One of those odd days today. The daftness started at 7.50 a.m. when the meter reader knocked on my front door to ask me to unlock the side gate, so he could read the gas meter. I was quite glad about this because the past three readings have been estimates. I'm sure they've been underestimates, so I over-paid them by $15 each time to create a buffer for the correction that was inevitably on its way.
I went out into the back garden, fought my way through the weeds along the side path (a disgraceful mess) and unlocked the gate. Which then fell off its hinges. So while I stood there with a 2 m-tall gate in my hands, the meter reader marched past. I had to hold the bloody thing until he left. So now I have to get a new gate. (The old one is beyond repair.)
When I got to work, one of the administrative officers burst into my office in a bit of a fluster. 'There's a cygnet in the garden,' she said. 'I looks very distressed. Can you do something for it?'
Visions of shoving a half-grown black swan into a box, then having my eyes pecked out by a couple of bad tempered parents when I returned their wayward chick to the lake.
It wasn't a cygnet but a fledgling Australasian grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae). The poor little devil was obviously upset at the movement around it (it'd wandered close to the car park) and probably disorientated. It might have found the way back to the lake but it was pointing in the wrong direction. I caught it and carried it back.
I'd never been that close to a grebe of any sort before. They've got beaks like daggers and the most amazing feet—each toe has its own web. (And where are these digital cameras that everyone's supposed to own? No one had a camera. Not even a camera phone.)
'It's very relaxed,' someone said.
It certainly looked tranquil. Mind you, I had it in a grip that prevented it from moving anything except its head. Even that movement was limited.
In my experience with wild animals, very relaxed is the precursor to vicious attack. It appeared calm because its tiny avian brain was calculating the precise moment to launch a violent assault. The mad yellow eyes checked out the vulnerable spots.
Sure enough, I got it to the lake's edge without incident. (It didn't even poo over me.) Then, in a moment of distraction and self-satisfaction at being the bird's benefactor, I let my hand slip into range of the beak. For small birds, they can exert a lot of force. My thumb wasn't quite the same for the rest of the day.
'Are you going to fill in an accident report form?' asked one of my colleagues, with uncharacteristic sympathy.
'Yeah. Right. What do I put down?'
'Isn't it obvious?' he said. 'Grebeous bodily harm.'