18 OCTOBER 1991, Page 51

New life

In praise of pigeons

Zenga Longmore

AI was on my way to the park last Sunday with Omalara, she ran very quickly down the road in the opposite direction. Having reached the end of the road, she stood stock-still behind a tree, refusing to move despite my impassioned pleas. Those of you with toddlers, or even with the memories of toddlers, may wonder why two-year-olds act in such a daft manner. I would certainly like to know. However, after I had managed to coax the wilful child into the park, we settled down to some serious bird-feeding.

Pigeons are the only birds one can rely on seeing in London parks. Throwing

bread to the birds is one of the few tradi- tional British pastimes Omalara and I adhere to — not being pub or fish and chip shop frequenters.

After a few minutes of enjoyment on behalf of thrower and throwee alike, a muf- fled yell shattered the tranquil atmosphere: 'Stop feeding them flying rats!' Flying rats! Where?' I cried in natural alarm. Flightless rats are bad enough, as I well remember from my days as kitchen assistant in an eminent London hotel, but flying rats. . .

'Yeah, those pigeons what you bin giving bread to, right? Flying rats they are, so stop feeding them.' Emboldened by my burst of fear, the speaker, a young neo-Teddy boy, swaggered into sight. The tattooed words `Rebops Rule' were displayed upon his swinging forearms. His hair, an upward- sweeping crest, bore a striking resemblance to the styles sported by his ornithological cousins. 'Elvis Presley Lives' was embla- zoned across his T-shirt.

'Pigeons', he continued, ignoring Oma- lara who had told him he looked `adicul- lous', 'are dirty creatures, right? They cause diseases. They're flying rats.' Obviously well pleased with his catchphrase, he failed to notice that his diatribe had fallen on barren ground. A pro-pigeon fanatic, I have written no less than five pigeon-prais- ing letters to my local newspaper.

'How dare you say such a thing! What would Elvis Presley think of you, denigrat- ing the good name of pigeons like that? He'd turn in his grave, I shouldn't wonder.'

'But . . . hey! Watcha mean . . . I .

but having nothing further to add, the Rebop was compelled to retire.

Funnily enough, when my sister Boko showed me the newssheet of her local Brent Residents Association, it was found to mirror the sentiments of the Brixton Rebop. The residents of Brent are urged to report anyone seen feeding pigeons to Brent council. Presumably the offender will then be forced to undergo an anti-pigeon awareness course.

Perhaps the Brent bigots are not aware of this, but the pigeons of all Western cities have an honorable pedigree. Most of them are descended from birds kept in mediae- val dovecotes. At the Reformation, pigeons and men were left to beg their bread when monasteries were dissolved. So pigeons are now pets without masters, unable to live without human beings. As times grew more humane, people ceased feeding on pigeons, and took to feeding the birds out of pure kindness. Are we now to see a return of the Dark Ages? Would it help if the pigeon re- assumed the title of dove? In 1385, as you doubtless know, Robert de Braybrooke, Bishop of London, condemned those who persecuted pigeons as being 'instigated by a malignant spirit'.

'Good on you, Bish,' I murmured, as I watched Omalara charge through the flut- tering swarm of cooing birds. Where would we be if there were no pigeons in the park for our children to chase?