Published in 1982, it joined the work of John McGuffin, also rooted in the internment camps, and later became part of a considerable corpus of prison memoirs.
My dislike of seagulls can be traced back to the cages of Long Kesh camp. Often we would feed them as they flocked to the football pitches adjacent to the cages we were housed in. The prison authorities, pretending to be civilised, resiled from terms like camp, cages and Long Kesh, in their stead using what they considered more sanitising language such as prison, compounds and the Maze. It was all polishing a turd.
The problem with feeding seagulls is that they quickly home in on, and hang about, the feeding area. So, in the cages, some people during the night for the hell of it would throw scraps of bread on the tin roof of the hut next to their own, often selecting the piece of roof above the space where the target of this particular mix would be bedded down. The gulls would land early in the morning screeching and banging, causing an infernal racket, which seemed amplified by the acoustics internal to the hut. That is how I came to dislike seagulls as much as I did British Army helicopters which would swoop over the H Blocks creating a din ever worse than what the seagulls had managed.
From feeding seagulls in the cages I progressed to chasing them. Then Joe Rafter started chasing me each time he caught me shooing away the seagulls. It was an exercise not without learning. What I discovered and imparted to my next door H-Block neighbours, Martin Livingstone and Gerry Donnelly once I arrived on the blanket protest, was that there were only two things a seagull would not eat. One was a dead budgie and the other was Long Kesh liver.
Neither believed me and decided to put it to the test. We had no dead budgies with which to seek to disprove my assertion so the claim would stand or fall on liver alone I told them that even if they put the liver inside a round of bread the gulls would shake the sandwich apart and take only the bread. Long Kesh liver really was that unpalatable. On the day of reckoning, Martin and Gerry conceded the point, and I could always claim thereafter to have brought some worthwhile knowledge from the cages to the H-Blocks.
A few months back my wife started to tend to the garden and create a veritable bird sanctuary. Not having a great interest in them initially, it wasn't long before I took to feeding them, rather than give the scraps to my dog, which had recently recovered from an illness possibly induced by fatty human food. With so many different species appearing, I was reminded of my old friend Seamus O'Brien whom Pádraic Mac Coitir told me had acquired a reputation as something of an authority on bird speciation during the blanket protest.
Each morning I concoct a bread based feast for the birds with dry cat food mixed in to create a bird-suitable champ. They love it. Problem is so do the gulls. So every morning there is a battle between me and them so that the rest of the birds can feed. A single gull can gobble down what fifty other birds can make a meal of. The trick is: break the food up so that it can't be grabbed and spirited into the skies in one fell swoop.
Last night my son dropped his pizza on the floor and threw it in the bin. Suggesting that food should never be wasted and should be fed to the birds or put in the compost bin where it would go to good use down the line, I asked him to retrieve the pizza. I put it outside this morning, committing the cardinal feeding error of not breaking it up. I had hardly turned my back when the triumphant squawking began, not quite as irritating as scripture squawking from sandwich board men, but annoying all the same.
Into the garden I shot, faster than a woman escaping a morality peeler in Tehran. The bastard beat me to it and started to flap beyond reach with the entire pizza in its greedy gob. Slowed down by the weight of its booty I lunged in its direction flapping my arms as it flapped its wings. It held on tenaciously before reaching a safe height. Greedy bastard, I muttered as I saw it land on the roof of a house across the street. Then another gull, as opportunistic as itself, tackled it on the roof. Determined not to share the cuisine, the thief flew back in my direction, dropping the pizza on the road in front of my eyes. It hovered, I roared and clapped to frighten it. Passing children on their way to school looked on. They may have thought I was homeless, and driven by starvation, was desperately trying to snatch a free meal from the gull.
Upshot is I got to it before the gull and gleefully retreated to the garden, where I broke the retaken meal up into small pieces to prevent a one take repeat. The school kids observing the tussle most likely understood the bird's behaviour but not the auld fella with the beard and cardigan performing a victory jig in the garden.
Before anybody from the swollen ranks of the Most Offended People Ever take offence, my victory chant was not Up the Ra, but Up the Da.
⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.