Life in the North East of England (65)

Rod Adams

Two plus two in pigeon racing often adds up to five. It’s been my experience that by and large fanciers make assumptions and seldom deal in facts. I was attempting to get this point across last night using the simple question “but how do you know?” If you lose a lot of youngsters at the first race blame the convoyer, blame undiagnosed Young Bird Sickness, blame an unknown fungal infection of the crop, apportion blame wherever you like, and you probably will, but how do you know? The simple answer is you don’t! And the smart money is on you never ever finding out either! It’s the reverse side of the coin to whatever you credit your winning races to. Your feeding, your management, some particular medicine or supplement or some perceived introduced difference to the normal situation. It’s never usually just the pigeon or sheer good luck. How can you know? I mean really know?

Remember the advertising catch-phrase “the appliance of science?” It may have applied in the case of electrical goods but applying science to pigeon racing isn’t that easy and is mostly beyond the pockets, wishes, and time frames of ordinary fanciers. So you draw, or try to, what sensible conclusions you can so that when things go wrong, or less often, right, at some future time you will “know better” or at least will know why. But will you? It’s called gaining experience and it never was easy. There are certainties in this world, proven scientific facts and natural laws which can be a great help when the unexpected happens as it often does in our sport, but don’t kid yourself that you have all of the answers or even some of them. How do you know? I mean really know.

We have some hellishly keen fliers in The Up North Combine, men who work hard at their sport, who go though two or three clapped out vans in a season training twice a day every day, without batting an eye-lid! None of this fancy flying around the doors business, it’s basket–home, basket–home with nothing in between, especially with the youngsters. If you want robots, fast robots, successful robots, this is how you get them. Combine the robotics with paired-up darkness young birds and your natural pigeons on a twice a day flying around the loft system will get you precisely nothing! And I mean nothing. You will not get a bite of the cake. For sure.

This is the reality nowadays with young bird flying and if you can’t beat them (and you won’t) you have to join them, or opt out of it. It’s your choice. Whether you view this as progress or not depend upon your point of view but you have to admire the men who know what they want, know how to get it and then go and do just that. Year after year! Whether you like it or not these are dedicated pigeon men, make no mistake about that. They’re out to win and deadly serious about it to boot. Beat them if you can!

This morning I saw a pigeon with good, old fashioned Canker of the mouth. A rare occurrence these days, so rare that there are now fanciers who have kept pigeons for a number of years who have never seen it before and wonder what it is when they do see it! When I was a boy it was the curse of the fancy and lofts which had a Canker problem were shunned like lepers. Treatments were primitive and not particularly effective and a lot of pigeons were killed unnecessarily. We have certainly moved on. It would be nice  to have a problem like Canker now instead of all the “modern” diseases like the current viral infections which seem to be surrounding us. Mind you when my Doctor, who I knew as a student, and he was one of the better ones, tells me he thinks that I have a viral infection I take that to mean he doesn’t rightly know what’s wrong with me but, given time, it’ll probably go away!

I remember the occasion when I was suffering from severe headaches, night sweats and eyes that couldn’t stand bright lights. Forced to the Doctors (it is always my last resort) by my wife, he listened to my tale of woe, examined me and gave me a sick note for two weeks with the letters P.U.O. on it. So I said to him “I know what that means,” “go on then” said he, “tell me.” “Pyrexia of unknown origin” I replied “and what exactly does that mean” he said grinning at me? “It means” said I “that I’m running a temperature but you don’t know why.” “Spot on” he said, “drink plenty of fluids, take an Aspirin or two when you feel like it and if it doesn’t go away by itself I’ll give you a sick note for another two weeks.” Can’t you just see someone, other than anyone with my background, proudly telling all his mates in the pub why he’s off work, “I’ve got P.U.O. you see!” Keep it in mind the next time someone tells you that his birds or yours, “have a virus.” Come back Canker--- all is forgiven!

Continuing with the medical theme. Les was a newly qualified young Doctor working in the Accident and Emergency Dept. of our local hospital when he was confronted by an old tramp being wheeled in on a trolley with a supposed heart attack. Living rough, the man was filthy, drunk, stinking, and covered in vermin, so the staff had stripped him off and dressed him in a disposable paper gown. Les set to, examining him and attaching the necessary equipment, when he noted a fat, bloated flea crawling slowly across the man’s testicles “Rod” he said to me afterwards “it just flashed into my head what you’d once told me, years ago, about how you dealt with cat fleas when you were operating on cats.” Let me explain.

I’ve known Les for a long time, since he was a boy in fact. Long before he took up Medicine as a career I was working as a Laboratory Technician in Newcastle University who’s main line of research then was on pancreatic secretion. Cats were the experimental animal of choice and were operated on under licence from the Home Office. I had a restricted licence then and handled the anaesthetic bit and assisted in the various surgical procedures. The operating table was heated and the overhead lights also gave out quite a bit of heat. The cats, being bought in from dealers at that time, and not being laboratory bred, were infested with fleas who strolled about the nice warm surface of the animal with complete impunity. It was their Costa Del Cat if you like, so I developed a way of dealing with them because, although cat fleas can’t live permanently on people, they can bite you all right. Take my word for it.

What I used to do was drip Ether onto any flea within reach then crack it with a pair of Artery Forceps. It kept me amused when I had nothing else to do and we ran a league table amongst the Technicians of who had killed the most fleas per cat. “So” continued Les “I said to the nurse Artery Forceps please and some Ether, god knows what she thought I was going to do, probably something highly technical, but all I could think of was you and the cats, so forceps in hand I dripped some Ether on his testicles and bugger me, this man who was supposed to be critically ill with a heart attack, shot bolt upright clutching the said testicles for dear life. “Jesus Christ Doctor” he said, “what the hell was that!” “Nurse” I replied, “put this man through the car wash, and then get him the hell out of here! I tell you Rod, were those nurses impressed. Were they not!”