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The London Eye

This week Chris Neill goes head to head with his neighbour's pigeon obsession

Published on November 29th 2011.

The London Eye

HAVE you known a more bitterly cold November? It's been arctic, hasn't it? 

Over the last two weeks my house has had men clambering all over it. By replacing bits of roof, painting doors, window frames and walls these chaps have been doing their best to deprive the old place of the genial doss house look it had developed in recent years. According to eager weather reporters smiling their way through reports of fog, high winds and snow on northern hills, London has not been particularly chilly but that's certainly not how it has felt to me with the doors left wide open for paint to dry and windows flung up for electricity cables to pass through.

Working in the evenings as I often do, my mornings aren't often a time of much achievement, as neither are my evenings, in fact. For me, the day's brightest hours are often spent in a dressing gown with this season's must-have accessory of a crumpled face of mid-life disappointment to match. Due to the best efforts of our builders I've been forced to finesse this stylish look with a pair of winceyette pyjamas, and feeling rather tawdry because of this, I catch myself apologising to them about my attire.

The day's brightest hours are often spent in a dressing gown with this season's must-have accessory of a crumpled face of mid-life disappointment to match.

“I was gigging last night,” I'll explain, “and didn't get back till very late.” Inevitably, Dave, Russell, Mike and their chums will shrug with awkwardness at my drawing attention to the embarrassment in human-form in front of them and I'll be left wondering why I'd even  mentioned it. I'm sure they're more interested in getting paid than the sartorial choices made by the man handing over the money, and if an apology was due they would probably feel it should be to make amends for the state of my face.

On Thursday the door bell went off particularly early and rather than someone requesting a concrete-encrusted bucket be filled with water, I found a delivery man on my doorstep with a vast sack under his arm. “She's not in at number 25,” he explained, “could you sign for it?” The 'it' he referred to was a great quantity of bird seed. Destination: my neighbour, Phyllis.


Twitchy, awkward and unneighbourly, Phyllis has a deeply intimate relationship with the pigeons of our corner of southeast London. She has taken it upon herself to feed the flying vermin and they have shown their gratitude by evacuating their bowels over the back of her house. Much of our house too it turned out as Dave, Russell and Mike grimaced as they gave description to the quantities of bird excrement they had found clogged in gutters. 

Up until not so long ago if you had a bird fetish you could pay grimy men in Trafalgar Square to hand over a small pouch of seedy treats. Within seconds your hair would be full of pigeons as they tried to claw their way to your scalp gouging out your eyes en route and any nearby children would be reduced to squalls of terrified tears.

Phyllis thinks it's one of the greater horrors of the modern age that such an innocent pleasure is now banned. Legend might dictate that when the last raven leaves the Tower of London the kingdom will fall, but my neighbour most obviously feels that were she to halt her food-aid program to these airborne carriers of muck, the world will go to hell in a handcart at an even greater pace than it is already. Despite years of pleading from me and several other neighbours, she refuses to put the brake on her humanitarian efforts. 

“They'd be lost without me – they would starve,” she'll explain quite confidently in that exhausted but irked tone of voice you might employ to refute the arguments of some right-wing nutter who thinks the very last things a homeless person needs are food, a dry bed and a roof for the night. She's never said so out loud but her eyes tell me this. “Anyway,” continues her argument, “I'm a Londoner and we have a special relationship with pigeons.”

My eyes are now agog with wonder at the depths of her insanity. “And don't forget it's been an awfully cold November.” At that point deflation sets in and I am entirely lost for words. It has been an awfully cold November, bloody cold in fact. I really can't argue with that.

Chris Neill is a comedian, broadcaster and a native Londoner. You can make him feel more popular than he actually is by following him at @chrisneill on Twitter.

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