There is not a lot you can do about pigeons in London; we are knee-deep in feathers around these parts. You may have noticed the grey, cooing, intruders wandering on to Centre Court in years gone by, reducing the paying public to knicker-wetting hilarity as ballboys and lines judges tried to shoo them away mid-match (they are an easy crowd to please, the Centre Court punters).
So, in 2000, Wimbledon decided to take action: they got themselves a hawk. No, not a computerised line calling machine – they got a proper, feathered, flying thing; one that kills small mammals and frightens the living bejaysus out of slow-moving, dim-witted pigeons. And then they got another – the lovely Rufus.
Rufus took over sole responsibility for scaring away the flying rats in 2008 but he was scarred by the memory. That year, on the eve of The Championships, a rogue flock of pigeons swooped in and eyed up the grass seed that is liberally scattered over the lush green courts. For a bit of fun, they started dive bombing the players on the practise courts, too. And Rufus trembled. Not only were they big, nasty, rough city pigeons but they were here in vast numbers. And there was only one Rufus. So he hid.
The fine people of the All England Club did what any upper class types would and reached for their guns. On my damp little rock, the toffs have always liked shooting things – ducks, partridge, pheasant… to be honest, they prefer to shoot peasant and did so with reckless abandon for centuries until democracy and the law took over. These days, they have to be glad of what they can get and the chance to bag a couple of dozen pigeons was too good to miss, particularly as it was being done for the good of The Championships. Let the killing begin!
Throughout this mass slaughter, Rufus sat alone and shivering in the rafters of Court One.
Six years on – time is a great healer, even for birds – and Rufus is much a happier hawk. Released at dawn every day, he patrols the grounds of the All England Club and scares away the pests as best he can. There are still pigeons in SW19, but not nearly as many as there were. And the members of the All England Club haven’t had to shoot so much as recalcitrant ballboy in six years.
The nice people of Stella Artois put together this tribute to Rufus – he may have got off to a dodgy start but he is looking mighty fine now, particularly in his bespoke Wimbledon purple and green hood. You have to give it to the All England Club: they are very good at details.