Lockdown Heroes: Pip the Robin, by Wendy Rigg

I’m standing in the pouring rain, tooled up in my Glastonbury festival waterproof gear, whistling and calling a robin who’s most likely sensibly sheltering from the weather. I am a born-again Springwatch fanatic and I won’t leave until he pops his head out of the hedge and eats from the palm of my hand.

Why, you might wonder, would I, a busy Fashion Director, be wasting valuable online shopping time hanging around a park, looking for a bird I’d previously clocked more times on Christmas cards than in actual real life? Loitering around green spaces is surely more suited to youngsters ‘celebrating’ by blowing up balloons and leaving silver canisters everywhere, than media types who are used to whizzing to breakfast meetings in town, or evening fashion launches in London’s swankiest hotels, with champagne flowing freely. 

So I’ll rewind to the first day of my lockdown. I’d squeezed in the last private view at a local art gallery, and dawn broke the next day, along with the realisation that I was all alone, unable to see my own daughter and family. Yep, I was confined to my flat with the prospect of no hugs from granddaughters for the foreseeable future, and very little food in the fridge. I hadn’t even got off the mark quickly enough with the idea of stocking up on a year’s supply of loo roll and bread flour. Actually I hadn’t even considered I might need bread flour at all. 

All in all, it was what is commonly known as a total bummer.

With nothing to dash into town for and no-one to see, I opted to take up my one government-approved exercise outing of the day just after brekkie. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and as I headed past an oak tree I looked up, and on the lower branches was a cheeky little robin, singing his heart out. I whipped out the i-phone and videoed the charming little warbler, and felt my spirits immediately lift.

The next day, I had scheduled a very important afternoon meeting with a park bench. Why not vary the time of the daily outing? Shake things up a bit. No sooner had I sat down than a robin hopped around my feet, and then, to my surprise, flew up and landed beside me on the bench. I wondered if it was the same cheery chap from yesterday. I had a feeling he was a boy, and on fact-checking the, um, facts I found I was spot on – apparently it’s only the male robins that sing. The females, presumably, can’t really be arsed.

It was a magical moment, especially for my slightly unhinged lockdown brain, which was trying to come to terms with a new reality. I vowed to come back to the same spot the next day with some food for him. 

My mum, a keen twitcher, advised that robins love nothing better than a spot of cheese,  and said I should wear the same coat so that he’d recognise me. So, on the third day, I arrived at the hedge again, and there he was! It was as if he was waiting for me. I scattered the cheese – which I’d mixed with crumbled oatcakes – on the ground, and the little bird edged forward nervously and pecked some of the tasty snack. Absolute result. We were friends, and what’s more, we shared a love of high quality dairy products. The following day he ate from my hand, and gradually he got more tame, often staying there for a few minutes with his little feet on my palm.

‘They’re not cute, you know,’ people were fond of telling me on hearing about my new robin friend on social media.  ‘Ferociously territorial’ in fact. Vic Reeves aka Jim Moir appeared on Grayson’s Art Show talking about his paintings of birds in the garden and declared robins to be ‘violent hooligans’. And according to the RSPB website, the red feathers signify nothing short of war, with Britain’s National birds willing to attack their own kind to defend their manor. Our favourite red breasted mascots have even been known to go after stuffed robins! Just as well I was wearing a fake fur leopard print coat then.

I was not deterred by any of this. I prefer the view that some people have that robins are the spirits of loved ones, and they come to us in times of need to offer us hope. Yes, the Victorian Christmas card pin-up image will do nicely for me, thanks.

Despite the weather warming up to become the hottest May on record, I persisted with my daily outings in the leopard coat. I named him Pip. I invested in proper robin feed – disgusting stuff with dried meal worms in it.  It really seemed as though he recognised me, as he’d appear every day, sometimes without me even having to whistle and call his name which I’d begun to do. He’d fly down from his spot at the very top of his favourite tree, and land near me with a whirr of his tiny wings. Hardly a day went past without seeing him.

Our daily meetings went on from March until the beginning of June, when, like the tiger in the film Life Of Pi, he suddenly disappeared without a goodbye. I feel very privileged to have had this experience, and one of the highlights was introducing him to my granddaughters when social distancing walks with family were allowed.

In my busy life pre-lockdown working at a frantic pace, I’d never have had the time to get to know a charming feathered friend. I wouldn’t even have been able to identify their beautiful song.

When life finally gets back to some kind of new reality, I will keep up my rediscovered love of nature, and robins in particular. Thanks, Pip.

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