A blog post by LTAR member Johnal Guy Simpson.
We were the first ‘mixed’ family in the street. With a father from Jamaica and an English mother, we were a well known family. Not just because we stuck out but due to diversity but also how we carried ourselves. There was never any trouble, my sister and I would run errands for the neighbours, a 10p mix up was often our reward, we would have done it for free as helping was instilled in us.
During the 1980’s, dad was an avid pigeon racer. From my knowledge he was the only black pigeon racer in the West Midlands and most possibly the only black representative for miles beyond the border. It was indeed a white man’s sport. Flat cap wearing, lager drinking, embellished profanity, it was a working man’s pastime.
I vaguely remember the first pigeon loft being assembled. A modest shed conversion, large enough to comfortably home around 20 of the feathered pairings. It was the start. Dad has always had a passion for birds of the feathered variety. In his younger years roaming around the Jamaican countryside as a child, he would often catch white belly doves and later safely release them.
Most pigeon clubs were based in public houses, The Ivy House, The Freebodies and The Rose were often the main locations taking turns to welcome the big drinkers with bigger personalities. Dad walked into the Rose to a hushed silence that confirmed the muttered rumours “we have a black wanting to join our club”. That first year was filled with resentment, ignorance and disbelief. Dad towering over six feet, broad and stocky due to the many years toiling in foundries throughout the Black Country, he wasn’t one to be intimidated. Most grunts of annoyance were behind his back.
One fellow remarked “if that black beats me, I’ll burn down my loft!” Not only did dad beat him, he also provided him with a gallon of petrol. To my understanding he failed to follow up on his promise.
With a huge presence and a welcoming attitude dad soon won most of them over (he was still a black man after all), he was voted in as Chairman. This was a proud moment in his life and quite an achievement. He gained notoriety throughout the Midlands as he dominated the sport, not only in racing but also in the pigeon shows. Yes, there are shows for best looking pigeons.
Dad took a small number of pigeons to a show, rather than put them together, he spread them about the cages in the room from one corner to another in the belief no judge would award three or four pigeons in a group. After the judging was complete, every one of his pigeons had won an award. This had never happened before or since.
There’s a common myth that black people are the best athletes as it must be in their genes. Akala discusses this in his book ‘Natives’. It is not about genes but about preparation, sacrifice and desire. Dad always wants to be the best no matter what he did. A reason why his photo was in the head office of a stamping company he worked for, he quite literally did the work of two men consistently. Perhaps the two mythical men he represented should have had the same ethos?
It was this ethos that saw dad win first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth in many races. The trophies were racking up. Throughout one year he did what Arsenal achieved in their 2003-04 season and remained unbeaten. This drew the angst of many flyers as once again it was deemed impossible for a black man to dominate in such a fashion. Was it voodoo, black magic or drugs? There always seems to have to be an outside influence when a person of colour dominated their field.
The only race that eluded him was the national. It is a countrywide affair where the best of the best is up for grabs. The only reason it eluded him, he was sitting in the house drinking tea when the bird arrived. He dismissed my callings to say there was a bird out as he couldn’t believe Lager Lad was back so quickly. He missed out on the biggest prize of them all by mere seconds!
Through adversity he gained the respect of his peers. His drive to be the best was met with suspicion when in reality he had a great knowledge of herbs and their effect on living things. He overcame the odds to be the best pigeon flyer around whilst all the time disarming ignorance and bigotry with his charm. My dad.