Life in the North East of England (42)
I used to live in South Shields but I now have a house in East Boldon, although I still race my birds with the South Shields Federation. For my wife’s benefit I continue to get the same local evening paper that I took before moving as she likes to keep up with the news in the area where we lived previously. Like a lot of local newspapers it is extremely parochial, which is why I buy a national newspaper each day in order to find out what is happening in the big wide world outside of the remit of the local journalists. “Extremely parochial” are the words I used earlier about our evening paper, and that it is. My newsagent swears that when the Titanic went down with the resulting huge loss of life, the headlines that day in the local paper read “South Shields man drowns”, so you can see what I’m driving at!
The point that I’m making is that the narrow local view of anything is not good enough if you are to have a realistic and balanced view of the world we live in. And this applies as much to the world of pigeons as it does to the world at large. The sport seems to me to be changing rapidly in all areas, as it has to if it is to survive and to be successful as fanciers these days we have to change with it. This means being aware of recent developments on a scale far outside that of the often small world of club racing. Information has never been easier to obtain or exchange than it is now. Computers and modern travel having just about turned the world into a global village. There is no excuse at all for not being well informed. I often wonder what the top men of, say the fifties, and would make of the sport now were it possible to bring them back to see it. I suspect they would shake their heads in disbelief at the techniques currently in use and the level of knowledge that modern pigeon fanciers possess and continue to gather. And that is the name of the game. Read the papers and not the comics. Be the Organ Grinder and not the Monkey. It’s your choice.
Heather brought her old ex-racing pigeon with her to my loft today. The bird, she explained, wasn’t well. And how. Besides being twelve years old and having a yellow lump the size of a billiard ball growing from near her vent (which she has had for some time) when I checked her out I found she had a prolapse of the Cloaca with red, raw looking tissue hanging out. Now I have seen these before in old hens and dealt with them in a way that doesn’t sound very scientific but usually works. Although if they re-occur on a regular basis surgery is necessary. That means a visit to a Veterinarian and involve purse-string suturing which can be tricky. And is not necessarily a permanent answer. “Go home” I said to Heather “and wrap an ice-cube in a piece of thin wet cotton cloth and after gently cleaning the prolapse with warm salt water apply the ice cube to it. It usually retracts itself reflexly and as the vent closes it will hold the prolapse in.” She looked at me doubtfully. I can’t say that I blame her as it is not the most orthodox of treatments then off she went with her pigeon.
I got a phone call from her the next day. “Rod” she said excitedly, “it worked perfectly! What I was thinking was, you know, is that my mother has the same problem, I wonder if ---- ”. I stopped her right there. Her mother is 91 years old. Can you imagine the effect that a bagful of ice applied to her ancient reproductive organs would have? Explaining to the Fire Brigade how your mother came to be hanging off the chandeliers at her age would not be that simple!
“Old men forget.” “Henry V.” Shakespeare. My friend Bob is 81 and he doesn’t forget a thing. The man is as sharp as a pin and what a memory he has. “Your first bird on Sunday Rod” he said, “it was a Cheq and you would have got it at about 11.42 a.m.” I told him “spot-on Bob” and he beamed, “it came off the end of a batch of twelve going over our house, I was sitting by the pond in my deckchair watching the birds going over and I saw it peel off, knew where it was going it did.” His house is a good half a mile North East of me so there is obviously nothing wrong with his eyes either! In the past he has told me, chapter and verse, about the exploits of the late Colonel Hopas whilst flying in the Up North Combine. His memory does him proud.
For example “Oslo Lass.” Liberated in Norway at 8.20 a.m. and home by 5.40 a.m. the next day. Then there was “Jutland Queen.” Liberated in Denmark at 6.10 a.m. and home by 10 a.m the next morning and “Terrible” liberated at Bremen, Germany by the British Military Security Authorities at 4.10 a.m. and back in it’s home loft in Cleadon by 6.48 p.m. the same day, flying into a strong head-wind. Some performances eh, and it doesn’t stop there? From 1947 to 1956 his record reads like a geography lesson with fine results from a variety of race-points, Amsterdam, Berlin, Luxembourg, Brussels, Hanover, Almelo, Twente, Bourges, and nearer home, Guernsey, Lowestoft and Welwyn Garden City! Colonel Hopas had one objective and one only, to produce individualists and he did this by subjecting them to strenuous long distance individual training flights. Did he not! Our paths crossed briefly when I was young, which is a pity as I would love to have been able to talk to him now, especially about his “Cardinal Principles.”
There is only one way to get experience. You have to acquire it. You can’t buy it. As my friend says when his tactics of sending yearlings further on down the line than I care to do are questioned, “if anyone can tell me where I can buy a bagful of experience I’ll go and get some like a shot!” Amen to that! And it’s no good trying to tell me a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. We, nearly all of us, learn the hard way from mistakes we have made ourselves and regularly continue to make. If you have your head screwed on properly you just don’t make the same mistake twice, that’s all. They say the man who never made a mistake never made anything which must be true because such men don’t exist, that’s why! When I think of all the good birds I have thrown away over the years because of a lack of experience, or simply bad judgement on my part, I cringe inside and I am a cautious man. What must the gamblers, the “loft- emptiers”, and the “every pigeon every week” brigade have lost?
Experienced pigeons are the backbone of anyone’s loft and really are essential; when the going gets rough they’re the birds that come good. Every time. The only problem is that they are pretty rare. This is because the very process of giving them the experience they now have has it’s price in terms of those that fall by the wayside. My friend knows this and accepts it, which is why he becomes exasperated when lectured to about the path he has chosen to follow with his birds. He knows precisely where that path is going and what it will cost him. It is, after all, any fanciers absolute right to do exactly what he wants to do with his own birds. The man who pays the corn bill is the man who decides what he does with his pigeons. Other people’s opinions don’t matter, but they’ll express them just the same. You can count on that!
The Alpha Male.
My wife has gone to Scotland to visit my daughter and I have been promoted to Alpha Male. In charge of the house. It will make a nice change. The temptation was enormous when she said “I might be away for a week or so Rod” to say in reply “can’t you make it two weeks” when I know fine well the correct answer is “I don’t know how I will manage.” Which is, of course, what I said. Hiding my grin was the hardest bit! I have been left with a list of jobs to do while she is away. None of which will be done and the freezer, which is stocked full of “healthy” foods, will still be full when my wife gets back. I will use one plate. One knife. One fork. One spoon and one cup. All be rinsed daily and I will sit in one spot in the kitchen so the crumbs are all in one place.
The bed sheets will be turned down in the morning and pulled back up when I go to bed at night and the house, especially the bedroom, will be duly aired. My local pub can expect a lot of my custom as can the Chinese take-away. My good lady will doubtless check our dustbin in to see how many curries I have had but I have thought about that. The empty cartons together with all the beer and wine bottles will find their way into the litter bin by the bus stop instead. Being an Alpha Male, even temporarily, is not easy!