Life in the North East of England (37)

Rod Adams

The trick to building up a colony of a particular man’s pigeons is not to get eggs or birds off him on a once-off basis but to collect them for a few years and only then will you have a true representation of what he has. So it was that my friend turned up today, for the third year running, to take away eggs and small youngsters from my stock loft. Sausage rolls and pasties go well with “Scrumpy Jack” Cider on a hot day as we watched the birds go belting past in big numbers from a transporter toss. I amused myself; little things please little minds and all that, by telling my visitors what was wrong with their birds before they told me, as it was pretty obvious that they, like me, would have birds with stiff wings after our recent long holdover. “Wing Lock” the old timers called it, an expression I haven’t heard for ages, but that describes it pretty well, the wings being so inflexible it is hardly real. With no racing on this Saturday it was a time for sitting in the sun and watching the world go by. A rare state that for a pigeon man. Complete idleness. I’ve been practising it for the last four years and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it. But I’m getting there! My friend has birds off all my key pigeons and now he must be patient, fly hard what he has from me and breeds himself, and wait to see if amongst them he has the one bird, or if he is lucky more than one, that will make his name for him. Best of luck mate!

Contingency planning for when things go wrong is something practised by all the successful fanciers. Murphy’s Law has always applied in our sport. If things can go wrong they will go wrong! Old Dr Catton knew a thing or two about contingency planning–did he not! As a Senior Lecturer in Neuro-Physiology one of his jobs was to demonstrate to medical students things called action potentials. Small electrical pulses sent out by contracting muscle fibres. Bill was an original eccentric who spent all his working hours in a small, windowless, steel- lined room, crouched over flickering Oscilloscope screens and circuit diagrams, only ever coming out to go home at night. He had an airy fairy detached air about him and was absolutely unflappable. His demonstrations, carried out on a lecture bench in front of over 100 students, always worked. Despite the nerve muscle preparation dissected from a freshly killed frog being notoriously unreliable. Dr Catton you see had a contingency plan. He would set things up and genuinely attempt to show the students with his live preparation what they were supposed to see, but if that looked like failing or the preparation was dying he had the whole experiment pre-recorded on magnetic tape and the recorder, placed under the bench and out of sight of the students, could be brought into play at the flick of a hidden switch and the tape displayed on his Oscilloscope. He would fiddle with the muscle bath, look up with an air of bewilderment then beam his angelic smile, flick his switch and say, “there we are, I’ve got it now”, and he had. On tape!

He even had a contingency plan for his contingency plan! If all else failed he would tell his students the most beautiful lies! His story about HMS Hood was legendary. If things were going wrong or he thought the students looked bored he would launch into a long pre-amble about the Variable Oscillator he was using. And how when HMS Hood was sunk by a stray shell down the funnel which blew up the ammunition store, the radio operator carried it out of the radio shack at the last possible second, and as one of a handful of survivors, against all odds carried it with him into a lifeboat and then ashore when he was rescued. “He then gave it to me” Dr Catton would say “as a piece of history so that future generations like you would never forget the past.” The students were always entranced by this tale and you could see how moved they were by it. I wasn’t. I actually bought the bloody thing, second-hand, at the Army and Navy Store in Newcastle! Belt and braces, that was Bill Catton. Contingency planning at it’s best!

The weather was abysmal that day. Even the transporters out training turned around and brought the birds back, so on went the kettle and we listened to Neil the Roller man’s problem of loss of form with his competition birds. They just weren’t rolling any more after such a good start to the season and he had a big competition due. Join the club mate; we get the same loss of form problems ourselves as racing men. I wanted to know if he had located where the entire kit of Tipplers which had descended en masse, about a dozen in all, at a neighbour’s house whilst he had been having a barbeque and refused to go, had come from! He had. After they had caught them all and put them in a rabbit hutch he had managed to find out where they belonged as most of them were ringed. It was quite local really; maybe couple of miles away, but what had they seen to bring them down at a house where there were no pigeons and no loft. And from where they had refused to go, sleeping nightly on the roof and the window sills? Maybe they liked his sausages! I know the High Flier men often have more trouble than we do in settling their youngsters, which often turn up many miles from home when they get lost. Even on oil-rigs out in the North Sea, but a whole team dropping out of the sky like that and then sitting tight for days?

My visitor raised the subject of warm feet as an aid to finding “form” pigeons and maybe as an indication of their state of health. Personally I can’t see much merit in the idea as all birds, to a greater or lesser degree, use their legs as a kind of mechanism for retaining or losing heat. Especially in those species where the legs are unfeathered. When it is warm and they need to lose heat the blood flow to the feet and legs increases and the extra heat is lost by radiation. When it is cold the blood flow decreases and naturally less heat is lost, and if they sit down, or even stand on one leg, they can decrease the heat loss even more. So you can’t really consider the temperature of their feet in isolation but have to take into account things like ambient temperature, the loft environment, and what the particular bird was doing at the time you picked it up and felt its feet. Was it sitting on eggs? Walking on a concrete gantry? Standing on a polystyrene tile? Or had it just landed from a flight?

As an indication of the bird’s health, well, my mother used to swear that my father’s feet, which were so sweaty he used to change his socks three times a day, were only ever cold and sweat-free when he was ill! I don’t know about that but his socks never developed holes in them. They simply snapped when they dried out! In summary all I think you need to know about feet in pigeons, is which pair go through the door first,

on a regular basis,every Saturday.

Why that particular pair.

And how to get more like them!