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Here Comes Treble: Scattered Shadows

In verse and prose the inimitable Isabel Bradley reveals the secrets of pigeon racing.

For more columns and poems by Isabel please click on Here Comes Treble in the menu on this page.

As I drove home on the highway, a sudden scatter of shadows across the windscreen awoke an echoing memory:

Return of a Champion

A flight of pigeons takes to the sky
Swirling cloud of grey and blue
Circling higher and higher
Casting scattered shadows
On home and loft and road.

Round and round they fly, endlessly
As their trainer tosses a ball
Up and down, up and down.

“Keep flying, don’t land
Don’t dare land anywhere but your loft
And then, only when I say it’s okay.''
He calls.
“An hour should do,” he mutters.

Race season comes
They’re off in a truck
With the birds of many other trainers.

They’re driven
Perhaps hundreds of miles from home.
Released all together they take to the sky
And circle once or twice
And then it’s fly for their loft
Incessantly, wings working non-stop
One day, or two, or three…

Where do they sleep at night?
A tree, a building, perhaps on the ground…

The winner will fly on, night and day.

At home, the trainer waits
Trap set across the loft door.
The winner arrives – a champion!

He flutters in, exhausted
Lands in the trap
Crying, ‘ru-cu-crrrrrrr'.

Rubber ring removed from his foot and clocked
He’s allowed in to eat, drink, rest,
And breed his winning strain.

For years, while we were married, my second husband kept, trained, raced and bred homing pigeons. They were a part of our lives, bringing us fun and friendship, occasional excitement, some laughter and a few tears. The wife of one of our pigeon-keeping friends often complained that the loft was better insulated, and thus warmer in winter and cooler in summer than her house. She also insisted that the birds received far more efficient medication and vitamin treatment than her children.

One morning we woke to find that, during the night, a dog had broken through the chicken-wire and attacked the birds. Feathers and bleeding little corpses lay scattered around the garden, while wounded birds hobbled or fluttered helplessly. Many had to be put down.

Our next-door neighbour was also a pigeon-fancier. One year, he and my husband culled the losers from their flocks, mixed the corpses, plucked and cleaned them, and I cooked them in a casserole, with plums if I remember correctly. There wasn’t much meat on them, though what there was, was quite tasty.

One Easter we bought bunnies for the children. The grey grew into a large buck with fierce teeth and a habit of nipping. He escaped from his hutch whenever he could, to chase and terrorise the birds when they were allowed free to peck and coo on the ground. They never defended themselves, other than by fluttering a few metres away and cooing loudly.

The birds were also a source of mild irritation. Every social event which promised to continue, enjoyably, into the evening, had to be abandoned so that we would be home to train and feed the birds before dark.

Apart from their ability to find their home loft from any point of the compass, and their tenacity in doing so, pigeons are rather silly creatures. All they do is puff themselves up and preen and coo.

Most irritations, however, when seen from a different perspective, have their advantages. While we kept pigeons, I produced prize-winning roses. Pigeon guano is excellent food for gardens…

Until next time… ‘here comes Treble!’

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By Isabel Bradley

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