Tuesday, 27 July 2010


I sat in a cafe today and took a few minutes to watch the world passing by. High up in the building opposite, a pair of pigeons sat on a window ledge staring down at the people and cars below. Pigeons, I think, like many birds, mate for life. I was always deeply saddened by my mother’s account of finding a swan, which had been killed by a car, being dragged to the side of the road by his anxious mate. With that in mind, I watched the pigeons for some time. They were huddling up to one another and seemed completely content in each other’s company. Almost, you could say, in love. One was repeatedly grooming the other, and they were rubbing heads. They reminded me of the elderly couple I often see walking down Highgate High Street. They never seem to let go of each other’s hands and it breaks my heart to watch them. Both are so old that it seems likely one is holding the other up, but it’s impossible to tell which! I often wonder what will happen when one of them dies. They seem so reliant on one another that I suppose it’s possible the other would simply fold up and follow suit.

So, I watched the pigeons and imagined them as an elderly couple holding hands and it struck me that they must be feeling affection for one another, and this strikes me as a very complicated emotion which goes far beyond the "urges" or "survival instincts" we generally attribute animals. And this got me thinking. My vegetarianism isn’t something I discuss very often. I certainly don’t feel the need to preach about it. But seeing those two old pigeons, sitting calmly, gently grooming one another, makes me certain that I could never bring myself to eat the flesh of another sentient creature. Probably not even if my life depended on it.

350 years ago, Pepys’ new neighbours took up residence in the Navy Office complex. Pepys was now in the rather fine company of two gentlemen called Sir William; Sir William Batten and Sir William Penn. The former was returning to the post of Surveyor to the Navy, a job he’d lost during the Civil War, and the latter, a well-respected sailor, had recently been appointed commissioner to the Navy. Penn is perhaps better known as the father of the founder of Pennsylvania. The two men would go on to feature prominently in the diary.

Pepys spent the day at Montagu’s home in Whitehall with his clerk, Will Hewer, amongst other things, casting up his account. He found himself worth 100l, which is something approaching about £10,000 in today’s money. Interestingly, Pepys opted to take a coach home “but the horses were tired and could not carry us farther than St Dunstan’s” (somewhere in the region of London Bridge.) So they were forced to call for a link boy, and to walk the rest of the way home.

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