Life in the North East of England (33)
We were talking in the cabin the other day about the vast amount of effort pigeon men put in trying to win races and how an awful lot of that effort is wasted because it isn’t being applied in the right direction. Whenever I think about misapplied effort, I think about ladies toilets. And a guy called David. Let me explain. I would be about 18 or 19 years old and working in a Histology laboratory. Across the courtyard from me were the frosted glass windows of the ladies and gents toilets which shared a common dividing wall and half each of the same large window. The lights came on automatically as you went in, via a brass contact switch on the top of the door, so I could always see if the cubicles were in use and save myself a wasted journey should I want to go there. One fine day, at the beginning of the summer vacation when all the students were on holiday, I glanced across, saw the lights were out and toddled over but the toilet was occupied so I assumed the bulb had blown and went back later to find the light worked as normal. It wasn’t until this had happened several times to me that I really got to wondering what was going on and kept an eye on the place. It was then that I noticed that the guy who always came out afterwards, when the light hadn’t been on, was David. And it always worked as normal again once he had left.
This went on for weeks, so one day, after I knew he had been in the toilet, I went in and had a good look around the place. I saw some sawdust on the windowsill and eventually found where he had been painstakingly cutting a tiny hole through the junction of the wall and the wood of the centre piece of the shared window frame. So that he could look into the ladies toilet. Obviously he had been watching the lights to make sure there was no one in the ladies, then short circuiting the contact switch in the gents with a piece of paper so that it looked unoccupied. He had been quietly working on the hole using a penknife or something similar until he heard someone entering the cubicle next door, when he would quit and come out, leaving the lights to work as normal! I kept an eye on his progress and eventually he made the breakthrough. I checked and you could see quite clearly into the ladies toilet. They were in no danger whatsoever of being spied upon! What had the clown done but stood on the toilet seat when he was making the hole. You had a beautiful view of the side of the cistern some seven or eight feet off the floor! Now that is what I call miss-applied effort! I put the word about amongst the technical staff and a shamefaced David filled the hole in. And shortly afterwards left the department.
The enthusiasm of youth. Remember your first bicycle and how you rode it? Always fast and furious with little regard for other road users. And long before you had a bike, going down a hill curled up inside a lorry tyre. Stopping only when it fell over or hit a wall? We slid down slag heaps on rusty sheets of corrugated iron or made our own go-carts out of perambulator wheels, small ones at the front, large ones at the back, a longish plank of wood and two small ones, a bolt, and a piece of rope to steer with. Brakes were never even considered. You used your shoes to stop it or steered it into the kerb. The steeper the hill the better and yet, despite this youthful disregard for personal safety, I don’t recall many of us being badly injured. Plenty of cuts and bruises, even some stitches and the odd broken limb, but we survived. We got older and wiser. Wise enough to stop doing these things and so eventually will our young pigeons.
The desirable thing is to retain enthusiasm alongside acquired knowledge without knocking the stuffing out of them by overwork at an early age. Enthusiasm, when you think about it, has to last them for many years if they are to remain racers and not be turned all too quickly into plodders. It is a fine balance. When I look at some of the great racing performances put up over long distances on hard days by four, five and six year old birds, I know that they have been handled by people who are well aware of what they are doing. Who have retained in their pigeons the enthusiasm of youth and blended it with age and experience to produce birds that are very hard to beat. Especially when conditions are difficult. These are proper pigeon fanciers. Not those simply playing the numbers game and emptying their lofts week after week. Good luck to such men. They have earned it
I often wonder what it is that makes people in our sport cheat and/or tell lies? And attempt to delude their fellow competitors. I know one or two congenital liars. Men who tell blatant untruths then come to believe their own lies. And one or two men who couldn’t lie straight in bed if they tried to. I guess such men exist worldwide, but why do they do it? For the money? For prestige? Or what? I just don’t know. There is no financial gain to speak of at club or even Federation level unless you are a big-time seller. Or a dealer selling on the strength of your/someone else’s results. At National level it is harder, but not impossible, to lie and cheat. It has been done on occasion in the past. And will doubtless be done again in the future, but what an attitude to have towards our sport. Do these people have any friends? Any self respect? To be a good liar you have to have a good memory. Thieves usually fall out and sooner or later the truth surfaces. And a good thing too. As the old saying goes, you can fool most of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And that is for sure!
Pigeon men are great ones for deluding themselves that what they have seen hasn’t really happened. And rationalising away things that they would rather not believe than face the truth. That it wasn’t a good race. That they had flown a stinker. Or that their birds aren’t good enough when the answer is that they themselves aren’t. That the convoyer was to blame not them. And so on. If you believe something long enough and hard enough it invariably becomes a fact in your own mind and not just a belief. Sometimes though what you have seen with your own eyes may not be all it seems. Let me tell you about hypnotism. I saw that lecture, on hypnotism, many, many, times over the years. In fact I used to make a point of not missing it. I was that fascinated by it.
The lecturer would lay out three mattresses on the floor in front of the lecture bench and putting a tape-recorder on the bench would ask for volunteers amongst the students. Then carefully selecting three he would send them to sleep, and playing a particular tune would tell them that whenever they heard it again they would become very tired and would come down from their seats in the lecture theatre, lie down on the mattresses and go to sleep. He would then bring them out of their trance. They would resume their seats as if nothing had happened. And he would resume the lecture. The tension in the place was almost unbearable as everyone waited to see what would happen and the lecturer, being an old hand at the game, milked it for all it was worth. Right until the very end of his lecture period.
On would go the music and up would get the three subjects. Seemingly in a trance, they would walk down to the front of the room, lie on the mattresses and fall asleep. It was all very impressive and the other students would file out leaving their colleagues on the floor. Alone with the lecturer who would then bring them round. I never tired of watching the performance. It was many, many years later, when talking to the lecturer at his retirement dinner that I found out how he did it. He had paid them to lie down hadn’t he. £10 was a lot of money to a student in those days and besides this they got off the next lecture as well. Seeing is not always believing. And don’t let anyone tell you different!