Democracy At Work

Earlier this week, I had a strange experience, but it requires a little bit of back story.

Spend enough time with me, and you’ll hear me gripe about the problems of our democracy: the faults of the plurality voting system, gerrymandering and it’s long-term ripple effects, party politics, the motivations of politicians, and much more, even before I get down to talking about the apathy of constituents and our disgustingly ill-informed populace. I know how little my vote counts for (clue: pretty much nothing), and that’s why to make my opinions heard though occasional, carefully-researched letters to the people who represent me, and I encourage others to do the same – a letter, while in itself not particularly powerful, is still worth a lot more than a ballot paper. And thanks to WriteToThem, it’s really easy to send correspondence to the elected officials who represent you on the local, regional, national and international stages.

Perhaps inspired by some combination of (a) my recent experience with Pecky and the Squawkies, (b)  the mess created by their seagull buddies on and around rubbish collection days – which seems to have gotten worse recently (see photo, above) – and (c) the petitions that seem to be floating about town in general over the last few weeks, requesting that something (humane) is done about the troublesome Aber seagull population, I wrote to the council to express my thoughts on the matter, and to make a few suggestions based on things that have been tried by other towns affected by seagulls.

When I’ve written to representatives before, I’ve gotten a mixed response rate, and that’s fair enough – they’re busy people (at least, they are if they’re doing their job right). Writing to my MP, over the last decade or so, has typically gotten me a response rate of about 80%, which is quite impressive. Writing to MEPs gets a response rate of about 65%. Writing to a PM gets a response rate of about 50%, and that’s better than I’d have expected. So far, writing to my local council, although I’ve not done so often, has gotten me a 100% response rate.

And so I got an e-mail in response to my query about seagulls: great, it’s a pressing issue, apparently, and one that’s attracting a lot of attention from constituents (nice to know I’m not alone in my opinions), and it’s now scheduled for discussion on the next Department of Environmental Services and Housing Scrutiny Committee meeting, which is nice. What I didn’t expect was what followed.

The chap pictured above (thanks, BBC) is Ceredig Davies, Aberystwyth Central Ward councilor for Ceredigion Council. On Monday night, while I was on my way back to The Cottage after ReAnime Night (with a brief diversion to say goodnight to Claire on the way), he pulled up his car alongside me and leapt out, shaking my hand as he went.

He thanked me for my e-mail, explained that he’d e-mailed me and asked if I’d got it, and told me what he’d done about it so far and the challenges were that he thought might make it difficult to implement my suggestions (mostly only things I was aware of, but sadly not things I know the answers to). Then he dashed back across the street, hopped back into his car, and drove away.

This is perhaps the most pro-active response I’ve ever had from an elected official (even without the surprise meeting in the street, his reply to my e-mail was prompt and informative, and was followed-up by more information that interested me), but it left a question burning in my mind: Mr. Davies represents 15,000 or more people in this area, of which I’m just one – how the hell did he know what I looked like, let alone well-enough to spot me in the street. From his car? From behind? At night?

I’m impressed and all that, but it’s still a little spooky. I asked him at the time how he recognised me, and he mumbled something about being the kind of councilor who’s “a bit of an anorak” (what does that mean? does he sit up at night researching his constituents and memorising their appearances and daily movements? does he have a little book with all of our national insurance numbers in and cross them out when he meets us, like a trainspotter but with people?) as he made his way back to his car.

So, the verdict on Mr. Davies: very effective, but also a little bit scary.

A Plague Of Seagulls

This summer, I’ve been tormented by three beasts, who I’ll call Mr. Pecky and Mr. & Mrs. Squawky.

Mr. Pecky is a herring gull. Two or three mornings a week, between about 5:30am and about 6:15am, he’ll land on the flat roof of the utility room, outside my bedroom window, and repeatedly peck at his own reflection. Double-glazing isn’t enough to keep the noise out, particularly as the window is often left ajar at night to prevent me from cooking in Aber’s recent heatwave. I’ve no idea why he does this.

Mr. & Mrs. Squawky are also herring gulls. Two or three mornings a week, between about 6:30am and 7:15am – although almost never the same days as Mr. Pecky – they sit outside my bedroom window and argue in loud, high-pitched, seagull voices.

They go away, eventually, but by then I’m awake earlier than I’d like, so I’ve been trying to find ways to discourage them. My preferred technique thus far has been to keep a Super Soaker by the window and getting up to blast the buggers with a stream of cold water, but this hasn’t worked: firstly, they manage to escape about half the time, before I’ve managed to get them into my sights (and by this point I’m already out of bed, and I’ve never been good at going back to bed once I’m up and moving), and secondly, it doesn’t seem to be acting as a deterrent: Pecky and the Squawkies are back later in the week with more pecking or squawking*.

I’m thinking that I need to construct some kind of mechanism on the roof to limit their landing options. At the very least, a well-positioned clothes horse or two should prevent Mr. Pecky from getting close to the window. Any other suggestions (I’d be tempted to build one of these if it wouldn’t be liable to kill the neighbourhood cats) are welcome, before I go completely mad.

Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck. Squawk! Squawk! Squawk!

Too late.

* Yes, I’m aware of the possibility that I’m not seeing the same three seagulls each time – and I’ll confess that they all look the same to me – but it’s easier for me to come to terms with the possibility that there are three particular seagulls who hate me and don’t like me to get a lie-in past a quarter past seven than it is for me to accept that maybe all seagulls want me to suffer and are working to some kind of rota: “Seagull number #1036675; you’re up!”

Spring Is Here: The Gulls Say So

Well, Spring’s finally coming around: the tell tale sign for me is that the black-headed gulls are back. One flew over my head as I crossed the bridge on the way to work this morning; for your reference, they’re the ones that look like this:

Black-headed gull

Their reappearance is a good sign that the weather’s taking a turn for the better, because they bother to fly all the way from the Mediterranean just to hang out on cliffs in the UK and steal chips from British tourists. Kids these days, eh?

Black-headed gull×

Seagulls, Part II

Seagulls are stupid. A pair had laid an egg on top of a church steeple near where I live, and, sure enough in true saw-it-a-mile-off glory, as soon as the chick was able to waddle around, it fell off. Saw it waddling around on the grass last night, it’s mother trying to find a way to get it back up.

She – later joined by her partner and a couple of other gulls – soon came to try to see us off before we could formulate a plan to rescue the chick from potentially becoming a cat’s dinner. Ah well; we have an oversupply of seagulls anyway. Perhaps letting this one get munched (assuming any cat dares try to get past the big mommy gull!) makes up, in some strange and twisted cosmic karma, for the bastard gulls who shredded my bin bags back on the 24th June. Perhaps not.


Woken at 7am this morning by an irate Welsh fishmonger repeatedly ringing my doorbell. Apparently a swarm of ravenous seagulls invaded the street two hours prior and shredded my bin bags, scattering my litter across the street, and this was obviously entirely my fault because I shouldn’t have put my bin bags out the night before. I explained that I put them out the night before because I had no intention of being up this early, but I don’t think he saw the irony.

Went out with bin bags and cleared up, while he glared from across the street and complained about the laziness of the youth of today.

I passed at least half a dozen other pillaged rubbish piles on my way to get a lift to work. It’s no wonder the gulls around here are so big, what with the heavy diet of human trash they consume.