The Day of the Pelican

From Russia, with love.

On this, my husband’s birthday, I choose my subject carefully. For he knows most of the Bond films by heart, is in thrall to George Smiley, is an authority on Jason Bourne. He has a historian’s grasp of the facts of the Cold War, though its secrets remain as insubstantial as the mist which hangs over the Moskva River.

This morning, Vladimir Putin sat companionably – or as companionably as Putin ever sits – watching the Olympic judo at Excel, the largest Olympic venue in London.

Syria, Russian human rights and the countries’ economic relationship were on the cards for discussion. No-one seemed to have given any ground but Putin complimented Cameron on his country’s opening ceremony. Specifically: Mr Bean.

The bizarre has never been far from our relations with Mother Russia.

Spool back 350 years, for example, to the party reign of Charles II. Alexis I was in the middle of a comparatively stable rule and the Russian ambassador was minded to make a special present to the king who so loved his menagerie.

Charles had just finished re-landscaping St James’s park, the land first claimed and laid to parkland by Henry VIII.

What this park needs, thought the Russian ambassador, is a pair of completely incongruous pelicans.

And so he gave a pair to Charles for the park, and the mummy and daddy pelicans were very much in love and had baby pelicans. And the pelicans at St James’s Park prospered.

But the twentieth century was not kind to the pelicans. For centuries they had drawn admiring crowds, but their numbers began to dwindle and by 1970 – the heart of the Cold War – things were in a dire state. There was one pelican left, called Daphne.

I have a vivid imagination. I can just see the British diplomatic community chain-smoking and knocking back the gin while they grappled with the Pelican Brief: should the creatures be allowed to die out, should they go elsewhere for their pelicans, or should they just swallow their pride and go cap in hand to the Russians?

Extraordinarily, they did the latter.

And equally extraordinarily, the Russian government coughed up: two brand new pelicans delighted park visitors.

But the nirvana soon turned ugly.

The most uncomfortable rumours began to circulate. They concerned the new Russian beaked ambassadors eating our very British pigeons.

We all knew that was preposterous. Pelicans eat fish, of which there were plenty in the park.

Russian aggression was slated in the papers, and it is fabled that one MP claimed his children had nightmares after watching a pelican eat a pigeon. Yet still, mild-mannered naturalists insisted it could not be possible.

Until a journalist captured it on camera, and Sky News followed suit. A pelican walked up to a grazing pigeon, scooped it up live but protesting vociferously, and gulped.

Mother Russia had spawned monstrous meat-eating pelicans.

They were ushered off hurriedly to the nearest zoo. I need not remind you that the Berlin Wall did not come down for another 20 years. We do not forget the British pigeon losses with ease.

As you watch the British Prime Minister and the Russian president hob-nobbing in front of the judo, watch them carefully.

And remember those meat-eating pelicans.


59 thoughts on “The Day of the Pelican

  1. Oh, dare dare, my dare Kate-tee… “I’ve learned that to understand one word of your beautiful, poetic, prose… I have to hear it in my head as if it were being spoken me personally, from a shrill voiced, sexy sounding female Dr. Watson”
    Hope hubby’s Birthday went well…
    Don’t get me started on any cold, cold, meat eating political machine stuff…by the way; My Older Sister Helped Tear-down the Berlin Wall Back in ’89… Bless her ever loving, bleedn liberal heart…She still doesn’t realize the Pope, and, Mikhail Gorbachev put her up to it…But, that’s another story…
    Oh, here’s a James Bond Quote I most resemble…
    “James Bond: You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen Tatiana Romanova: Thank you, but I think my mouth is too big James Bond: No, it’s just the right size… for me, that is.”
    Er, well, the big mouth part…i, resembles me a bit…It’s been said I resemble Peter the Apostle a bit at times too…
    The only time I open my mouth is to …change feet..?
    Love ya
    mean it…

    1. Paul! How lovely to hear from you! A relative who helped dismantle the Berlin Wall; that’s quite a claim to fame.. I must read a few of these posts out loud some time, and you can hear whether I am a female Doctor Watson or not….

  2. Happy Birthday to Phil.
    What an enthralling story Kate. It all seems so incongruous to think of Putin complimenting Cameron on Mr. Bean when there are such high stakes on the table.
    Recently we were in Regents park when the baby ducks were around and they were being chased and gobbled up by the Herons. ‘H’ got terribly upset, he said he could tell that the mother ducks were broken hearted and nearly did himself a mischief chasing the Herons away. It appears that the fish eaters have become meat eaters in the parks of London.

      1. That was scary stuff though – when I was reading the post i thought you were gong to say that Putin tried to gobble up Cameron. David Icke may have been correct all along!

