For L and M
Many people don’t like pigeons. They’re dirty, unhygienic, pooey rats of the air. Unlike squirrels, whose lovely tails make them rats with good PR, pigeons are grey, noisy, prolific and generally deemed unpleasant.
This was not so when I was a child. Both my father and stepfather frequently entertained me (separately) by taking me to Trafalgar Square – or even just the local park, to feed the pigeons. I’m no Mary Poppins so I have no idea if we paid tuppence a bag for the seeds, but I did like it when they landed on my arm and fed from my palm. No-one ever considered them as disease carriers or pests at the time. I say no-one – probably thousands of people did. but somehow not my family.
I used to go to Wales a lot as a child to stay with schoolfriends of my mother’s. They had a dovecot – or was it just a pigeon shed? Anyway, they kept some tame pigeons there. 20 perhaps? Their names are on the tip on my tongue, but I can’t quite remember. I expect I shall as soon as I stop writing. The shed was somehow attached to the roof of the cottage, and the pigeons often flew about the yard. Babunia used to feed them and talk to them and from time Wuj Janusz used to take his air rifle and shoot one so that we could eat it. Not nice. I can’t remember actually trying it, but I was possibly made to. Nevertheless, I used to like watching them and try to recognise them. Some were very pretty in varying shades of brown and beige and white and blue.
Back in London we had a very interesting spring, one year. Our kitchen in Egerton Court was tiny and triangular. But it had a big window which looked out onto a triangular courtyard. Opposite was somebody else’s kitchen window I suppose, but they had a balcony. i never saw anyone open their window – or ours for that matter – you could almost reach their balcony from our window – until my stepfather noticed a strange object on it. A nest. a rather messy pigeon’s nest in fact. And in it was an egg. I remember coming home from school everyday to watch mother pigeon. (I’ve just looked up the word for a female pigeon and it is hen. I thought it was squab, but that is just a very young pigeon).
For a few days nothing happened and then the squab hatched. And very sweet it was too. But someone must have cleared them away, because one day the whole caboodle, nest, squab, mummy, were all gone. I was terribly disappointed.
And so, for years, pigeons were a very small and insignificant part of my life indeed. Until about twenty years ago when we went to France and enjoyed some very fine dining in a very fine restaurant. My husband especially, enjoyed some very fine woodpigeon. I did not.
Over the years he tried to persuade me to try to eat these ubiquitous birds. Fried, casseroled, overdone, underdone. Every which way. No thank you.
Last Sunday, however, was a gamechanger. My mouth waters as I think about it. We went to lunch at some friends and were served with some extremely delectable pieces of meat, nestling redly on a green salad, embellished with garlicky croutons and a perfect vinaigrette. The dish was delicious – and yes, it was pigeon. I couldn’t believe how scrumptious it was. And the look of I told you so on my husband’s face was very meaningful!