Life in the North East of England (59)

Rod Adams

Mickey and I grew up together and he flew pigeons with me in the late fifties/ early sixties, although to be fair the attraction for him wasn’t the pigeons but my comfortable cabin into which he took his then girlfriend every Sunday morning. From which he would eventually emerge, blinking into the sunlight, in the late afternoon. When he was hungry! Happy days. Like all of the men in his family he was a laughing, powerful, stocky little man with bow legs. Frightened of nothing and nobody, he was an evil footballer, who took no prisoners, and a fine, nerveless darts player. At one time he was a Fireman on the old steam trains and wangled me a trip on the footplate of one of the locos hauling iron ore. It was an experience I have never forgotten.

As my partner with the pigeons he did exactly what I asked him to do. And I mean exactly! If I said “give them an hour’s flying Mickey,” an hour was what they got. It didn’t matter if it was snowing, blowing a gale, pouring with rain, thick fog or what, if  Rod had said give them an hour an hour was what they got! Mickey might not have been much of a pigeon fancier but what a darts player! He played for money. Big money, as well as in the best local darts league and nothing fazed him. Absolutely nothing.

We won our fair share of sprint races before he got married and went his own way but he retained an interest in pigeons all his life. Strangely enough, years after our partnership was over, his father took up racing pigeons, flying in the same club as me. After the infamous Dr Beeching took his axe to the railways Mickey drove lorries for a living. Long distance. He eventually got an allotment amongst the pigeon men, kept a few fish in his back garden and died far too young. Larger than life and always full of zest he won’t ever be forgotten. Characters like him never are forgotten!

The battle of Flodden Field in 1513 was Scotland’s greatest defeat. I’ve walked across Twizzel Bridge which the English army crossed on their march from Wooler and I’ve seen Flodden Field. There were political, historical and military reasons why the Scots, led by James IV, were defeated with the loss of around 8000 men at Flodden Field. 29,000 Scots, on ground of their own choosing, faced an English army of some 22,500 men led by the 70 year old Earl of Surrey and were slaughtered!! King James IV died that day and an entire generation of Scottish noblemen and gentry were wiped out in a single afternoon when the hidden flaws in the Scottish military machine were exposed.

Why? Well basically, the artillery didn’t perform as it should have and the pikes failed. It was a defeat entirely attributable to a lack of discipline, insufficient training in the new tactics of war (inspired by the Swiss who at that time had a tremendous war machine and some of the best mercenaries in the world ) that were appearing and rank bad luck with the local geography at a critical moment of the battle. So all very interesting, if you like that kind of thing, but what has it to do with pigeons?

Well, I’ll run it past you again. An entire generation lost through lack of training in new tactics. Lack of discipline. Non performance where performance was expected. And bad luck on the day. Sound familiar to you? Pigeon racing pales into insignificance compared to losses of human life of that magnitude, but without in any way trivialising history try to think of a different scenario. Think pigeons. Think “smashes.” Do some comparisons and what have you got but a lost generation? Not of noblemen and gentry but of birds. There are lessons to be learned from history which can apply in the most unlikely of areas! Lack of discipline. Insufficient training. Performers not performing. And rank bad luck. Ring any bells?


Some people are born worriers. Born worriers have a rough time if they keep racing pigeons! It isn’t a game for the faint hearted. Not that I am saying all born worriers are faint hearted, most of them aren’t, far from it, but pigeon racing has it’s ups and downs. Big ups and bigger downs and you just have to live with them. It is a terrific and exciting way to spend your time but there is a life outside of the sport. Take my word for it. So the birds aren’t winning or they are genuinely sick. You have a problem with some or all of them. So what? You do your best to sort it out. See the right people. Do all the right things. Give the right treatment, and that might mean doing absolutely nothing, and the problems resolve themselves or they don’t. Eventually, one way or another, your troubles with the birds will be over and in time you will forget you ever had any.

So why the sleepless nights? If you and your immediate family are relatively healthy, if you have enough money to pay your bills, have a roof over your head and food in your belly, enough money for a pint of beer and to buy the children a pair of shoes and maybe take them out for a little treat or a holiday now and then you’ve got a head start haven’t you? You wake up in the morning and you’re winning! Problems with pigeons go with the territory. It’s part and parcel of the game. Look at it this way, in a class of say twenty or thirty children at least two or three will normally be absent each day through mild illnesses. Then along comes something like say measles or chickenpox or maybe just the common cold and the class is decimated. Are the teachers frantic with worry? I think not. It is part and parcel of the job. It is exactly the same if you keep pigeons. So stop worrying so much all you born worriers out there and count the good things in your life. If all you have in it is pigeons that’s really a bit sad!

Herbal and other natural products have always aroused a lot of interest. There appears to be an upsurge of animosity towards not just antibiotics but also other common preparations used widely for the control of canker, worms and cocci. And I am wondering why. Have these people over used prescribed medicines in the past and come a cropper or is what I am seeing some kind of “green” campaign fuelled by members of the “tree hugging” generation who just happen to keep pigeons? In due course I shall ask one or two of them some questions but in my view there is a place for both natural products and prescribed medicines.

Balance is what it’s all about. Herbal medicine. Homeopathic medicine. Modern veterinary medicine all have their followers. It is no more, and never was, other than a question of what will best benefit your birds. Fanciers very quickly become converts of whatever “system” they are following (and whatever products they are using) once they have won something big on it. Converts then become fanatics and regard for other peoples views flies out of the window. Polarisation of the various camps is the result. From that comes lack of tolerance for others and an absolute certainty of being right, which is often misplaced. There are many roads to Rome but most people know and recognise only the one they happen to be using. Using a medical term, it is called Myopia.