I have promised her a nice new hair tie instead.