21 March 2013


I met a bloke called Trevor today. He is a bird man who races pigeons. I met Trevor whilst I was having a coffee down in Berwick. Berwick is a leafy and green suburb in the city of Melbourne. It was settled more than one hundred and twenty years ago by white descendants of English convicts and is still referred to as a village. It has bakeries and restaurants and cafes. Nice ones. It is nestled in the foothills of the Dandenong mountain ranges.

This Berwick is not the English one. The proper name for that town is actually Berwick-on-Tweed and the name Berwick is an abbreviation. The English one is in the county of Sussex. As I have already mentioned I am not there on the Tweed. I am in the Australian Berwick in the suburb of Melbourne.

The coffee in Melbourne is excellent. It is world class in fact. Even people who live in Sydney will concede that Melbourne coffee is very good. I guarantee that the coffee I had in Berwick would have been much better than any coffee I could get in Berwick-on-Tweed. I know that I am repeating myself but it is one of those things that are worthy of repetition. I will repeat it again. The coffee in Melbourne is excellent. 

It is world class.

I was having my coffee at an outdoor café and I was also eating some toast. My toast was spread with vegemite and real butter. I won't explain vegemite in any great detail. If you don't know what it is it then you probably would not like it.  It is salty black stuff that we Australians spread on our toast for breakfast. You have to be raised on it to like it. It is an acquired taste. If I was back in Singapore I would have said that I was taking my toast but I am blessedly in Australia and I am therefore eating it. "Taking" and "eating" are interchangeable when referring to meals in Singapore. On the Island I would not be likely eating my toast outside either in the middle of the day. 

It would simply be too hot.

Trevor pulled up in his van in front of the cafe and parked. Then he sat at the table adjacent to me. Trevor ordered himself a coffee and some toast. He was having the same as me. I could see from where I was sitting that Trevor's van was towing a trailer full of boxes. Bird boxes. They were full of pigeons. I didn't know that Trevor's name was Trevor then and he didn't know that my name was Peter. We hadn't yet introduced ourselves.

I said, "Owzitgoin" to Trevor as he sat down at the table next to me. 

He said "Owzitgoin" straight back. He said his "Owzitgoin" with a big grin. 

I nodded toward his trailer with a smile and suggested, "that's a lot of birds mate" and then I enquired, "Are they all yours?".

Trevor told me, "Sixty four mate. I lost two last week - and yep, they are all mine". 

Thus started a long and entertaining discussion on pigeons and pigeon racing with Trevor - over slices of toast and cups of coffee. We both had second cups of coffee and it was great.

It was excellent.

Trevor is passionate about pigeons and pigeon racing and he confessed to me that he is consumed by it. I learnt a lot from Trevor about pigeons today. Trevor and I swapped names somewhere into our conversation but it wasn't at the beginning though - it just happened as a "...by the way" moment. 

Our name swapping slipped into our banter.

Trevor informed me that pigeon racing has been around for more than 1000 years and the racing of birds is called ‘homing’. Trevor told me that the races commence long distances from where the pigeons are housed and then the birds race to come home. The fastest bird wins.

Trevor informed me that pigeons have long been used to deliver messages over very far distances and well before the telephone or telegraph were invented. He told me that tiny little notes were rolled up and tied to pigeon's feet and the birds flew back from wherever they were to a 'home'. They were taken away on travels specifically to fly back with messages and they were very useful in wars. Trevor told me that this homing ability was bred and not trained. He told me that not all pigeons could home. Trevor told me that homing pigeons were the feathered emails of the olden days and I told him that I though that this was a very apt description.

I asked Trevor how far his pigeons generally raced and he told me anywhere between 100 and 500 kilometers but the race distances vary. So Trevor does a lot of driving. He does lots and lots of driving. He drives to the start points of races with his birds in his trailer and then he releases them and he drives back. The birds fly back.

They Home.

I was interested in hearing if any of his birds ever beat Trevor back home in these races and he said that they sometimes did. Particularly in the shorter races. 

He told me that he could sometimes get stuck in traffic and the pigeons had no such delays.

According to Trevor the Belgians are the great pigeon racers of the world. He told me that Pigeon racing is very big in Belgium and it has been since the nineteenth century. The Belgian champion birds that can home from more than one thousand kilometers are called "Voyageurs". Trevor told me that none of his birds could fly 1000 kilometers. He said that was a very long way and I told him that I agreed. It is a bloody long way.

I told Trevor that I thought the name "Voyageurs" sounded very noble and it semed appropriate for such strong and brave birds that can fly so far. 

He agreed.

I think that flying home is a very powerful urge. We each have our nests. I have felt this pull to fly home before. I feel it often in fact. It can sometimes ache and throb. 

It is magnetic. 

It is a compulsion. 

When all is said and done it is irresistible.

When I asked Trevor if he lost many birds he told me that he did. He told me that he lost a few birds each race. He appeared quite accepting of this when he told me and he was quite resigned. He told me that magpies attack pigeons and so to do ravens and eagles. Trevor told me that some pigeons got shot by people who then eat them. I have eaten pigeon before and it was delicious. I didn't tell Trevor this though because it was most evident that Trevor was attached to his birds. He loved them a lot and I thought that he would be sad at each of his losses and distressed at the fact that I had eaten such birds.

Trevor told me that loss was part and parcel of pigeon racing.

Trevor also told me that he bred birds too. He told me that most Pigeon Racers did. They were constantly improving and expanding their stock. 

I still didn't tell Trevor that I had eaten pigeon though - even after he told me about his breeding and flock expansion. I didn't think it was appropriate. I did tell Trevor that I quite like the noise that pigeons make. 

I told hime that I liked their trilling "coo cooos". 

He told me that he liked it too.

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