Like many people we feed the birds in our garden and we have a resident pair of wood pigeons. Bold creatures who barely bother to flap a few feet up into the tress when you pass by. Today for example, having put out some fresh grain in the feeders I pass within feet of this cheeky bird four or five times, almost close enough to touch it.
When I was growing up on the farm in Sussex pigeons my father generally saw pigeons as, at best, a tasty meal or worse as a darned nuisance. They didn’t just eat the farm crops but also his precious garden veg; especially the brassicas, which, ironically, were a splendid accompaniment to pigeon pie.
Not that we ate pigeon often. Mother thought them bony and fiddly to prepare and not nearly as easy to procure as rabbits or even pheasants. I can say this now, as Father is long gone, but throughout his years as shepherd and farm hand Pop was also a prodigious poacher; augmenting the low wages of a farm labourer in those times with free meals to go with all those veg from the garden. (Fictionalised in my nostalgic novel Sussex Tales : Amazon US / UK.)
I spoke recently about how smell is often a key to memory and a useful tool in a writer’s toolkit. But sound is as emotive if not more. The distant cooing of pigeons in the coppice across the field from where we lived was a constant backdrop, mostly it reminds me of long summer days laying in the grass with a good book. But also of cold winter walks when the ground is hard with frost and the trees bare. Its a melancholy sound, that can make you feel so very sad, raising goosebumps with its soft, drown out calls. Yet, at the same time, for me at least, it was also a comforting note.
Father may have cursed them, and Mother hated cooking them, but for me they are a handsome reminder in sound and vision that the world is not all bad.
It was Pigeons which sprang to mind in the opening chapters of Winter Downs, my first Bunch Courtney, along with the a flurry of rooks calling from the tree tops. Pigeons were a staple food stuff during the war years in which these books take place and the Courtney sisters muse on the delights of pigeon cooked with pears and ginger.
For me, however it is the sound of pigeons and rooks and the distant call of the sheep that conjure my childhood.
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