Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Ceylon or Assam?
Lapsang or Earl Grey? English Breakfast or Traditional Afternoon? Since moving to London, the tall, pale, crow-faced South African has fallen in love - with Twinings tea. I spend more time with Deek than anyone else - bar Gabby - if watching Deek sniff the scent, swill the first sip, neck the rest, and pin notes on the noticeboard above the kettle, counts as spending time. I ask my superior how things are whilst he's engrossed in the fragrance of flowery Jasmine, attempting to decide whether it needs milk, or not.
"O, you know," he answers, distractedly.
"Umm ... no."
Silence. Then mutterings at Gabby about some copying.
"Went to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square yesterday," he suddenly announces. (Another new love: monuments, etc.) "But no-one was selling feed. Looked it up on the web. Illegal apparently." Then he turns to me, and stops speaking into his tea. "And you know what else I found?"
"Umm ... no?"
Another new love: London stories. Deek starts to slowly relate, sniffing and slurping the Jasmine, the well-known tale of the pigeon-postcard woman. For years each day she came to the Square to feed the grotty birds. Always alone. There in the morning. Off in a tube by nightfall. And why famous?
Because of the picture-postcards of her. You know the sort - all black and white and moody. Ones where, above a hazy morning sun, which just filters through the lifting fog, the black outline of a solitary figure stands (slightly bent under heavy winter clothing) beneath the grandeur of the London skyline, beneath the monuments and ancient buildings, lone like the statues but ever so little, and surrounded by the birds, birds swirling about her, birds following the path of the grain that pours from her hand, birds this way and that way, birds soaring above and pecking below, birds dotting the sky and tracing her path, while she wanders alone through the square. One day, the ancient little lady, who had pigeons for friends and colleagues and family, was found dead. Old age.
The authorities discovered her name and address - written in the back of her coat - and went round. Her little home had shelves up to the ceiling in every room, and these were stacked full of two things. Pigeon feed, as you'd expect - and also cyanide. Lots of cyanide. Which she had, it became clear, been mixing with the feed. Not such a lover of the pigeons, after all. She'd spent her lifetime killing as many of the things as she could.

Deek finishes his tale and I laugh at the appropriate moment, trying to read in the corner of my eye an email from Katy about tonight. He's given Jasmine three out of five, and is brewing some Darjeeling. He stands before me - this man I barely know, newly in love with an old drink, with the sights of the city, with little London stories - this man surrounded by tea, bags and boxes of the stuff, there on the shelves, by the kettle, reviewed on the board - and asks me if I fancy a cup. I think twice. I really do.