Paternoster Tales: Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Pigeon rocket.

Have you ever watched someone’s face change from glee to horror? Quickly.

Agatha’s did.

She had hauled down on the blue shoelace, leaning back into her wellies to pull with her full body-weight. She waited for the pigeon to make a dash at the net. She waited for it to spin round and reverse it’s rear end over the ping-pong ball-egg. She timed the release perfectly.

Did you know that pigeons can scream? I didn’t either. And they can’t. But what I heard was so close to a scream that it might as well have been one. Pigeons normally fly at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (which is pretty fast … faster than you can run or cycle. Faster than a dog can chase a ball. Faster than a sledge going down a snowy slope. Faster than an elephant charge and astonishingly, is about the same speed as a running cheetah). But this poor pigeon was slicing through the air at a flying speed more in keeping with an out-for-a-relaxed-jaunt, sleek, peregrine falcon (which flies very, very fast), than a well-fed, lazy, London pigeon. It took about a tenth of a second for the expression on Agatha’s face to change. The net-catapult had aimed the pigeon straight at the stone fountain, in the middle of Paternoster Square. Lucretia’s pigeon was about to be smashed into pigeon jam.

Hmm … excuse me if I stop storytelling for a minute … pigeon jam? … Jam!

You’ve probably gathered that I like food. A lot. I dream of food. I float above food and ‘breathe’ in the smell of food. Okay, I’m obsessed with it. But I haven’t tasted it for so long! I bet you’d be the same if it was over a hundred years since your last slice of crisp apple. Or steam pudding. Or oozing, soft boiled egg, with a sprinkle of salt. Or bacon. Even vegetarians are moved by the smell of bacon. But pigeon jam. That doesn’t make my insides rumble. Not that I have any actual insides to rumble, but I think about it and imagine the rumbling and it feels real. No … no, no, no; absolutely not, pigeon jam does not appeal. At all.

I envisaged the mess of pigeon jam and shut my eyes. Which explains how I missed the pigeon missing the fountain and …

Are you keeping up with events, or do I have to paint a picture of the pigeon? To make sure you properly understand what happened.

Try to see, in your mind’s eye, a greyish bottle, narrow at the front, heavy at its rear, hurtling through the air at close to 100 miles per hour. Next, fill the bottle with slightly gloopy, white, acrylic paint. And squeeze it gently as it flies. That was Lucretia’s pigeon – a grey, feathery, screaming missile, extruding a continuous line of white excrement as it crossed the Square from ping-pong table to near annihilation on the stone fountain. Only it didn’t annihilate itself. At the last moment, as I was reliably informed later, by a smug Lucretia, a wing suddenly shot out. The pigeon swerved and narrowly missed the fountain and continued it’s speedy, poo-streaming trajectory straight towards a busy, pavement restaurant. Several people were sitting having breakfast, quietly watching the world of office workers and tourists and parties of school children go by. They sat sheltered beneath huge canvas umbrellas and were gently barbecued by glowing patio heaters. It was peaceful. It was our usual breakfast-watching haunt. Polite, uniform, dignified and delicious. But not for much longer. Imagine if a dog suddenly woke up in a room full of cats and picture the explosive shattering of the peace. Exactly the same happened outside the restaurant, when the pigeon-rocket struck. It was shocking. Almost like they expected the arrival of more pigeon rockets. Which they did.

Before the pigeon-rocket landed it scored a continuous white line of pigeon-poo up the side of a pram and over it’s hood, which – fortunately for the baby inside – had been shut against the threatened rain; the length of a hairy grey dog, from tip of tail to end of twitching nose; and up the dark wool coat of a rotund, seated judge – drawing over his head, down his nose and across a forkful of sausage, just as he lifted it mouth-wards. For months afterwards, the judge would relate to dinner guests details of the surprisingly flavoursome, acid-sharp taste and gloopy, slightly chewy, texture of pigeon poo, quite oblivious to their expressions of disgust and cutlery lowering, bubbling-to-the-surface nausea. In case you’re wondering, he claimed the poo tasted a little of chips, a little of redcurrants and was full of tiny seeds. I wouldn’t recommend you try it for yourself. The judge wouldn’t either – the three days off work with tummy ache, were an expensive consequence of his unexpected breakfast sauce.

As I tell you this, Paternoster has a face like thunder. He was a judge once upon a very long time ago and he was particularly angry that Lucretia’s meddling upset the poor fellow. It wasn’t just the poo-eating. Oh no. Although, that was probably the worst bit. No … no, no … there was much more.

A very messy more.

Which will have to wait till tomorrow.

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