Life in the North East of England (61)
First a fairy tale for you. Goran Ivanisovic, winner of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon in 2001. And next a quote for you. From the same man. “ if some angel comes tonight in my dreams and says “OK Goran, you are going to win Wimbledon tomorrow but you are not able to touch a racket ever again in your life” I would say OK.” “I would rather take that, then never play tennis again in my life.” I’ve never played tennis myself and I don’t understand or even like the game, but I know exactly what he means. Change the words a bit and ask yourself the same question as applied to our sport. Winning a National. Would the same deal do you? Maybe, maybe not, it all depends on your ambition, single-mindedness, where you stand in relation to your peers, and how you view the sport.
Once you have set yourself a definite, hard and fast goal within pigeon racing there is no rest until you have achieved it. No matter how long it takes. It took me twenty years to achieve mine and I would have accepted, gladly, any angelic (or Faustian) deal like the one Goran was talking about. In fact I always said that if ever I topped the Up North Combine from Bourges I would quit the sport and keep competition High- Fliers. But I didn’t. I stayed in it, am enjoying it and don’t give a fig about ever winning it again. It would be nice of course, but it is no longer an aim of mine. The days of being driven and obsessional are gone. And I don’t miss them at all!
Winning is no longer of any importance to me. Enjoyment of the sport is. I really do feel sorry for those fanciers who have come ever so close to winning the big one, sometimes on more than one occasion, and who are desperate to nail it down. They simply missed out on the good luck when it mattered. Other fanciers, much more competitive than me, continue struggling on in bad times trying to repeat their finest hour and I feel sorry for them too, but we all have our own reasons for doing what we do and nobody has any right to judge others by standards of their own.
John McEnroe glibly jibed at the time that, Ivanisovic was a “one-shot wonder.” “Who cares about him” Goran replied. Exactly, who cares what anyone else says about them once they have done what they have set out to do. Whatever it is? Minding ones own business instead of someone else’s would do wonders for our sport. Patience, tolerance, and understanding, Fine words. But always in short supply !
There are experts, and there are “experts” who will tell you that they are “experts.” Never trust the latter category! Richard was a brilliant Biochemist but a more unworldly man I never met. Making him the Departmental Safety Officer was like giving an arsonist a box of matches! He rang me one day to ask what the chemical name of Washing Soda was. I told him and asked him why he wanted to know? The reply was that there had been a big acid spill in his laboratory and he was busy looking up in a book how to deal with it. As it happened his lab. was right above my office so I dealt with the spill myself. And fast! And remember, he was the Biochemist not me! “What a Polymath you are” he said to me afterwards. I had to look the word up as I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or to go upstairs and grab him by the throat!
Fortunately for this particular “expert” he was married to a lady possessed of abundant commonsense. Richard, when riding his bicycle around Newcastle, was a disaster waiting to happen. I used to watch him in the heavy town traffic and shake my head in disbelief at his almost miraculous daily survival. Yet he thought he was a safe, experienced and expert cyclist. So he fixed up a cycling holiday in Greece with his wife Sally and their two teenaged kids, who were not keen at all on this idea. I shipped the bikes down to Heathrow airport for them and off they went. Two weeks later I shipped the bikes back again. All were missing their saddles which, Richard explained to me in his bemused fashion, were stolen from outside their hotel on the very first day of their holiday. Which meant that he had been forced to hire a car for the two weeks as no replacement saddles had been readily available locally.
This intrigued me. Nobody steals just bicycle seats. Not in England and not in Greece. Bikes maybe, but not just their seats. Not four of them. I tackled the real expert, Sally, about the whole business and she carefully explained to me that in Greece, for £20 or so, most things could be “arranged.” Including the removal of bike seats! “Who the hell” she commented, “wants to ride a bike around Greece in summer temperatures like they have!” As I said before there are “experts” and there are experts. If you do ever find yourself needing expert advice seek out the Sally’s of this world, not the Richards!
My friend George has got me playing around with Cinnamon as an aid to young bird sickness. There is nothing like a convert for converting others! “The Major” started it all and Colin put on the final stamp of approval. Cinnamon, the mild antiseptic TCP and Elderberry juice (the TCP is optional according to Colin) has been in use for many years as an aid to stress induced diseases in imported cage and aviary birds, and he should know, as that is largely what he has been doing for a living for as long as I can remember. Well, nearly as long as I can remember. At least since he gave up wiring up houses! George tried it as a last resort and now swears by it. Circumstances this year have forced me to keep on continually adding young youngsters into an older team, kept in one end, and as we all know this is a recipe for trouble and sure enough, eventually, it came.
Controlling it was not a problem, I’ve kept pigeons for too long not to know what to do and when to do it, so I sorted it out then thought why not try the Cinnamon mixture afterwards as a bit of a natural boost? I had the Cinnamon and the TCP but Elderberries are a bit thin on the ground in July, so I threw in some Apple and Blackcurrant cordial, (no added sugar and no Monosodium Glutamate according to the label) and filled up the drinker. The problem of my youngsters drinking excess water was solved in an instant. They wouldn’t touch the stuff! All day long they sat on the drinker shelf looking at it. It was the lime water story all over again until I diluted the drinker by half with fresh water then at last they drank, but sparingly. I remain unconvinced, but have my catapult ready for when the Starlings arrive en masse in September/October. They can keep their thieving beaks off my Elderberries!
Charlotte, an ex colleague of mine, sent me a copy of some actual lines taken from U.S. Military Officer Efficiency Reports. Some were scathing, all were funny and one or two so true they were unreal. Who in a position of authority has not encountered someone who “works well but only when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.” I had one such bloke on my staff for years—unfortunately! It isn’t that easy to sack people any more! Anyway the two reports that rang a bell were the ones which said that the person being reported upon must have “got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn’t watching” and that “I would not breed off this officer.” I’d never seen myself as a lifeguard before but I guess that’s what anyone who keeps pigeons is.
We control the gene pool and we decide which “officers” we breed off and which we don’t. My gut feeling is that we don’t watch what is happening all that closely and sometimes allow favouritism and pure fancy to sneak in when it should only be the facts that count. Once an unwanted gene is in the gene pool it can take some getting out and before you know it you are heading in the wrong direction. Or breeding pigeons which should never have seen the light of day. The true value of properly progeny testing your stock pigeons is often lost in the mists of favouritism and fancy. It is always difficult to dispose of a good looking idiot or a well bred failure and in addition there is unjustified personal bias? As I have against reds. A friend of mine always swore that one of two nest-mate hens that he owned was by far the better breeder than the other, when I knew for a fact that the favoured hen had been paired to just about every good cock in the loft and bred heavily from, whilst the other hen barely reared four youngsters a year. Yet the percentage of winners bred from her was every bit as good as her sister’s. It wasn’t until the favoured hen died that the one living in her shadow at last came into her own as his best breeding hen. We really are lifeguards. All of us.