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The English Patient

Do these words (‘The English patient’) mean anything to you?
It is the title of a well known movie and the words always remind me of that English guy that visited me in order to buy birds.
I had never seen him before but, believe it or not, ‘talking pigeons’ for two minutes only is enough for me to know what kind of fancier my counterpart is.
And I even need less time when I see him handling a pigeon, especially when he opens a wing.
Some just torture birds when handling them and therefore I do not like to show birds to people that I do not know.
But sometimes there is no choice.
If somebody has made a long trip to see you it stands to reason that he also wants to see pigeons, but if I do not know him the first bird that I show will not be a good one.
This man did not seem to be a pigeon man, so the first bird I showed him was one that I had purchased and had proven to be no good.
When he handled the bird he said ‘a super, typical Schaerlaeckens, it is such birds that I want’.
Questioningly I looked at him.
Was this bad pigeon that I had imported ‘a super’ and a ‘typical Schaerlaeckens?’
When he had said this I knew this man would not even make it with the best birds in the world. Therefore selling him good birds would be a waste.

Of course I could have sold him a bad bird for little money but that is not my style.
No one can guarantee quality when selling pigeons but the least you can do is try.
Deliberately selling a bad pigeon even for very little money is not fair, since even one dollar is too high a price for a bird that is no good.
Therefore I lied to that I had no birds for sale.
‘Have I come all the way from England to hear this?’ he reacted disappointedly.
‘You came of your own free will and I have never advertised birds’ I said as politely as possible.
‘Holy shit’ he said and left.

Two years later he was there again, since he wanted ‘to discuss something’ with me.
I sighed deeply and showed him in.
Soon it became clear what he wanted to talk about, since the table nearly fell apart under a heavy load of pedigrees and catalogues.
He wondered if those pedigrees were familiar to me and they sure were.
They were mine!
‘So you managed to lay hands on my birds he?’ I said.
He nodded and asked my opinion.
‘I am not impressed and feel sorry for you since these are without any doubt and without any exception bad birds’ I said.
He was shocked.
‘Worthless birds?’
‘Absolutely’ I said.
‘Holy shit’ he said and asked why I was so sure.

‘Look’ I said. ‘I know many champions as well as their birds.
Some have up to 50 breeding pairs but I do not know of anybody who has 10 real super racers.
Let’s say the average champion breeds 75 birds per year, that would mean 300 in 4 years’ time, so you can imagine how great your chances are.
Still the average fancier wants birds from the champions but what do some do?
They buy say 10 babies, if they are lucky and 2 turn out to be good they keep these 2 and try to find foreign clients for the others, the bad ones, in order to recover some of the money they invested.
And with bad ones I mean pigeons such as these’ I said and I pointed at the pedigrees that lay on my table.
‘But aren’t they of good origin?’ he dared one more time.
‘So what?’ I reacted.
‘Do you really think that birds are good just because their parents are good?’
Then I asked him how he got these birds.
‘Through the Internet’ he said. These and other birds were described as ‘pure gold’ and ‘pure gold’ was what he wanted.
‘You know what?’ I reacted.
‘Those who made that propaganda know better themselves. You have a greater chance to have a sexational or just a sensational date with Miss World than buy an old Super Bird from a famous loft through others.
Those brokers of castles in the air keep on repeating their lies till finally they look like true, but the real champions know better.

‘And what about your Mattens cock. Wasn’t he a good breeder?’ he asked.
‘Very good’ I said. ‘He gave me five real good birds and pigeons that give 5 real good birds are good breeders indeed, even though he is father of numerous bad ones with different hens.
‘Wasn’t he infertile the last years that he was in your loft?’ he asked.
I nodded.
‘And did he not start filling its eggs again in America?’ he asked.
I shrugged.
Then he asked if that was possible.
‘It is not impossible’ I said.
‘So he gave 5 good birds and the others were bad ones?’ He repeated my words.
‘Exactly’ I said, but these five were unbelievable, also as breeders and all had the same mother. With other hens he only gave rubbish.
‘Do you know that its babies are offered for sale now for 7,500 USD and people are willing to pay that price?’ he asked.
‘That is not my business nor my problem’ I said.
‘Some people just cannot stop buying ‘paper birds’ but after some years they feel unsure, angry and cheated, or they become alcoholics.
Since I felt sorry for him I decided to give him some advice.

The point is that some ‘dealers’ are like some politicians.
They promise you to build a bridge even though there is no river.
Politicians promised us once that we could retire at a pretty young age.
But now we are lucky when, if we are 85 or incontinent (depends on what comes first) we can reduce our workweek to 50 hours.
Your problem is that you got my birds through others.
If you want birds from ‘X’ you should deal with him directly and you better buy late breeds. No serious fancier will sell early breeds of which he thinks they are good.
Such birds he needs for himself, they are ‘his future’.
Late breeds however do not mean much for the owner since they cannot be trained nor raced so it is less a problem to sell them.
I will tell you about Klak.’

‘Once a middleman wanted birds from him for a Taiwanese client but Klak had none.
The middleman got upset and said:
‘I exported more of your birds than you yourself.’
Klak: ‘I believe you but they were all bad birds that others wanted to get rid of but you do not care for your clients, you are a commission hunter.’
Then Klak showed him an ad that a dealer had published in a pigeon magazine.
It said: ‘Want to buy Klak birds with original pedigrees for my foreign clients‘ Klak: ‘People like these abuse my name and now I want you to go and never come back again.’
This is not an anecdote but truly happened.

Then I pointed at the pedigrees.
‘2001’ it said on top. Now it was 2005 so this meant that others had been breeding from those birds for 4 years without success.
‘Holy shit’ he said and changed the subject.
He wanted to know if it was true that Vandenabeele raced pure Stichelbouts.
I asked him if it was true that Bush and Saddam had fallen in love.
Then he asked if I had ever heard about Louis van Loon.
Louis van Loon?
Of course I knew him. He only lives 5 minutes from me.
‘I have youngsters off of his ‘King’, ‘Speedy’, ‘Incredible’ and ‘Wonder girl’ he said.
My mouth fell open.
Though I knew all Louis’ best birds I had never heard about these.
Then he opened a fancy catalogue and pointed at photos of pigeons.
I said: ‘nice photos and nice names but Van Loon does not speak one word English and never ever would he give his birds such names. His best pigeons are called ‘The old blue’, ‘The checked’ and the ‘White flight’.
‘Holy shit’ he said and left.

Some weeks ago the phone rang.
In order to prevent me from ending up in a madhouse my wife mostly picks up to tell the man who calls that I am not home in most cases.
But now SHE was not home, I picked up and couldn’t possibly say I was not home.
It was the Englishman.
He thanked me, he had learned a lot, but wanted to know my advice about crossing ‘pure Hofkens’ with ‘pure Wegge’.
‘Pure Hofkens’ and ‘pure Wegge?’
I could not believe this.
Hofkens had no strain but bought pigeons everywhere, Wegge died 100 years ago.
‘Holy, holy, holy shit’ I said and grabbed for a Scotch.
If there is no article of mine in next issue I am in a madhouse.
No flowers please.