Percy was stuck indoors. Probably had some kind of hangover. Admittedly it was cold. I had football socks on and two pairs of gloves, my ex-army greatcoat over a couple of thick woolies, a scarf wrapped round my head and a bobble hat pulled on top. Anyway, I asked his mum to say I’d called and I went off on my own.
All the leaves and grass were edged with frost and the trees were all coated with white. It was really quiet. Suppose nobody else was daft enough to be out. But I had some nuts, bacon rinds and a tub of marg with seeds in it. I thought I’d get into the central clearing and sit for a bit to see what happened. I reckoned some birds could do with an easy feed.
Well, it didn’t take long. I sat on a log. I could hear skittering and soon a blackbird kind of chattering in the undergrowth as though it was practising. A nervous blue tit all fluffed up. Then I saw a flash of pink, dull sort of pink. Or did I? A jay perhaps. I stayed still but I didn’t see it again.
Then I realised my toes had gone numb and I thought I’d better move. My nose must have been blue. Anyway I needed a piss. But there was a flash to my right and out of the undergrowth whizzed a sparrowhawk. Birds scattered and cried. Or cried and scattered. I moved my eyes but nothing else then carefully I moved my chin and saw the sparrowhawk covering something with its wings. It was about a cricket pitch away from me. The bird moved and I saw it had a blackbird in its talons. I don’t think I breathed as I watched the smaller bird pulled apart by that cruel, hooked beak.
I’d decided to take a bigger route home, past Giddy Widdop’s caravan. When I got there, Giddy sat on a log a fire smoking and smouldering in front of him. He was well wrapped up but the door to the van was open. As usual, I couldn’t make out much inside. Did he really live there?
I moved closer to the smouldering heap, turned my hands towards the heat. Smoke drifted away from me but I could smell something else. Roasting meat.
“How do,” I said.
He nodded. “Na then.”
“Cold enough for you?”
“‘Appen,” he mumbled.
“Got a decent fire though.”
He had a stick in his hand and used it to turn something on the fire. I followed the line of his arm and the stick to see singed fur. He regularly kept ‘vermin’ as he called them, hanging, dripping and rotting. Crows he found, rats, a fox. I think he snared some of them but on the fire that day was something else.
“What you got there?” I was curious but I might be horrified by his answer.
“Dinner,” he said.
I was relieved. It could have been a rabbit. To be honest, it looked like a squirrel. Even through the scarf I wrapped round my jaw and the smoke from the pink glow I got a tang of that spicy smell that was always around him.