Belfast Telegraph

A precious memory I will always cherish

By Frances Burscough

We had a party recently in Preston to celebrate 50 years since the Burscoughs moved into the family homestead on Black Bull Lane. At one stage, 10 of us had lived there simultaneously — mum, dad, John, Louise, Chris, Jim, Me, Marie, Rachel and Lucy — but now it’s just dad (who’s suffering from Alzheimers) and whoever is staying there to look after him. We decided to make it a fancy dress party, and everyone wore something to represent one of the eras we had lived through in those 50 years. I decided to honour a very special era from my childhood. I will call it the Year of the Dove...

When I was 12 in 1975, my dad arranged for me to get a pair of white fan-tailed doves as a birthday present. We had the perfect place to keep them, with a big garden and an adjoining stable building which we had always used as a garage. There was even a pigeon coop attached to the wall, so they had somewhere to roost at night. I was presented with a wicker basket from which two beautiful snow-white birds flew out and up, up into the sky above the garden, circling and soaring in what I thought was a spectacular aerial display to show gratitude for their new surroundings. But as it turned out, I was wrong. What they actually were doing was getting their bearings. After a few swoops and dives, their homing instincts kicked in and they were off, flying back to Micky’s farm in Garstang — 15 miles away from whence they came.

I cried my eyes out and dad very angrily had to get back into the car and head off down the A6 to retrieve them. He drove, they flew, and all three arrived at the same time. It was actually funny in retrospect and we all laughed about it for many years later.

By the second attempt we had learnt our lesson and so we kept the two doves inside their coop for a couple of days to get them used to their new home.

Now it so happened that the pair consisted of a male and a female. And while they were (literally) cooped up inside our garage they wasted no time at all in doing what the birds and bees do best. By the time they were released again, Mrs Dove was expecting but we didn’t know it. Even when they started to carry twigs and bits of straw back into the coop, the penny didn’t drop. I was just loving having two such unusual pets and taming them gradually over a few days to feed from my hand. Every day before school they would fly out to greet me when I went to feed them, sometimes landing on my head or shoulders, and rubbing their heads against my chest as I held them close. They even learnt which was my bedroom and started to tap, tap, tap on the window at the crack of dawn when they wanted their breakfast.

But, eventually nature took its course and two became three, four, five, six, and then they all mated with each other. In just one year (a wonderful year, I might add) my two beloved pets had become an entire flock of 16 birds and counting. They had long since grown out of the coop and so they took up residence in the rafters of the garage roof. Directly above dad’s car. Well you can imagine the mess...

The thick layer of caustic droppings that they expelled onto the roof of dad’s car every night — and the tirade of expletives that my dad expelled in response every morning — made me realise that their time was running out. And then one day when I returned from school all was quiet and the doves were gone.

It was the end of an era for me, an era I had loved very much and always remembered with great fondness.

So at the party I wore a long white dress with feathered wings attached and everyone knew at once what it meant. All, that is, except dad.

“Do you remember, dad, when I had two white doves as pets? You got them from a patient in Garstang and they kept breeding and multiplying and used to crap all over the car so we ended up having to get rid of them?”

“Doves? Err...No...Sorry, love. I can’t remember any of that,” he replied.

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