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Rob Campbell: Never mind the badger, why not eat our seagulls?

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: September 05, 2013

There's a seagull chick sitting on a chimney over the road from where I write this: it's been trying to fly for a week, but all it's managed is a 24-hour-a-day squawk and enough droppings to make our street look like a guano island

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There's a seagull chick sitting on a chimney over the road from where I write this: it's been trying to fly for a week, but all it's managed is a 24-hour-a-day squawk and enough droppings to make our street look like a guano island.

I made the mistake of looking at it just before dinner, and found myself marvelling at its plumpness.

It's illegal to eat these things, but everyone hates them, and at this time of the year it's not uncommon to find them waddling down the road within easy reach…

A bit of research shows that people have, down the years, devoured gulls when desperate. Most recipes involve boiling them for days on end, and a favourite one includes a small rock as an essential ingredient – when all the boiling is done, you throw away the seagull and eat the rock.

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If you want to imagine the experience of eating the actual bird, think of the taste of a sardine smoothie left to hang for a fortnight in the airing cupboard, with the texture of what would drip from the sump of a 1973 Hillman Avenger 40 years overdue for an oil change. And that's the proper gulls, the ones that eat fish: our own, raised on a diet of bin liners and old kebabs, taste even worse.

But, according to legend, they do still get eaten, in secret, down in South Devon. The dishes range from chillied gull with ginger to just old-fashioned gull pie.

They're consumed at a secret gull-eating society, and you have to know someone who knows someone, plus a password, to be let in. It's probably 'gull', or else 'vomit'.

I wouldn't believe this, given that the legend comes from the depths of the website of the Totnes Sub-Aqua Club and it's always hard to trust people who dress up as penguins, but Totnes is a funny old place.

It was reported last month that someone there has opened a cat café, where you can pop in for a cuppa and stroke a cat if you don't have one of your own. I checked and they don't have gulls on the menu, even though the cats would like it.

Gulls were, however, on the menu in a book which Chancellor the Exchequer George Osborne was allegedly bringing out a while back, full of tips about living on benefits, and including a recipe for gull soup.

This turned out to be a spoof, and would be funny if everyone in modern Britain had enough to eat. But they don't, as I discovered when chatting last week to one of the brains behind Bristol's Matthew Tree Project.

He's Mark Goodway, and his 'foodstore' project has been getting a bit of press of late, as it tries to feed some of the city's hungry and help them find a way out of the poverty that has left them that way.

We met at a fundraising reggae night at Bristol's Trinity Centre, where the music itself was almost good enough to eat. If you've some spare food, time, or a few quid, I reckon Matthew Tree would be glad to hear from you – but they don't want any seagulls.

Let's hope that, by the time this is printed, the coroner has had some luck in tracing the family of a 65-year-old man who died in Swindon in August.

The police are appealing for his next of kin – especially some relatives thought to be in London.

Each year, across the country, around 3,000 people are buried or cremated at the expense of the local council – which means that in many, but not all, cases there was no next of kin to do the job.

It costs the taxpayer about £2 million a year in all, but that's not the point – instead it's a human tragedy that so many people are coming to the end of their lives so alone in a world that is allegedly better connected than ever before. Somehow unsurprisingly, three-quarters of those who get sent off in this way are men, and more than half of them are over 65.

I'm sure there's someone out there for the man from Swindon, but it's a reminder that connectivity of the 21st century is a very selective thing. Take, for example, news reports about the cuddly toy left behind at Baggy Point beach in North Devon last week – the finders put its picture on Facebook in a bid to track down its owner.

Thousands of people shared the image, and the child duly spotted it, and got it back safely. What a lovely tale.

In the meantime, if there's a lonely old bloke down the road from you do pop by from time to time and make sure he's OK.

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  • mmjames  |  September 05 2013, 9:20AM

    How do you think people survived on St Kilda?

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