Lonesome Pigeon

I think I’m right in saying it’s in winter particularly that you’ll find largish flocks of wood pigeons gathered, for instance in the beech woods north of South Oxfordshire. Today, on the lane heading up to Hook End, I disturbed this single pigeon who’d been runting around in the leaves and it made me wonder, was he alone by choice? Could it be that he’s lost the flock he normally hangs around with, that he’s now lonely and vulnerable and feeling frightened rather than just the normal wary? Or might he be brave and fearless and ready to strike out? Perhaps he smells and has been ostracised, or has some hideous pigeon habit.

I suppose it’s just fanciful to imagine animals having a notion of lonely.  I’m always slightly reluctant to draw that kind of conclusion though; it’s very arrogant. It’s also convenient. I sometimes suspect the gulf between us and animals is nowhere near as wide as we like to think.

It is a mistake to imagine solitude equates to loneliness, of course, but to be lonely and to be isolated so there’s no easy way out is a grim state of affairs. I spend a lot of time totally on my own – a whole day, a day-and-a-half sometimes – and I’m quite happy with that, but I’ve plenty of people that I can and do communicate with, online or on the phone, and I know that if I was struggling with just myself for company there are people I can turn to. Having that fall-back, even if you’re not resorting to it, makes all the difference.

I’ve long made a point of always saying ‘hello’ to people when I’m out riding, and I’m always mindful that my greeting might be the only interaction with another human some people get of a day. Loneliness amongst the elderly is reputedly very common and making eye contact and just exchanging one or two words takes no effort, and maybe it helps. Today I had a 50% strike rate: two of the elderly folk I spoke to today looked at me as if I was an alien, two smiled and replied in kind.

I’m aware that I might look like a fat old alien when I’m riding,  and I’m aware that the two who smiled might be smiling at me rather than with me but hey ho, so it goes.

I’m not saying all this to stake a claim on sainthood. All I’m suggesting is that saying hello is easy to do and  it would be good if more people did it; it might make a little bit of a difference to someone. If it doesn’t then nothing’s been lost.  And if you’re not riding by but can talk for longer, then that’s going to be all the better.