When I was a boy I used to go to Silver Blades ice rink in Streatham on Saturday mornings. The crash-hot skaters used to charge the rink-exits flat out — and then stop dead an inch before disaster by turning their skates round as breakes, so that they almost faced the opposite way. I longed to do that.
I have just realised that barn owls do the same thing. I have been watching one — a burly female, I think — hunt over the marsh behind the house. A barn owl hunt is a hectic business: dashing here and dashing there, trying to get a full meal before the light goes: they are specialists of the dusk, rather than lovers of the night.
She was flying at about six feet from the ground, and at some speed, white wings in a silent whir. And when she spotted something tasty, she went into Silver Blades mode: a full 180 in the air, at the same time flipping up her tail and dropping her head, looking at the same spot on the ground all the time is if trying to stare a hole in it. She seemed to turn on the axis of her eyes.
The half-spin brought her forward-speed to zero in an instant of time, allowing her to drop vertically; without it she would have over-shot. She went down headfirst and as she did so, she swung her long legs either side of face, so everything was lined up with immense precision. And struck.
And I longed to do that.