Photo: Austin Middlemiss. The laughs we’ve shared… Lawrence Thompson (centre) would have Tony Thompson and Austin in stitches on the way to the old National Exhibition 

Continuing from last week, Austin Middlemiss recalls some of the classic characters he’s known in the fancy, this time featuring the inimitable Big Lol and late great Billy Watson.

RETURNING to humorous characters, no article would be complete without a mention of Tony’s cousin Lawrence Thompson, or “Big Lol” as he is affectionately known. The stories are legion; sadly, many of the best can’t be repeated in polite company.

On trips down to the old National Exhibition, Lol would regale us with stories which had us in fits of laughter the whole way, and invariably he slept all the way home on the return journey. Hewn pretty much from the same rock face he worked at all his life down the coalmine, it’s fair to say that Lol’s skills were based on graft not craft. Tony and I went across one time to see the birds and the new block of cages Lol had built. We tended to put favoured birds in eye-level cages, but Lol wasn’t quite so fussy and had placed a batch of birds he liked along the bottom row.

What did we think of the bottom-right bird? Stooping down, we could see the cage was empty. Lol was perplexed but asked what we thought of the next bird along – empty again! We worked along the line until we found six birds, all in the left-end single breeder! He had forgotten to put the spacers in to fill the top rail gap above the sliders. I said I thought they were having a union meeting to discuss the housing conditions and we fell about laughing. Lol had struck again.

Tony and I have the same daft sense of humour and, after producing a bird we liked, one of us would say to the other: “When you see this bird you’ll have an orgasm.” One day we went across to Lol’s but he took us past the shed door and asked us first to see what we thought was wrong with his fishpond because there was an “orgasm” floating on top. Tony and I looked at each other with that “here we go again” look. After trying to give some advice to sort the water out Lol then said: “Right, enough of that, let’s go in the shed, when you see some of these you’ll have an organism!” Absolutely priceless. He still occasionally causes uproar at the North of England Gloster FCC meetings when he comes out with another old gem of a tale.

I can’t end this article without returning to old Billy Watson. We practically hero-worshipped him. I was still a teenager when Bill asked if I wanted a ride over to the Annan CBS show to see how he had done and help pick his birds up. Among his team of Norwich and Glosters he had a Gloster corona hen that had won a lot. The Gloster judge was one of the bigger names in the fancy at that time, so I jumped at the chance. When we got into the show – horror, Bill’s hen was wrongly classed as a variegated, not three-parts dark, which he had shown it as all season.

Bill wanted to have a word. He could be a cantankerous old so-and-so but he was the model of politeness and asked: “Mr – , can you just explain this three-parts dark wrong classification?” The judge was no spring chicken himself but Bill was already in his late sixties or seventies and a vastly experienced fancier showing in the champion section. In spite of this, the judge seemed to treat him as a raw novice, using a condescending tone. He took a notebook and pencil from his pocket and drew a square, then dissected it with two lines to form four smaller squares. He then proceeded to shade in three of the four squares as we stood watching in silence.

By this time an audience had gathered and I was cringing behind Bill because I knew this was not going to end well. Eventually, when he had finished shading in, the judge said: “Now you see, that’s a three-parts dark.”
I thought Bill would explode but he was politeness personified. “Well thank you Mr – , that’s really helped a lot,” and paused while the judge beamed at his own smartness. “There’s only one problem,” Bill continued. “Oh, what’s that?” said the judge, walking straight into it. A five word response: “My *#!*#!* birds aren’t square” and he turned, with me in tow, leaving the pompous judge speechless and deflated.

I’m sure many of you will have characters you could tell so many stories about. The Bills, Lols and Sammys of this world, whether long gone or still with us are, in my opinion, part of the fabric of this great hobby of ours.

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