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Other pigeons at Trafalgar
By Kregg P.J. Jorgenson
posted August 4, 2006

   I was standing in London’s Trafalgar Square staring up the tall column to the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson thinking of Arthur Ferguson when I was hit by a whiff of grapeshot or something just as revolting.

  The shot that hit the fan or at least my shoulder came from a pigeon sniper that fluttered its way back to the rest of a flying flotilla. Maybe it was my imagination but I swore I heard it coo the caustic equivalent of ‘I have done my duty too’ as it withdrew to an able redoubt.

  Pigeon droppings are a common occurrence at the Square. In fact, they’re so common that the Greater London Authority put the licensed seller of pigeon food out of business in 2000 in the hope of reducing the overall pigeon population as well as the feral flyers feces.

  However, a protest from a vocal group determined to save the pigeons at Trafalgar soon sprang up to feed the 4,000 or so suddenly destitute birds that inhabit the area. A compromise was reached that resulted in an earlier feeding time (7:30am) with a reduction in the amount of proffered pigeon food. The plan was to reduce the food available to them and thereby reducing their breeding practices while sending some of the flying freeloaders packing. Experts say that well-fed pigeons tend to produce more baby pigeons while those on a diet tend to litter less.

  The plan has had some moderate success. But even so pigeons are still plentiful at Trafalgar Square, so plentiful in fact that there are those who still liken their numbers to an infestation of rats in the movie ‘Ben.’

  “Not difficult to imagine Michael Jackson warbling out the theme song to the young Schwab’s, is it?” said a London businessman. “Flying vermin is all they really are.”

  London’s Mayor Ken Livingston was reported to have offered a similar comment when he urged the Greater London Authority to solve Trafalgar’s pigeon problem.

   It was hard to challenge the bird critic or the Mayor’s sentiments as I was still wiping the pigeon droppings off of my jacket while keeping a wary eye on the English sky.

  However, an American woman with camera in hand did take exception. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “They make the square, don’t you think? Part of its charm and all?”

  “Charm?” snorted the Londoner. “What? Like nothing gives you that warm all over feeling like being shat upon?”

  “Reminds me of home actually,” I said, interjecting my way into the debate. “Pampering the pigeons and having them dump on you is much the way Congress convenes in the United States.”

  “Congress?” echoed the woman while the Brit waited to see where I was taking this.

  “Yes,” I replied and then verbally back-pedaled a bit. “Well, maybe not exactly. It is an unfair and unflattering comparison, I suppose. After all, cleaning up after the birds only takes few moments and nowhere near as much arm twisting, schmoozing or work it takes to clean up some of the messes left by our politicians. I do apologize if I maligned the birds.”

  “Apology accepted,” chuckled the woman.

  “Hard to argue truth,” said the Londoner. “Thank God politicians don’t have wings!”

   The square and monument to the 19th century Lord Admiral celebrates Nelson’s brilliant naval victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It is also a tribute to the then 47-year old not only won a major victory against Napoleon’s water-borne forces but who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the process.

   The column and statue that was completed in 1843 used to stand 185 feet in height with a 17 foot bronze of England’s most celebrated hero perched on top. However, a recent $700,000 facelift and guano scrubbing that helped to restore some of the lost luster to the monument had another effect as well. Besides fixing Nelson’s one good remaining arm that was struck by lightening over 100 years ago, (his other arm, his ‘fin’ as he referred to amputated stump from a combat in jury still had its empty uniform sleeve carefully pinned in place) the renovation actually lowered the monument by 16 feet.

 Still, Lord Nelson stands tall; a testament to the small frail man whose daring leadership in battle saved England from invasion.

  Prior to the epic sea battle Napoleon was planning on his fleet to defeat the English fleet so he could begin an unobstructed invasion of la Grande-Bretagne. And why not? Napoleon had more ships in his mixed fleet than the British and the bateau and barges needed to ferry across the English Channel were being readied just as soon as Nelson had been soundly defeated.

  But Nelson’s overwhelming victory at Trafalgar would thwart the Emperor’s plans and forever leave the five-foot four-inch English hero standing tall in the eyes of his countrymen- hence the respect to the column and renovated statue.

  A little known fact is that after the sea battle Nelson’s corpse was shipped back to Gibraltar in a barrel of captured French Brandy aboard his crippled flagship, the H.M.S. Victory. The brandy was used to preserve the Admiral’s corpse.

  One version of the story has it that he was placed in English rum. But perhaps a more interesting and unusual tale alleges that during the voyage English sailors slipped into the storage area, found the filled barrel, and then used straws to sip at the liquor in what became known as ‘tipping the admiral.’

  Historical purists say that there is no evidence that this even happened, pointing out that his men loved him and would never do such a thing. Others though who know or have had dealings with sailors of any nation are hardly shocked or surprised by the rumor.

  “Sounds foolish enough to be true,” said the Londoner when I asked whether it actually happened. “But don’t you think that if something like that did take place then the straws or barrel might have very well turned up on E-bay by now?”

  “Have you checked the E-Bay of Cadiz?” I asked.

  “I changed my mind. I’m rooting for the pigeons,” said the Londoner.

  “You’re not alone,” I said getting back to Arthur Ferguson and the reason why I had come to the historic square looking for another kind of pigeon.

 I had read that Ferguson was an actor in London and one day in 1924 while visiting the square he saw an American admiring Nelson’s column and decided to have a little fun with the man.

  “A pity, isn’t it?” he said sidling up next to the Yank


  “The column and statue are going to come down…”

  “Down? Why?”

  “To repay the National Debt,” said Ferguson, convincingly.

  “But that’s absurd!”

  “Actually, it isn’t, I’m afraid,” replied the actor. “I’m from the Ministry of Works and it is my unfortunate task to accept the auction bids. A terrible shame, actually.”

  Furgeson sniffed, snorted and with a stiff upper lip stared up at the monument.

  “How much is the highest bid?” asked the American.

  “A little less than six thousand pounds.”

  “Then I’ll take it for six thousand!” said the American. “And I won’t let you take it down!”

  And with that Arthur Furgeson realized he was a method actor and a convincing one at that. “It’s a deal,” he said and with a handshake the grateful Ferguson accepted the man’s offer, collected the money, and transferred ownership of Trafalgar Square to the visitor.

  So pleased with his lucrative afternoon performance he next went on to sell Buckingham Palace and Big Ben to other wealthy and gullible buyers. Taking his one man show on the road the Scot then sailed for the United States where he sold the White House and the Statue of Liberty.

  Arthur Ferguson was eventually caught, tried for fraud, and sentenced to prison. He had found his pigeons in the park too.

And as I was thinking about Furgeson several Japanese tourists were purchasing pigeon feed from an unauthorized pigeon feed seller so they could have their pictures taken amidst a mass of the birds in the Square.

  With their arms spread out wide and feed in their hands the pigeons descended upon the laughing tourists and used them as a perch as they pecked away at the foodstuff. After several pictures were taken, the tourist who had fed the pigeons discovered he was covered in guano. Wiping it off he then readied his camera as the next tourist in line bought more feed for his own dowsing and others lined up for the ordeal.

  Arthur Furgeson was right. There are new pigeons born every day.










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