      2. I would have paid a considerable sum and persuaded Icke back to Pebble Mill, just to see Putin gobble up Cameron, Jim. Maybe we should pursue that pelican idea a little longer.

  3. Happy Happy Birthday to Phil! May it usher in his best year of living yet.

    We have pelicans that nest in the big live oaks downtown. The city has made investments in ugly decoys to keep them out of the trees because of their mammoth droppings. And, we have so many pigeons in the parks……..why can’t OUR pelicans eat some of the pigeons???

    It is a sight to watch the pelicans fly and fish out in the harbor. They’re such big birds. Love the connection to diplomacy, and all the images that conjured.

    1. I think Charleston’s council should get in touch with the avian training section of the KGB, Andra. Me? I believe those pelicans were darkly conditioned. Someone probably shut them in a room and played them Barry Manilow for ten days straight. Heck, I’d eat a live pigeon after that.

    1. It must be!Darwin’s survival of the fittest. They’re rather good at eating the pigeons but I cannot help but think it gave the pelican terrible indigestion. All those feathers.

  4. Speaking of gulping, I gobbled this one up! Fascinating tidbit of history that I’d have no way of knowing without your wonderful interest in odd detail! I was particularly enthralled because I came home from our vacation primed to research more about the California Brown Pelican…I had so many up close and personal encounters at the beach, and then some! I’ll be posting more pictures soon, and you’ll notice how different our two fellas are from one another! Yet ours may be just as sneaky and I just don’t know it yet! Such great fun! Debra

    1. I think most pigeons have not strayed from the way of the fish, Debra – there are perfectly good pelicans in St James’s now. I loved your pictures – what characters….

  5. LOL!! Not to disrespect the British pigeon in any way, just the way you recite the story had me laughing out loud. Best birthday wishes to your husband for a great day to start a great year … free of pelican carnivores 🙂

  6. Dear Kate, I laughed out loud. Thank you enriching this morning here in the heat and humidity of Missouri. Your very own “Pelican Brief” (with a nod to John Grisham’s novel) is a delight. And truly, I never realized that pelicans ate pigeons. Those scientists who denied it and then had to eat their words (not smothered in pigeons)–did they ever find any other pelicans, besides those from Russia, that did that???? If not, then we have plot on plot. Peace.

  7. They complained about the loss of a few mangy feral pigeons?! I’d’ve thought that every town council would want a pelican or two these days. And who knew that they had pelicans in Russia. Or St James’ Park. 🙂

    1. I think, IE, that it was the fact people had to witness it which was the crunch :-D. Have you run the clip? It’s an arresting sight, watching a live pigeon swallowed whole. No wonder that MP made such a fuss. Not tourist fodder….

  8. In Egypt, pigeons are street fare . . . roasted, broasted, boiled, and fried. Probably pelicans, too. Unless, of course, they taste too fishy.

    Hope Phil’s birthday is filled with sweet surprises . . . shaken, not stirred.

  9. Kate: Firstly; happy birthday Phil! Secondly; I remember seeing the news story of the pelican eating the pigeon… I think I may actually remember seeing the pelican eat the pigeon – but that can’t have been in 1970 could it? I was only two then! And was Daphne a fish eater… or was she partial to the odd pigeon as well?

  10. Bizarre is apt, Kate, both for Vlad-the-Mr-Bean lover, and that pigeon-gulping pelican – gulp! Mind you, Russian presidents have been known to frequently exhibit strange behaviour – Vlad singing ‘Blueberry Hill’, Boris getting on down to ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’…the list goes on.

  11. Who would ever guess…pelicans of peccant probity. Haaaa! You have no idea how long I’ve waited to use that phrase.

    Happy Birthday, Phil. I was hoping Kate would describe your undertaking some James Bond escapade in the rescue of Daphne.

  12. I had no idea pelicans would do such a thing! Amazing that someone caught it on video. Fascinating history, however. Funny I’ve not seen a single mention here about Putin being in attendance.

    Happy Birthday, Phil!

  13. Happy birthday to Phil.

    So glad he is a George Smiley fan, far more mine than James Bond.

    The birds story just shows that in diplomacy anything can backfire nastily.

    But what I really want to know is…. Are there pelicans there now and from where we’re they obtained, or was poor Daphne left to live and die a lonely old maid? Surely James Bond could have been sent to obtain some proper fish eating ones.

  14. Between pigeons and pelicans, I think I prefer the pelicans, even if they are communist-trained assassins. Pigeons – dirty, flea-ridden, cruel and rather dim – have an unwarrentedly good press.

  15. I love your play on “Pelican Brief” which is one of my favorite John Grisham movies.
    A real diplomatic dilemma and a grim ending for the pigeons.

    A belated Happy Birthday to your hubby.

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