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Life in The North East of England 60 09-06-17


Life in the North East of England (60)

Rod Adams

It was a bridge that I could look down upon and was home to a thriving colony of street pigeons. Being directly below a busy rail junction, where my train was frequently held up, I got to know the birds as individuals and could even tell you what youngsters were off which parents. No problem at all. It was the way the pigeons interacted with each other within the colony and how the youngsters became part of the group that used to fascinate me. They were out of the nest and following their parents around the girders when they had virtually no feathers to fly with. It was a real busy highway underneath the birds and a fall meant certain death on the road below but casualties were few! Thinking about it now, it was their weight or rather lack of it due to poor feeding, which was their salvation. Their weight was light enough for their half grown wings to support and hunger the spur to their fluttering about a lot, much earlier than well fed racing youngsters would, as they chased their parents around the underneath and sides of the bridge begging for food.

Nearly all were settled this way and it has been my personal experience over the years that youngsters allowed to remain with their parents in the loft where they were born, know where they live much earlier than those separated and weaned off into a separate loft or a  different compartment. They learn by example. Mostly by following their fathers as they go about the loft. You can bet that if a youngster reared like this goes missing off the loft it will find it’s way back itself. Every time. You won’t have to go and collect it. One of my clubmates allowed his youngsters to come and go on “the open hole” with their parents from day one and were a treat to watch as they settled themselves. It was the bridge colony all over again. Though on balance if I had been a pigeon I would have preferred the bridge to his loft. It was a lot cleaner. And I never ever saw a mouse on that bridge!

The man has this idea, you see, that if he goes around buying up direct sons and daughters of Up North Combine distance winners he will, in a relatively short time, have a top class channel team. Which is what he has made his mind up is what he wants. I have the very different idea that such an approach might cost him an awful lot of money and result in not very much in the way of a channel team! Sons and daughters of Combine winners will, by the very nature of things, command a better price than youngsters from the original stock team that bred them and there are an awful lot of men out there who know exactly how many beans make five! We sat and thrashed this out this morning. Me sitting on the corn bin and him standing in the corner.

My approach, were I to start from scratch again, and I told him so, would be to single out say three lofts in the Combine which contained the required proven genes for distance flying, and I named names, even if they weren’t at present flying at the very top of their form. Then to purchase youngsters from the proven stock birds of the lines which had bred their Combine winners. Breed around these three sets of birds. Test them at the right time and be patient. Very, very, patient. It could take three to five years before the results started coming regularly, which was part of the problem the man had, and why he’d thought he might shorten that time period by buying birds direct from Combine winners.

He is 65 years old and reckons he’s running out of time. Maybe he is. Maybe we all are. But you can’t afford to think this way where distance racing is concerned. You have to take the long view and assume you have all the time left in the world to carry out your plans. And plan you will have to! He departed with my best wishes, to be accompanied, in due time of course, by some of my best pigeons.

The Columbian Pablo Escobar was once the billionaire godfather of international drug trafficking. The richest and most violent criminal in history. He was hunted down and destroyed by US Special Forces and eventually assassinated by an American assisted Columbian Search Bloc squad in an operation costing billions of dollars and lasting nearly four years. It was Tom Clancy’s book “Clear and Present Danger” all over again, but this time for real! Whilst on the run, Escobar was originally located by electronic eavesdropping on his cell phone calls. The Special Forces used $50 million Beechcraft Spy planes to do this and so long as their target left the battery in his cell phone they could remotely turn it on, without triggering off any lights or beeper, and get a fix on his general location! Unreal eh? With things closing in about him and realising his communications were insecure, Escobar struck an incredible, unbelievable deal with the government of the day.

He would surrender and go to prison. Not to any old prison but to one built on his own land. With his own money. On a site chosen by him and staffed by guards he effectively owned! What is more, the only prisoners to be in it would be him, his associates and his hit men! Prison would give him a comfortable safe place to settle down and re-establish his cocaine trafficking business, of sending seventy to eighty tons a week to the States, and just in case anything went wrong, which it later did, he had an arsenal of weapons buried nearby where the private cabins were. Where he entertained his women!

Being far from stupid and by now very much aware of the American Special Forces ability to listen in to radio and phone calls what did he do next? He set up a loft of sorts and began breeding his own pigeons to carry his private messages to his henchmen. Absolutely safe from multi million dollar surveillance! And with his own personalised rings on them too. “Pablo Escobar, Carcel Maxima Seguridad, Envigado.” With his reputation for violence there was zero chance of them ever being stolen or not being reported if ever they strayed! Whoever said pigeons were only kept by men in cloth caps and mufflers! Read “Killing Pablo” by Mark Bowden. It’s some book.

Wim Peters (the South African Vet) and I were discussing crop injuries. You know the kind, when missing birds come home after a few days with a hole in their crop. Usually with corn and feathers stuck to the edges and water dribbling out when they drink. You can’t sew it up with the wound being too old, and if you trimmed the edges to expose fresh tissue you wouldn’t have enough skin left to close the hole. What to do? Well I have tried two things and both have worked. Plastic skin over the affected part, renewed as necessary which really means every other day or so, and covering the hole with a paste made out of Potassium Permanganate, again on a renewable basis. I had read about this paste being used to remove skin deep prison tattoos in a book about a prison break-out and thought why not? The crystals are a great oxidising agent and are still used in some areas as a gargle for sore throats, and sometimes as a foot bath.

It worked fine, but so did an experiment of Wim’s. He did absolutely nothing about repairing the wound. Reasoning that even if water was leaking out the bird was probably getting enough for it’s needs and the corn was certainly not falling out. The bird made a perfect recovery. And you couldn’t even see where the hole had been! A case of “leaving well enough alone” being successful once again? Thinking about it, if those kind of injuries happen to our birds they will probably happen to wild birds and who sews them up? Wim also threw at me a lovely Afrikaans proverb:- “Benoude katte maak benoude spronge” which means roughly that “cats in trouble make extraordinary jumps.” The man is spot on. I once saw a cat exit a barrel full water like a Polaris Missile! The person, who at the time was holding down the sack with a broom, was most impressed!

“When you’ve got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.” Never was a truer phrase spoken! Originally used by President Nixon’s henchman Chuck Colson, I first heard that sentence in the English hit T.V. series “Yes Minister.” Nixon was no angel, and didn’t surround himself with angels either but that doesn’t alter the aptness of the words. Give pigeon men a choice on certain contentious topics, such as say club/federation/combine radius’s, limits on the number of birds that can be sent to a race, who can and who can’t join their club and you will never get an agreement amenable to everyone. Now I’m all in favour of decisions arrived at in a democratic manner, but even in a democracy someone, sometimes, has to make the hard decisions and on occasion, pigeon men have to be led by the nose, it sounds better than balls don’t you think, rather than being allowed to do things their own, often pig-headed way, if the sport is to survive.

Had there been voting at grass roots level re road or rail transport for our birds we’d still be arguing about it today! We elect certain people to lead us, just as we elect our convoyers to look after our birds, and in return we have to trust them. Not unthinkingly, not absolutely, but critically and conditionally. They in turn have to realise that sometimes, on certain occasions, it is not always possible to arrive at a consensus agreement and if they are to do the job we have elected them to do, and they want our hearts and minds behind them they need to give the old metaphorical gonads a twist or two! It works both ways.

Remember the old dental cartoon where the dentist has the patient’s tooth in his clamps ready to pull it out and the patient has a firm grip on the dentist’s testicles. The words “now we are not going to hurt each other are we” spoken by the patient, just about sums up the situation between the leaders and the led. When you’ve got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow!