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Life in The North East of England 57 20-05-17


Life in the North East of England (57)

Rod Adams

The parcel came from my brother who lives in Canada. Inside it was the long promised “USS Enterprise ”baseball cap and a letter which  said “If you want to find out more about the ship itself I would recommend that you visit your local library and look up “Jane’s Fighting Ships – US. Navy– Aircraft Carriers Nuclear – Nimitz Class.” I don’t really need to do that. Thanks to Patrick Robinson’s exciting military thriller “Nimitz Class” I already know a bit about those ships. Let me elaborate as they really are something else. Costing $4 billion dollars they are 1,100 feet long, are powered by their own nuclear power plant and weigh 100,000 tons! They have a crew of 6000 men, (600 of whom are officers) which basically means that the cooks are preparing 18,000 meals each and every day that they are at sea! They are 24 stories high, the flight deck is 260 feet wide, they have a complement of 80 fighter/attack aircraft, 8 helicopters and of course carry missiles with nuclear warheads! Some ships eh? Why “Nimitz Class?” I did have to look that one up. They are named in honour of  the Texan, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the world war two legend who “sorted out” Admiral Yamamoto at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

My brother, who is behind all this, is, and always has been, a Heating and Ventilating Draughtsman who went out to Canada to work on Frigates for their navy when shipbuilding on the River Tyne declined. He is at present freelancing in the States and is residing temporarily in San Diego. We always had pigeons at the bottom of our garden and my youngest brother kept them there long after I left home, until all the birds died of old age, by which time I had moved on to racing my own birds on an allotment site. Two years ago when he was over in the UK on holiday I was telling him about the wide and unusual variety of baseball hats worn by the lads in the pigeon club and he promised to get me a cap to make them green with envy when he was next  working on one of the big carriers. I can’t wait to see their faces when I turn up wearing it at the pigeon club! Naturally I am expecting some comments about the “Star Ship Enterprise” and my uncanny resemblance to Mr Spock. It’s my ears you see!

I first saw “Quasimodo” when its owner asked me if I would come and vaccinate it for him when we originally began doing our birds for Paramyxovirus, more years ago than I care to remember. I have always maintained that he only asked me because he figured out I was probably the one person he knew who could find that pigeon’s neck! What a freak it was, if I had seen that thing limping about with a bunch of street pigeons I would have picked it up and killed it to put it out of it’s misery! Its head was twisted around as if it had Paramyx. and rested on the floor. The feathers were worn completely off it’s crown and nape. Its neck was thick and twisted. It had a hump on its back and it may even have limped! I never actually saw it walking as it was mostly kept in its own little nest- box in the sitting cabin with it’s mate! How it managed to tread it’s hen I don’t know, but it sat its eggs with its head resting on a little block of wood to keep the sawdust out of it’s eyes and squinted up at the world.

A photograph of it sitting like that once appeared on the front page of one of the pigeon weeklies and it excited some comment I can tell you! It sired directly, I believe, something like 11 first Federation winners! Of course the pigeon had excellent ancestry. I was told that “Quasi” was perfectly physically normal until one day, when out at exercise, it just turned over and dived downwards, Kamikaze style, into a hedge. From then on it was all downhill so to speak. Quasimodo died quite young, as you would expect, but not in the manner you might have predicted. It drowned whilst trying to have a bath! That may or may not be part of the legend, I really don’t know, but it does seem perfectly feasible to me!

The pigeon I saw the other day had Ornithosis and was well on it’s way to becoming blind in one eye if left untreated. The causative organism is an intracellular parasite Chlamydia Psittaci which nowadays is included in the Rickettsia species, a group of pathogens that constitute a transitional form between viruses and bacteria. This is a disease that is best eliminated with the aid of various Tetracyclines. Doxycycline in particular. The problem is that whilst some birds are obviously sick and need treating others can be carriers of the disease without showing any clinical signs at all, and to sort this problem out an entirely different and prolonged course of treatment is necessary. Carriers of infectious agents are hard, if not impossible, to detect without clinical testing as they inevitably look just fine. They can carry Canker and so on without batting an eyelid but will infect some of those  around them all their lives. Consider the problem in humans. We have amongst the population carriers of Salmonella (causing food poisoning) who are perfectly healthy themselves but who should never be allowed to work in the food industry because of the risk they pose to others.

Let me tell you the true story of “Typhoid Mary.” Mary Mallon was of Irish origin and worked as a cook in the New York area of America from about 1900 to 1915. During that time she was officially indicted with causing 53 cases of Typhoid and three deaths but was more generally reckoned to have caused the 1903 epidemic in Ithaca New York as well, with it’s 1400 victims! She was herself was very fit and lived to be 69 but everywhere she worked as a cook, and she moved about a bit, Typhoid struck! When finally tracked down and asked never to touch other people’s  food again she agreed but then promptly disappeared! It took the Health Department five years to track her down. When eventually found she was using a different name and was cooking at a women’s hospital! 25 nurses working there had contracted Typhoid and two had died which was in fact was precisely how they had found her.

Look for an outbreak of Typhoid and Mary had a fair chance of being there and of being the  person responsible for it! She lived for twenty three years after giving up her job as a cook, in a cottage attached to a hospital, effectively isolated, and remained a carrier of Typhoid all her life. The moral of that particular detective story is that observation and eventually, isolation paid off. She could have been treated by removal of her gall bladder where the Typhoid organism lives but refused the operation and so remained a lifelong risk to others. What chance, in similar circumstances in the pigeon world, would we have of sorting out such a problem without extensive investigative and scientific help? Maybe painstaking detective work alone will pay off in the long run, when we are seeking reasons as to why certain diseases are present, and suspect a carrier is responsible, but don’t hold your breath while you are waiting!

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Let me tell you a story. We, the pigeon men that is, used to drink in the same club every Sunday night. Always the same guys. Always in the same corner, and always next to the same non-fanciers. The conversation was good but the “scenery” could often be spectacular. Especially when one really eye-catching young woman deigned to be present. She had it and she knew it. Attitude wasn’t the word for it. They do say that if you’ve got it flaunt it, and boy did she do just that! Tall and blonde she dressed the part and was particularly fond of wearing short skirts or painted-on jeans. With a string vest and no bra! To strut her stuff most conspicuously she would visit the ladies toilet many more times than any other woman in the place found necessary.

As this involved walking the full length of the room and back again it was an event we all looked forward to. You could hear a pin drop as we watched like hawks. All that movement, and there was plenty of it, beneath that string vest! With her nipples sticking out like church hat-pegs she would deliberately stamp her feet down hard on the floor, the better to increase the “jiggle factor.” Things would slowly grind to a halt. Nobody lifted their glass of beer until she had passed. Old Steve would attempt to stick his pipe into his ear and whilst the older women in the room tut-tutted their disapproval, we would be awestruck into silence. All thinking exactly the same thing – “Even if she played her cards totally wrong she could still have me!”

All except Herbie that is. “Huh” he would grunt “she could do with a good feed!” A small man himself he likes big women. And only big women. It is as simple as that! It is exactly the same with pigeons. Ones that I think are beautiful are to others just ordinary, even ugly. And vice versa. Big pigeons are not for me yet some fanciers love them. I don’t like red pigeons yet Scotland used to be full of them and good ones too. I don’t know how you can accurately define personal preferences in general terms. In the world of show pigeons they are, or should be, working to generally approved standards but in the racing world it’s a matter of idiosyncratic likes and dislikes. One man’s meat and all that. But does it really matter if the birds are doing the business? And if good pigeons really do come in all shapes and sizes?