LIFE IN THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND ( 71 )
I was engaged to Betty at the time. My one and only red-headed woman. I still have the scars and to this day give all red-headed ladies a wide berth. Very wide! Anyway, the point is that she lived in a little village several miles West of Newcastle. We worked together at the University and I often stayed weekends at her house. It didn’t take me long to discover that there were a few pigeon lofts nearby and that an ex-Newcastle footballer had a loft at a place called Callerton. Black Callerton interested me more at the time as there was a nudist colony in the woods there, within walking distance of where Betty lived.
In 1963 a man called Anderson won the Up North Combine from Beauvais, a race flown in conjunction with the Scottish National Flying Club. T. C. Anderson flew in the Westerhope Homing Society so naturally, as Westerhope wasn’t that far from where Betty lived I went to see him as soon as I could. It must have been about this time when it dawned on Betty that I was more interested in pigeons than in her. Not always you understand. My priorities at that time tended to vary with my Testosterone levels, which were much higher then than they are now. Anyway, regardless, first and foremost came the pigeons so Betty gave me my marching orders, but that’s another story!
Tommy Anderson was a self-employed haulage contractor whose loft was in a field behind the large building where he garaged his lorries. He kept a horse in that field instead of a Rottweiler. It was bigger and just as nasty but it was get past it or try and find a way through the garage. I got past it eventually. Just! The loft was built of brick, the green/brown glazed kind used in the construction of public toilets and on the frontage of pubs, with plenty of ventilation and was bone dry.
He welcomed me in and I handled his winner. A Red Cheq Cock, slightly above average size, Ring no.61-6110, he was timed in at 8.30 p.m. after a 9.40 a.m. liberation to record a velocity of 1126.7 yds/min beating a total of 11,168 birds. He was a beautifully feathered pigeon but it was Tommy’s second bird that day which was most to my and Tommy’s liking. Memory says it was a Cheq Hen, the loft favourite, which I believe he clocked at 10.10 p.m. on a velocity of 974.9 yds/min. to win 197th. Open. Those were the days. The Newcastle Federation was massive then and there were actually 13 other clubs lying to the east of the winning loft! Who dares wins eh? And Betty? She married a Doctor and went off to live in Canada. Cured of pigeons for ever!
For a number of years I travelled to the west coast of Scotland see a wild duck. Nothing rare or exciting, just a female Mallard, but I had a hand in it’s history. A friend of mine had picked it up by the side of a roundabout where it was in severe danger of being flattened by passing traffic. So he popped it into the boot of his car and brought it to me. I checked it over and found the problem. It had a broken leg and as ducks need to spring up into the air to take off, it couldn’t fly. There was absolutely nothing wrong with its wings. I set it’s leg in plaster and my friend took it home and put it in his Poly-Tunnel (neither of us like the taste of duck. That was our story and we stuck to it) to recover.
Three weeks later when it was walking around quite happily and quacking it’s head off he released it on a farm near where he lives. The farmer and my friend are old friends and the man has lots of Geese, Ducks, Chickens, Turkeys etc. and conveniently there is a stream running right through the farm. “Our” duck took one look at the other ducks. Khaki Campbells and White Aylesbury, and immediately joined the former It has been with the Khaki Campbells ever since. Being free flying it is the first one out in the morning (via a gap in the top of the barn door as none of the commercial ducks can fly, and therefor have to waddle out at opening time) and last one in at night.
It’s number one pal was a semi-wild Cockerel left behind by some travelling people, the nearest thing I have ever seen to a Jungle Fowl, which slept high up in an ivy-covered tree above the stream, perfectly safe from foxes, and eked out a living on the periphery of the farm. It always accompanied “our” duck by the stream edge during the day until the rest of the boys arrived! I saw it many times over the years but I don’t think it ever recognised me. All it ever said was “quack, quack.” There’s gratitude for you!
“Blue Boy.” Now that was some pigeon. NEHU 56X33738 owned by Tom Taylor & Son of Ashington. Its breeding was Delmotte–Jurion, from the Royal Lofts crossed with the Vandeveldes. I never handled the pigeon itself (just children and grandchildren) but I went to see him once at a big national show. He was easy to find. I just looked for where the crowd was the thickest. Round his pen, naturally. Getting close to him wasn’t easy. It was the same when he was racing from across the channel, nothing much got very close to him then either!
Bourges 1960, 572 miles, just on dark and four pigeons came out of the South. Tired, on auto-pilot, only their wingtips moving, watching each other, waiting for the first one to go down (then perhaps all would have gone down) as pigeons do that have been flying together all day, and have just about had enough. They passed over Geordie Pounder’s loft on the council-owned site. The two brothers in the garden behind him shouted, whistled and waved their white trappers about and the spell was broken. One pigeon turned back and the other three swung around with it. The one that had made the first move dropped into Geordie Pounder’s loft and the other three looked about themselves, shook their tails, straightened up and plodded on North.
They were seen going over some other allotments a few minutes later and several pairs of eyes watched them as all three pitched onto the roof of a brightly illuminated cinema a short distance behind those gardens. Down for the night. One of them perhaps just 15 miles from home? Blue Boy was in early the next morning to be 9th. Up North Combine on a velocity of 882.2 yds./ min. I still believe, to this day, as did everyone else who saw that little bunch of triers pushing on into the darkness, that we saw “Blue Boy” in action that night.
Three years later and I was standing on our local station platform with the same Geordie Pounder who had been 2nd. Up North Combine with the bird that had peeled off the batch (the actual winner was 30 miles South of his loft) and I told him that “Blue Boy” was away at Lillers. I knew this because I worked with a man from Ashington who was friendly with the pigeon men up there and he’d told me so. Geordie scowled in my direction. I was a young lad at the time, and he said “I hope he loses him.” I didn’t understand what he meant then but I do now. Geordie had the pigeons record in mind. “Blue Boy” was by then a 7 year old bird with five Combine positions from Bourges under his belt. The lowest was 63rd. and the best was 3rd. He thought that Tom Taylor was asking too much of a pigeon that was already a champion and therefore deserved to lose him.
I bit my tongue because I was thinking differently. I was thinking “I hope the pigeon wins” and I told my best friend so when I met up with him later. That weekend, in the last racing season of his life, “Blue Boy” was 7th.Up North Combine from 12,200 birds and his granddaughter was 8th. Not only that but a month later back he went to Bourges for a final time and was 23rd.Up North Combine on a velocity of 785.4 yds./min. What Geordie Pounder thought about that I really don’t know. He kept it to himself and I was wise enough not ask, but I can tell you exactly what I thought then. “Beat that Geordie!”
The words ran through my head for months and they still do. Whenever the subject of “Blue Boy” crops up I think the same thought - beat that! Incidentally, the pigeon flew all his channel races driving his hen to nest! Not on widowhood, not spare, but driving. Naturally enough, when “Blue Boy” retired from racing that fact was announced, within the week, in the best-known regional newspaper. The pigeon deserved nothing less