Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Rats With Wings
I love animals. I've been a cat owner, a dog owner, and as a child I was a pet-sitter of various other creatures (much to the chagrin of my parents). On a school field trip to the local farm/ petting zoo, I was the only kid to pet a chicken. Like all little girls at some point, I desperately wanted to be a veterinarian and later an equine veterinarian. I competed successfully in hunter jumping and show jumping, owning 2 horses of my own.
With that in mind, imagine this: you're walking down a lovely street in (insert name of favourite city), Europe. Or South America. Or even North America for that matter. So you're walking down this street, the sun in shining, making the buildings even more lovely, the parks greener. You're soaking up the rays and smiling to yourself. You pick up your pace. But wait a minute! Your path seems to be obstructed by slow-moving winged rats. Pigeons! Pigeons all over, in the trees, on the sidewalk, on the grass. What do you do? Well, most people would press on, nonplussed by these giant pests.
I prefer to aim a smart kick in their direction. That's right, I kick at pigeons, and before you go report me to PETA, keep in mind I never said I manage to make contact. I hate pigeons. I hate that they poop all over, that they carry disease... but most of all I hate that it takes them ages to get off the ground, and as they do so above my head they make a horribly loud flapping noise with their wings. Yes, I fear the flapping. I have flapophobia, and I feel perfectly justified in using my own methods to rid my presence of these fat, grey, flapping banes of my existence.
But there's no getting rid of them. They are everywhere, in every city, and in every country I've ever been to. The one saving grace of London is that it no longer has many pigeons in Trafalgar Square. On my first visit to London in 1997, the population was at its peak of around 35 000 pigeons. Thousands and thousands of pigeons would flock around tourists and locals to be fed. I remember watching, horrified, as they completely covered one older woman from head to toe. Call the fire brigade! Call the police! Call Scotland Yard! But she was SMILING! Ew. That image will haunt me forever.
Eventually, due to the droppings, the disease, and the police discovery that one man had been secretly trapping them and selling them (probably into the human food chain), the mayor decided to take drastic measures, imposing a large fine on anyone caught feeding them. That, combined with some trained falcons, managed to rid the square of the vermin. And how did the people react to this? Some of them actually set up an organisation to SAVE the pigeons! How very British... it conjures up all sorts of lovely images of Mary Poppinsish scenes. "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!" They have this crazy idea that people should (insert British accent here) 'feed the poor pigeons'. Um, I personally don't think the pigeons need your help. And I seriously doubt the falcons managed a mass-pigeonicide. Probably most pigeons were scared off by the falcons... and instead of starving, they probably found food the natural way, by eating dropped garbage.
"You don't need to kick at them!" My boyfriend used to tell me this as we walked around downtown. Now he doesn't bother. Instead he just rolls his eyes as I press myself against him and cringe, waiting for the beating wings to pass me by. And when I kick at them, I know he looks around at others with an apologetic look, as though to say, "sorry my girlfriend is crazy." Oh yes, I can feel the British 'look of distaste' as I kick at their precious pigeons. But I don't care. And I bet if Mary Poppins had been around Trafalgar Square in 1997, she would have got one look at the crazy old hag covered in birds and droppings and taken her tuppence elsewhere.