“There!” he points, but I can’t see for looking. At the top of the scaffold, with a bird’s eye view of roofs, chimneys and treetops, my senses are still adjusting when I see what brought me here.
Tucked out of sight under the guttering is a grey ball of fluff peering back at me. It’s a squab, a wood pigeon chick, sitting in a little raft of sticks with an unhatched egg on the boards. The scaffolder shakes his head, there is no way his gaffer is going to allow the scaffold to stay here another couple of weeks while the squab fledges – it has to be taken down now. “Bloody pigeons, eh?”
We can’t leave it on the roof or in the gutter, because the next downpour will wash it out. The hen wood pigeon perches on next door’s television aerial, her head cocked. The scaffolders put the squab and its nest with the unhatched egg into a cardboard box before getting on with the dismantling.
Finding a new home is difficult; alternative sites are either occupied by other nests or too far away from the hen for her to find it. We want to keep it close as there are cats about, but would the squab be abandoned? We improvise a shelter out of a recycling box, a plank and a few bricks that has a similar feeling of rickety contingency as the nest.
The squab makes little clicking noises, a gentle knocking on the door of panic; the hen watches from the roof opposite, flies off, comes back. Will she find her chick? The next morning, the hen wood pigeon and her squab nestle together in the box. She feeds this enormous pillow of down, pin and emerging proper feathers, and they sit together like two ends of an evolutionary story with the egg of the unhatched sibling still in the nest.
A week or so on, and the squab is no longer squab-like, but svelte in soft grey plumage, and from that unlikely story of accident and conscience, cocks a jet eye. Not long now until it takes to its wings. Hope.