I don't like to see wildlife hurt. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that.
So imagine my wonderment when the traffic on the A50 to Raynesway in Derby very suddenly grinds to a halt and the car in the right-hand lane puts his hazard warning lights on. All I saw was a flash of white. Then I noticed an RSPCA van pull up on the other side of the road. This is a dual cariageway witha metal barrier in between. It was as I looked back to my side I clocked the flash of a white wing, some flippery feet waddling in front of a car.
"Why don't they just run the fucker over?" the young man in the car at the side of me says, after I wind my window down and tell him what I think the problem is.
"Well," I say inside the confines of my head, "Because some of us have a bit of humanity left in this post-truth era. And I know that because I'm soon to be appointed to the European Kebab Standards Council." It's true.
The swan wanders onto the verge on my side, and the two cars in front move partly onto the verge. The ones in the right-hand lane speed off, the bird no longer an issue. The RSPCA guy legs it across the 50MPH carriageway and scurries over the barriers, clad in dark blue uniform. I can immediately see how this is going to develop: a man clearly in his late fifties is going to get hit by rush-hour traffic rescuing the bloody thing.
I put on my beacon, pull onto the verge, and stick my own hazard warning lights on. I'm aware that this means precisely fuck-all to most road users, but at least I'm kitted out to be a bit safer at the side of a road than this guy dressed pretty much like a ninja. By this time I've watched him stumble over at least twice, and I'm reminded why our place constantly harp on about checking your surroundings.
By this time the swan has decided to have a crack at flight. It manages a good ten feet back towards the now moving traffic just as the other concerned citizens have decided we look like we know what we're doing. I don't know what I'm doing, and as I see the RSPCA guy fall on his arse on the embankment thanks to the snaking brambles there, I'm confident he doesn't either. But moving traffic clearly isn't for the swan so it veers away.
We try a pincer movement, forcing it onto the embankment. It's clearly out of energy. We get close. So close. So it hisses, then launches itself like a kamikaze blur of demented ripped pillows into sapling thorn trees, more bramble, weeds, and grass clumps. Down the other side of the embankment, we only see it again when we've found a human way through that doesn't involve getting stuck.
It's getting more and more stuck. It even manages to trip itself up, and that's when I get the impression it's exhausted. We agree to leave it where it is so he can get his van, bring it onto the right carriageway, off the carriageway, and I can watch it from the embankment to show him where exactly to stop. Great plan. Safe plan. Apart from him going across the sodding dual carriageway again...
Then something amazing happens.
A young woman turns up. I can't really hear what she's saying, but I make out the words "Wildlife", "I know about", "Seen it", and "Sanctuary". She pursues it with an agile vigour that reminds me I really really need to either get fitter or succumb to old age in my forties. As it scurries into a gully, where the overgrowth is vertical, she calls out that there's a footpath the other side, and she can get to it. Moments later, she has it by an allegedly arm-breakingly strong wing, pins it down as though this is the most natural thing in the world, scoops it up in her arms while I'm still breathlessly fighting weeds, and emerges onto the footpath.
I'm pretty sure I said "I'll go back to the main road so the RSPCA guy knows where we are."
By the time he got to me (it's now almost 5pm and the traffic is predictably office hours Friday) she'd gone. We even went around the other side of the gully and footpath in our respective vans, onto a housing estate I'll say "I am familiar with" and couldn't see her. Naturally we were a bit worried, so we both scoured sections of the pathway, covering about a mile.
Eventually the RSPCA guy (let's call him Dave, because his name is Dave) calls it in to the office and we find out... happily... it might be a wildlife rescue centre in Burton that the woman represented. We're pretty sure from what we've seen that A) she's younger and more agile than us, B) she's done this before, C) she's got experience and initiative enough to not hang around for two old grunts.
After more contact with the RSPCA call centre we then learn our hunches are correct, and also D) the wildlife rescuers are on Facebook, so I messaged them there too, E) she was in a vehicle liveried to establish this, which we'd either not seen or wasn't nearby.
The swan is safe.
The swan is being released tomorrow. :-)
So what I learned today was this: Some RSPCA folks are a bit crazy but will go to any lengths to get a result. A flashing beacon and a hi-viz jacket are actually quite helpful for not getting killed trying to get a result. A young and intelligent woman can achieve in ten minutes what two old farts can't in an hour, no matter how intelligent. No-one is going to believe my tracker report. And finally...
Swans? Jeeze, they're dim. The very body language suggests it might have just read this!