Today was a signing on day. Every two weeks, I sit on a bus for an hour, kill time for another hour, spend ten minutes standing in a queue with the rest of the great unwashed, then I go to a coffee shop (a lovely place called Serenity in Hertford) for another hour and wait for the bus home.
This week for my journey home I arrived at the bus station early, skipping the coffee shop in order to pay full attention to an animated, positive and lively conversation with my sister. Once my phone was back in my bag I had little else to do but hang around and, tired of being 'in my head' (a.k.a. daydreaming) all of the time, I took the opportunity to people watch.
My attention focused on a young girl in her school uniform - she must have been no older than six - playing with the slush, squeezing it between her feet in to mounds which rose up to her ankles, and then kicking it, just for the sheer hell of it. Her tights and shoes were saturated and I mentally raised my eyebrows at her before remembering that I used to do exactly the same when I was her age. She then wandered over to the stream of icy cold water running from the roof and held her coat sleeve underneath it, soaking it through. I used to do that too.
Her brother (who must have been eight-ish) then picked up a lump of slush and threw it at her, and she ran screaming to Mum who - with absolutely no idea what was going on - looked up from staring at her mobile phone and said "See, I told you you'd get cold" then looked back down and returned to her staring, not hearing her daughter scream "But he threw slush at me!" and her son deny the accusation with "No, I did NOT!" (throwing me a sideways glance when he realised I had witnessed the whole thing).
Deciding not to push his luck, he turned his attention to a couple of pigeons who had finished fighting over a discarded crisp, and threw a handful of slush at them instead. The target pigeon hopped two feet in the air at the last second and instead of flying away, anxiously paced back and forth as though playing out a pest control version of Space Invaders. Each handful of slush that was thrown, the pigeons hopped over, scuttled and then turned, getting quicker each time, and I thought "he'll never hit them." Because pigeons always escape, don't they? Otherwise Dastardly and Mutley would have caught Yankee Doodle Pigeon in the first episode and Hanna-Barbera would have had to think up a whole new cartoon series.
And then I remembered two stories about pigeons which made me think again.
The first was from a work colleague who was recounting the highlights of his business trip to Amsterdam and despite all the usual distractions that Amsterdam has to offer, the one thing he couldn't get out of his head was the time when he was waiting for a tram to pass so that he could cross the road. A pigeon was standing on the tram line nearby and he expected it to fly away at the last second as all pigeons do. But this one didn't, and was run over by the tram right in front of his eyes. What he couldn't get over was the really loud "POP!" sound it made as it was squashed. I guess there's nothing like being remembered by going out with a bang.
And the second story was from a student friend of mine who, when told the above pigeon story, proceeded to tell me about the time when two of his mates went to visit him in a city 'somewhere up north' (i.e. I can't remember - I think it was Leeds). Anyway, in the middle of the day they were strolling through the busy city centre and came across a square full of pigeons. One of his friends suddenly announced "Oh, I've always wanted to do this!!", ran full tilt towards the birds and at the last minute - to the horror of the crowd - launched himself in to a spectacular belly flop right in to the middle of them, expecting them all to scatter and possibly cause havoc with fear-induced mass pooing.
It was only as he looked up at the horrified faces of the crowd that he realised that he was, in fact, face down in the middle of a busy city centre, lying on top of a rather flat and newly deceased pigeon.
In fairness to Hanna-Barbera, the "Dastardly and Mutley in their Flying Machines" theme tune ("Nab him! Jab him! Tab him! Grab him! Stop That Pigeon! Howwww!") gave absolutely no reference to trams or belly flops.
The pigeon attack at the bus station finally abated when the pigeon's bus arrived, and they hopped on it to go back home, narrowly avoiding the swoop of a bi-plane flown by a wheezing, sniggering dog. Oh my, I need to watch less daytime TV....