All I wanted to do was show my kids the sights and sounds of London, but I soon realised memories can be quite visually orientated as I had forgotten one other thing, the smell. One of our first stops of the day in the nation’s capital was to be Trafalgar Square, and it stank. There was pigeon poop everywhere. Admiral Nelson may have won the battle at Trafalgar, but now he was losing the battle as he gazed down from his column. That was if he could see anything through his vision that was blurred by the poop running down his face.
I grew up in England, but had been living in Australia for fifteen years. My children were both born in Australia, and I wanted them to see the regal history of the country of my birth, not pigeon poop. I have a picture somewhere in a yellowing photo album of me aged eighteen in the square, and it looks clean and uncrowded back then. Perhaps I was looking at the place with rose coloured glasses, now they would be glasses splattered with pigeon poop.
This day the weather was wet, and the damp seemed to ooze up out of the pavements making your feet freeze. June is in the middle of an English summer and yet the temperature was only sixteen degrees. The night before I had checked what the weather was back in Adelaide in mid-winter, and it was eighteen degrees. If I had wondered before why I had emigrated, at that moment all my questions were answered. Rain and pigeon poop.
The four members of my family stood huddled to together, intimidated by the mass of people, the birds and smells. My eldest daughter who was ten wouldn’t remove her fingers that were pegged on her nose as she repeated. “It stinks, Mummy” I held onto my youngest daughters hand even tighter. Along with everyone else she wanted to feed the birds. As we walked towards one of the many stalls selling seed I could hear the crunch of seed beneath my shoes, and I knew that the sticky poop will attach itself like superglue to the soles of our shoes.
What happened next was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. My daughter held seed in the palm of her hand the birds descend in such numbers it is hard to make her out, all I can hear is her scream. She drops her bag of food and runs into her father’s arms crying as she wipes the poop off of her face.
Now years later I am back in Adelaide contemplating a return visit to the United Kingdom and I told my kids one place we would not be visiting was that faecal covered square again. This was when it was mentioned to me that things have changed. Ken Livingstone, The Lord Mayor of London decided that something had to be done. He wanted it to be more user friendly like Time Square. Maybe he had been so covered in pigeon crap one day that someone came up to him and said, ‘Ken Livingstone, I presume.’
Now if you visit the square there is a definite lack of seed sellers. In fact it is now illegal to feed the pigeons and you will be fined fifty pound. Of course the pigeon activists were worried that the overfed birds would starve, so each morning they are fed by a council representative. It is even used for events and protests meetings where people don’t have to worry about being pooped on.
People are free from the overwhelming stench and the mobbing by pigeons, but are they happy. Well not everyone is. A Russian tourist who visited the square wrote in The Independent that the British Government was being too controlling. Then again the Russian Government would never consider being controlling Would they? Most locals are glad the health risks have been eliminated and don’t really care about the tourists. So now it’s cleaned up, will I visit? Knowing my luck, a pigeon will fly free above me and poop on my head anyway. Or a protest will be happening and I’ll get arrested. At least Nelson can look down these days without blurred vision.
Thank you for taking the time to read my entry.