Life in the North East of England (58)

Rod Adams

Half an hour after the winners were timed in I got a phone call, needless to say not from one of the winners, “Rod” the voice said “the pigeons have got a fungus (note, not a  fungal)  infection but “a fungus”) what will I get for them?” “How do you know” I queried “that the birds have got a fungal infection?” “Well” he said “there’s a lot of it about.” “There is” I told him “a lot of Leprosy about in this world of ours but you haven’t got that. Didn’t you win or what?” End of conversation! Fungal infections are the “in” disease right now. It is flavour of the month. The cause of everyone’s non-performances. You can’t see it so it must be there. Sales of Nystan have soared. It is being brought back from abroad in bulk. From wherever it can be legally bought over the counter. Lord help the sport in times like these!

Fungal infections can and do cause problems, especially with young birds, each and every year, but not on such a widespread scale as this appears to be. My own view is that this is nothing more than another outbreak of the “my birds are not winning so they must be sick” syndrome. And that this is as good a reason as any for some people as to why they are not winning. Remember the White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s book “Through The Looking Glass?” Alice notices the mouse-trap hanging from the saddle of his horse and says to him “I was wondering what the mouse-trap was for, it isn’t very likely there would be any mice on the horse’s back.” “Not very likely, perhaps” says the Knight; “but if they do come, I don’t choose to have them running all about!” Exactly!” It is “Alice In Wonderland” stuff. Substitute a bottle of Nystan for the mouse-trap, and a pigeon for the horse, and there you have it!

Pigeon racing can quite easily become an extremely obsessional hobby, and as with all obsessions, you can have too much of a good thing. It is very easy to sicken yourself by being too involved in a specific and narrow field like pigeon racing and as a consequence of this forgetting that there are many other things to be enjoyed in this life. That there exist many important issues which ought to outrank any obsession, even pigeon racing. My godson, when he was 14 years old was adamant about going to sea as a professional fisherman. He’d always been keen on sea fishing and had a bee in his bonnet about working on trawlers when he grew up. Now his father is too old a cat to be screwed by a kitten and knew fine well that prohibiting this course of action would only make his son even more determined to defy him (didn’t we all do that) so he set his son up. He and I have both have known a pigeon fancier by the name of Ronnie Martin ever since we were kids. And at that time Ronnie was skippering a fishing boat working out of North Shields.

“Would he” his father asked “take my lad with him on his next trip?” Allowing your 14 year old son to go to sea is no small decision to make, but the father in question made it. Mainly because he knew that Captain Ronnie would look after his son. The man said yes and off to sea went the son. Ten days in rough winter weather, spent almost entirely in the ship’s hold gutting fish and being seasick all the time is no joke. Neither is shipboard cuisine. When the ship returned to offload her catch the father was there to meet it. “Take me home please dad, I never want to step on another trawler again” was all the boy said. His hands were a raw mess, full of unhealed cuts from gutting fish and the effects of salt water, and all he wanted in the whole world was a hot bath and a warm, dry, comfortable bed. Nothing else!!

It had completely cured him of his previous desire to go to sea. You can have too much of a good thing ands he quite clearly had. But what an experience for a 14 year old lad to regale his friends with. How he actually came to be signed on as part of the crew and got his, admittedly very minor, share of the catch is another story, but as I recall it, it involved a crew night ashore, followed by the gaoling in Denmark of one or other of his shipmates! My godson, now a grown man, has built up his own very successful business. It is sited well inland!

There we were at the marking centre, and all the big team men were plonking down their panniers with their thirty/ forty birds, when down the path comes this little fellow. Immaculately dressed as usual. Blinking mildly through his spectacles and smiling at everyone. As he always does. He was carrying what looked like a small wicker cat basket, which he carefully set down at the end of the long line of crates and patiently waited for his turn to come around. Despite our entreaties for him to go straight to the head of the queue. He had only two birds in that small basket and entered them both for the race. We stood around chatting for a while, and I was, as usual, regaled with lots of funny but totally unprintable stories, “for your column Rod” until the transporter arrived.

Walking back up the path I passed the little fellow returning to his loft, carrying his equally little basket. He never even looked up as I came alongside him, but he knew it was me alright. Knew I had 24 birds away against his two. “Best you can do is third son” he said out of the side of his mouth. I loved that man! In case you are wondering he was nowhere in that particular race. And neither was I, but that was never the point of his remark was it?

A quote for you which I came across many, many years ago in some scientific magazine or other. It was written by a rather remarkable man from Denmark, called Piet Hein. Look him up on the internet. You will be impressed.

The more I read it the more I like it:-


“A grasshopper sat on a flagstone and wept,

With a sorrow that few surpass.

He had painfully mastered his letters, and leapt,

To a place where he knew;

An inscription was kept,

And of course it said: