We do not have fairies at the bottom of our garden. We have homing pigeons. One of our neighbours is a Doo Man and every day, usually in the late afternoon, his pale grey beauties are let loose to swoop and swerve in a dizzying display above the village. They flock with immaculate precision, wing tips inches apart. Then the birds tire, or get bored, and the formation founders. One by one, they settle in a rag and bob tail line on the ridge of a roof.
We were listening to the Doo Man tempting them down the other evening, when my smartphone pinged. A glance at the screen showed that a goal had been scored in a soccer match (I have no idea how these news flashes come my way and am frightened to try and stop them). Instantly, my mind jumped back several decades. Not to that era before mobile phones but even earlier. Back to an era when pigeons brought us the football scores.
My journalist father used to report Saturday football matches at Easter Road and Tynecastle for the Edinburgh Evening News
. As well as a notebook and pencil, he took a lad and a basket of homing pigeons into the press box. At appropriate moments, paper nuggets of handwritten information were pressed into tiny rolls, fitted inside wee metal tubes, and, affixed to pigeon's legs, tossed out into Auld Reekie's sky. Market Street pigeon loft, high above the printing presses, was their target.
Now the plot thickens and darkens. Week after week, the loft man at the Edinburgh Evening News
had to tempt his all important bearers of news into their rightful home. Week after week, they settled on rooftops just out of reach and had to be cajoled and cursed into doing their duty. His affection for the birds steadily declined. The nadir arrived on New Year's Day – Hibs v Hearts. Office staff, though working, could be a shade overtired and emotional on Ne'er Day so perhaps that is an excuse.
As the birds finally fluttered into the loft, the Doo Man removed the capsules of information, sent them by Lamson tube to the editorial department, and wrang each pigeon's neck. As the silver-coloured vans spread out across the city with their bundles of pink newspapers, the Doo Man descended from his eyrie into history.
A particularly famous football manager, Bob Shankly, once said that some people felt football was a matter of life and death. 'I can assure you it is much much more than that', he pointed out. Bet he wasn't thinking about pigeons…
For the first time I have not renewed my travel insurance, a painful but sadly rational decision. I downgraded it last year from worldwide to Europe because it still seemed that by Christmas we would have come out of the pandemic and travel would once again be possible. Our Prime Minister was optimistic, although a little more cold water poured on dreams – both his and mine – would have been a better approach.
However, confronted with a renewal bill of £400 for the year July 2021-22, since I do not plan to leave these islands between now and Christmas, the only thing was to decline. Apart from anything else, it looks like those so called green destinations don't want people from the land of the delta virus so it would be wasting £200 on the remaining months of this year. Insurance for 2022, whether the whole or on a trip-by-trip basis, can be decided when the time comes.
It is a sign of how the world changed during my lifetime that foreign travel is now seen as a British citizen's birthright. London was as far as my parents got, although that could someday become abroad again should Nicola get what she wants. My grandparents in their latter years did go to exotic places like Bournemouth and Torquay, but for us it was Inellan, Elie, Ayr or North Berwick, and mostly we liked it.
I first got to go abroad during National Service. I was stationed in Germany listening in on Russian troop movements, a job now taken over by computers. Yes, I was once a spy. As my service came to its end, I had a final leave travel pass from my base there which I used to go to Venice – and I never looked back. There are gaps in my travel places. Almost all of North America for a start but I have been round the world twice. When foreign secretaries mattered and went on visits in the Government VC10 with a posse of journalists in the back end of the plane, I was for some years one of the so-called 'boys on the bongo bus'.
The great Daily Mail
diplomatic correspondent, John Dickie, a proud Glaswegian who always wore a flower in his buttonhole, usually nicked from a floral display in whatever posh hotel we were using, wrote a book about these travellers under that title. They got the name because, when the great and the good arrived in foreign capitals to be swept off in limousines to the embassy, the hacks were tagged onto the tail-end of the entourage in a minibus. Today such trips, which our employers paid to send us on, are no more. I don't think there are any VC10s in service, newspapers have no money to send anyone, and nobody cares where our foreign secretaries go. So much for global Britain.
This year, my holiday was to have been spent in Motherwell at the end of this month, but given the way the virus seems to like Scotland so much, it is not going to happen. Oh well, hameldaeme – as I have said before and no doubt will say again.
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