123. Pigeons

Double entry, so to speak.

Here we have two posts, one by myself, the other by my friend and guest contributor Clive O’Connell. Clive’s excellent writing can be found on the Chelsea Supporters Group website where he writes the Driver’s Weather blog under the name Driver on the Wing. Check it out. He also writes a blog for Lloyd’s Wellbeing Centre. He occasionally finds time to dabble in the dark arts of reinsurance.

Here is his post.

Pigeon. By Clive O’Connell

There are days when it is best not to be in New York. There are days when the rain pours heavily from the sky soaking everyone walking through the towering canyons of Midtown. There are days when snow obliterates sight of the tops of even mid-sized buildings. There are days when freezing rain falls, spreading treacherous black ice over the sidewalks and roads alike.

There are also those hot humid days at the height of summer when any soul with sense heads for the beaches of the Hamptons or for the airport and fresher air beyond.

Those are not the days to be an Englishman in a heavy woollen suit trying to rush around the city from hotel to meeting. Those are not the days to be running late clutching a heavy brief case filled with faxes thrust under a hotel door in the early hours and in the days before emails, smart phones and voicemail.

The first rustle of a fax under the door heralds the start of London’s business day and precedes the first call of the day by a few minutes. Hours later, having tried to shave, shower and dress in between a succession of further increasingly desperate calls, the time comes to make the rush downtown. No breakfast. Not in the 1980s. Breakfast was for wimps.

Rushing towards the revolving door at the front of the hotel, one notices the temperature dropping. The curtain of cool air that chills arrivals to the hotel and acclimatises them to the air conditioning within also acts as a cruel contrast to the hot humid air that awaits outside, even at that early morning hour.

The moist atmosphere hits chilled flesh. Sweat immediately starts to rise through pores. Woollen trousers cling to legs. The air tastes as well as smells. At the same time the street noise, traffic, sirens, horns, shouts and whistles, hits the ears. The simple act of stepping through a hotel door becomes a sensory overload.

It takes a moment to comprehend the scene. A doorman, dressed in an outlandish 1980s uniform, blows a whistle constantly as if seeking to charm taxis from the mayhem of rush hour traffic. None appear. There is a long line of hot and needy hotel guests waiting.

I step to the back of the queue clutching the dollar bill that will eventually join the bundle of others gripped tightly in the doorman’s hand.

I stand and wait. The queue behind me grows but still no cabs appear. No free cabs. Plenty of cabs drive past with seats filled and horns tooting at the generally stationary traffic ahead of them as the edge forward toward the lights at the end of the block.

A quandary presents itself. Do I give up and walk a few blocks through the heat with my heavy case to the subway, force my way through rush hour commuters onto the platform, squeeze onto a train when it eventually arrives and sweat in overly close proximately with all the democracy that New York can throw at me to Grand Central on the 6 train and then change to the 4 or 5 express trains to Wall Street to emerge drenched in my own and other people’s sweat and start a day of meetings already drained? Or do I trust myself to the alluring charms of the doorman’s whistle and the hope of a cab, possibly with air conditioning or at least a window that might open?

I might not have had breakfast but I decide to be a wimp and risk being late for my meeting. I stand in the queue.

Cabs arrive to drop off passengers at the hotel and their places are immediately taken by departing guests. I move forward even more slowly than the traffic edging towards the lights at the end of the block.

Half an hour and the dollar bill in my hand is moist as I hand it to the doorman and swing my case into the back of the cab. I slide over to position myself on the right rear seat. The cabbie is in the front left seat. We move off slowly and, as we do, something impinges on my peripheral vision; low down and to the left.

I turn and look to the floor behind the driver’s seat. Something moves.

I look more carefully, concerned as to what I might see.

A pigeon.

A pigeon is in the cab on the floor behind the driver’s seat. On the floor next to my seat.

A pigeon.

“Excuse me” I say, stressing as I do when in New York, my clipped RP English accent.

“Yes” said the driver in an accent that betrayed his origins beyond the southern border of the USA.

“Excuse me, but there is a pigeon on the floor” I said calmly. At least I thought it sounded remarkably calm given that I was sitting within inches of a pigeon who really ought not to have been there and who probably didn’t want to be there.

“I know” the driver replied, equally calmly and as though this was a conversation that he had had so many times that speaking was almost a chore. “It was hit by  tyre and when I am finished I take it to hospital”

A second quandary. Did I ask the driver to stop and look for another cab or stay. The thirty minute wait that I have enjoyed, decided that swiftly.

I lifted my brief case, heavy as it was with faxes and files. I held it at arm’s length like a shield protecting myself against an imminent attack from an aggrieved and captured pigeon.

