Friday, 26 May 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 26 May

Thomas Blaikie thinks feeding seagulls is birdbrained – let alone squirrels and foxes…

Dear Thomas
I know ornithology isn’t strictly your department, but I have a neighbour whose mania for feeding birds has become a thorough nuisance. The creatures show up in enormous numbers and I get the overspill in my garden, making an awful mess. If I ever try to broach the subject with this person, he just says the RSPB encourages bird feeding. Chris Dillon, Colchester

Dear Chris
Yes, the RSPB does encourage bird feeding, but East Devon District Council has just hit the headlines by introducing a ban on feeding seagulls. Transgressors will be fined £80 under a public space protection order, but a spokesperson for the council said that ‘little old ladies’ who habitually feed the gulls, and catering premises not disposing of rubbish properly, are most likely to be targeted.

Readers will recall that Miss Darcy Bustle, The Lady’s very own miniature dachshund, only just escaped kidnap by a seagull on Hastings beach the other day. Even now, she could be halfway up a cliff, being kept on a diet of fish and gubbins from the town’s eateries.

Not all birds are nice.

It’s not just birds. What about the squirrels, foxes and other undesirables (or deplorables, as Hillary Clinton might have said)?

These animals are quite capable of looking after themselves and are a thorough nuisance anyway. You don’t want to encourage them by offering titbits. Squirrels damage trees and dig up tulip bulbs, foxes aren’t too bad unless they have cubs, in which case you can say goodbye to your garden. I couldn’t believe it when I saw some tourists feeding a squirrel in a London park. Larger birds, also, particularly pigeons, are a menace. If they congregate to receive largesse from a human their droppings will be awful.

It sounds as if your neighbour is scattering scraps for the birds over the ground and not using a bird feeder or even a bird table, whose use the RSPB encourages – as well as rigorous cleaning up.

Years ago there was a TV programme about Hampstead Garden Suburb featuring a lady who was causing havoc with her bird feeding activities. Nothing, it seemed, could stop her, not even the full authority of the Suburb bearing down. It sounds as if your neighbour is the same species, for they are a species, these people: bloody-minded and ridiculously sentimental about animals.

You could try a more controlled approach and attempt to persuade your neighbour to use a bird feeder that would only attract smaller birds. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing for it but to drag in the council. Councils are able, under the Anti- social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to impose community protection notices carrying a £100 on-the-spot fine and up to £2,500 for failure to comply. Four councils, between October 2014 and October 2015, issued notices against people feeding birds in their gardens.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Fancified language

Last week, at a swimming pool, I came across a notice: ‘Male Cleaner in the Women’s Changing Room.’ It continued: ‘on occasion a male cleaner will be present in the women’s changing room. If you require use of the facilities at this time, please inform reception who will request that the cleaner absent himself for the duration of your period of use.’ Oh dear! maybe women who ‘require’ the ‘facilities’ will just collapse under the weight of all this dainty language. Goodness knows what outrages will ensue. It seems, though, that gracious service can be offered only in these terms nowadays.

The word ‘require’ is especially piquant, because it’s so old-fashioned and imperious. People used to write to hotels saying they required a twin room. Employees were required to report to the depot. Quite who was doing all this requiring often was not clear. You would think that, in a more democratic age, someone could come up with more straightforward words.

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