London Stories and Tips

A Bird’s Eye View of London

Pigeons by the Thames Photo, London, England

If, and there’s a very big if here, I was reborn, and that too as a Brit, and was given the option of choosing whom I’d like to be (fate would have to be pretty crazed to allow me that liberty!), I’d choose to be a policeman. Or a popcorn seller outside the Millennium Eye. Maybe even a busker fiddling away industriously to keep crowds of gawping tourists amused at Leicester Square.

Anything, anyone, as long as I’m not a national hero. A decision I’ve reached after much pondering. No thank you. Not a national hero. Not a poet laureate. Not a battle-scarred admiral. Not a general, a prime minister, or even a grim-faced queen. See what happens if you’re big league and Brit - they put up a statue of you in some park or square for all the pigeons to shit on. You can’t be a hero minus the frills, including the smelly add-ons.

London’s pigeons are all over the blessed city for heaven’s sake. Poor Nelson, atop his column in Trafalgar Square (and the poor lions below the column too); poor Queen Victoria outside Buckingham Palace; poor William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds; poor… oh, well, everybody else, besmeared by hundreds of illiterate and unaesthetic birds.

Other than that, about the only thing our feathered friends seem to spend their time doing is consuming huge quantities of bird feed. No wonder they end up making all of London’s historic old statues a public loo for themselves.

Fortunately, for bird-weary tourists (and Londoners, too), there are places that are, thankfully, bird-free. The Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum: miles of spooky mummies and spookier sarcophagi, famed watercolours and oils, medieval clocks and coins and antique furniture… all, mercifully, barred to the avian community. The same goes for the imposing old Westminster Abbey, the much-admired Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Madame Tussaud’s. Your camera-toting fellow-tourists will be human, not avian. The Tower of London and the glorious Crown Jewels are also, thank heavens, spared the attentions of London’s feathered folk.

Goofish pigeons, however, still descend gleefully on every edifice, especially the more classic bits of architecture, contenting themselves with shitting on rooftops even if they can’t get inside. All of the city’s outdoor attractions, old and new, historic and contemporary, including Tower Bridge, the Millennium Eye, and Cleopatra’s Needle, bountifully bespattered. Walk down Piccadilly and you’ll probably end up traipsing between overstuffed pigeons bursting with birdfeed. Plonk yourself down on a bench in St James’ Park, take out a sandwich from your bag for lunch, and watch the birds descend.

The creatures don’t even spare travellers on the Tube. King’s Cross, Paddington, Hounslow, Edgware Road - they’re all over. Hop on a train and you may well find yourself seated next to a couple of lovey-dovey pigeons billing and cooing for all they’re worth.

But there’s no beating Trafalgar Square, the pigeon-lover’s pilgrimage. Hundreds of doting tourists, lots of birdfeed, and a tonne of pigeon shit every year. London’s taxpayers actually dole out £100,000 annually to clean up Nelson and the lions. Now, that’s what I call expensive.

Someone, evidently not an admirer of London’s birdlife, said, "To the ordinary passer-by, pigeons appear stupid. This is because they are."

Bit harsh. What would London be without its pigeons? Sterile. Uninspiring. Boring. Dull.

Hmm. Perhaps not. A day of being shat upon; of having to share space, and meals, with pigeons; and I rather think London’s better off without its feather-brained denizens. But, for the time being, they’re there, so learn to cope with ‘em. Here’s a very brief travel guide:

What to bring:

1. Big hat, birdproof

2. Protective clothing, also birdproof.

3. Plenty of money to buy souvenirs, food, entry tickets… anything but birdfeed.

Best time to go:

Any time. Every day is party time for the birds.

Getting around:

It doesn’t really matter. You’ll need to be nimble on your feet everywhere.

.Sights to see:

Anywhere indoors.

Dining and Entertainment:

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Trafalgar Square. Excellent birdfeed - nutritious but pricey. Accompanied by show of cavorting pigeons, wheeling, pirouetting, and prancing around.

Welcome to London!

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