The cab moved slowly through the Midtown traffic and onto the FDR. My arms ached. The cabbie drove and said nothing.

Past the Brooklyn Bridge and the South Street Seaport, the cab puled off the FDR and into the narrow streets around Wall Street, then in those halcyon pre 9/11 days, unpedestrianised. The cabbie spoke.

“Where is bird?”

“Under your seat”


We arrived. I paid, tipped and then opened the door carefully so as not to allow an escape and stepped out. The taxi drove off.

I will never know if the pigeon made it to the hospital nor what their prognosis might have been. I have never thought to find out where in New York there might be a hospital that cares for wounded pigeons. In those days there was no Google.

I walked into the chill curtain of air conditioning and back to the reality of my life. I was late for my meeting.


The next post is my own weekly offering.

The Lofts. by General Lucifer

Every day, twice a day, cycling through slowly contracting tunnels of hawthorn and blackthorn and ash, riding up hill home and down hill to work, down hill, every day the air would shift in a thrumming sweep above me as the pigeons passed.
Sometimes I would look up, sometimes I didn’t, content to feel the rush, hear their wings, feel that great movement of air as a hundred living things passed as one above me, and when I did look I saw the mottled breasts and beating wings tessellated against the blue so perfectly, flying for flyings sake, not to feed or to breed, just to fly.
That freedom meant a lot to me in the dark days, days when I turned up to work to sit at a desk for seven and a half hours to do nothing, sidelined in the hope I would quit though I didn’t quit, could not afford to quit. I would see the pigeons in the morning, in the evening, feel their force from a distance, feel that energy and I took comfort from it.
Rickety gates were squeezed into the deep, high hedgerows, gates made from old doors and planks, sheets of tin, barbed wire and chicken wire and misshapen hinges of blackened iron. The gates led to little stables in the shallow valley behind the hedgerows, stables where women brushed ponies, sheds and huts where men pottered, and there were the pigeon lofts.
The soft bubbling coo of contented birds seeped through the trees to the road and all was well when the birds nuzzled each other, dreaming of flight.
I would see him sometimes, walking the long road home after tending his birds, and we’d talk though I never asked his name and he never asked mine.
He walked in long strides, he wore a stained vest and tired jeans and scuffed boots. His hair was finger combed and he smelled of sweat and hay and pigeons.
I envied him a little.
He had no worries, he had his birds.
He told me how his pigeons raced from Manchester, across the Pennines to land on a Sunday. He would load crates of his finest racers onto a wagon on the Saturday alongside the crates of the other breeders, their crates filled with their finest, and next morning the birds would be released at the same time to fly away home. Then he would watch the skies, looking South West, ready to greet them on their return.
He told me he raced birds across the sea from France and Belgium and from all parts of England. He told me how some birds got sick, how their eyes would glaze and their throats filled with phlegm, and how he would twist their necks to make it quick.
He said that some birds just weren’t cut out for racing, didn’t have it in them, so they had to go too. He would break their necks and give them to an old Scottish lady he knew, in her eighties, who was very poor. She’d gut them and pluck them and fill their bellies with spelt and roast them until the spelt was plump and moist. She told him she ate better than a queen when he brought her pigeons.
He would tell me these things as he strode up the road in his measured way and I would soft pedal at the same pace, listening, telling him things, I forget what.
And the birds flew.
The air moved.
Feathers like light, pale shavings of life curling through the air, turning, shifting, turning again.

From a distance I saw the smoke and cycled along the road, and there were no pigeons today, only a black smudge trailing up in the still air, a bitter reek.
The gates to the lofts were wide open, and he stood by the fire, vest smeared with soot and blood. The lofts were smashed, broken to kindling and planks which he threw angrily onto the fire, weeping, feathers on the ground. Tar paper caught and fire leapt and a violent billowing of smoke and flame nearly burned him, and he stepped back and he saw me.
I said, what happened.
Enough, he screamed. Enough, no more, no more.
That was all he would say.
He hurled limp grey bodies onto the fire, soft as a glove, and they burned. Everything burned.
I waited, unsure what to do, but I realised I didn’t know him, didn’t even know his name, so I left.
The stench followed me up the hill, pedaling hard, the smell of death in the trees, the shreds of smoke floating as the pigeons once floated, effortless, disappearing, never reappearing, leaving empty skies and my empty desk and I still think of those pigeons.



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3 Responses to 123. Pigeons

  1. Thank god for the kindness of the New York taxi driver. Now that is a man.

  2. That, Mr Lucifer, is one of your very, very best. A new level, my friend.

    Really enjoyed Clive’s piece too. The format works well.

  3. Pingback: Getting my shit together after ‘The week of grumpiness” | insidehallamdavies

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