There is nothing pleasanter than hearing wood pigeons cooing in the countryside on a fresh spring morning. But town pigeons, well, they are a different kettle of feathers altogether.
My school is in a densely populated inner-city area and pigeons have always been a problem. Before we became an accredited healthy school, we sold breaktime biscuits and the pigeons scrabbled for crumbs in the playground. They might not be very bright, but they soon become bold.
Once the playground scraps had been swallowed, a few wandered into the building searching for more and then couldn't find their way out again. When the children discovered pigeons in school, some, unsurprisingly, were frightened. Others wanted to stroke them. A few chased them up the corridor, causing the birds to make rapid bowel evacuations on the floor. Or, even worse, in mid-air.
Then the days of increased school security arrived, and doors were no longer left open. But teachers sometimes left classroom windows open at the end of the day, and pigeons started flying through those instead. Other than having an Ofsted inspector in your classroom, there is nothing more disconcerting than sitting your children down while you call the register, and then finding a pigeon cooing from a high window ledge.
Fortunately, premises officer Scott had been working away at the problem. He had bought a telescopic metal pole and screwed what looked like a fisherman's net to one end of it, and a brush to the other. The brush end soon proved useful when a cleaner was startled by a noise coming from a staircase radiator. A pigeon had perched on it for warmth, fallen behind it and then sat there flapping its wings in fright - until Scott managed to release it with a shove from his brush, and trapped it with his net. Armed with this tool, we felt equipped to tackle any avian intruder.
And then, last month, things suddenly turned serious. Sweeping the playground one morning, Scott noticed three pigeons flying into the loft area of the building. Scott rarely goes into the loft, but he thought it best to have a peep. His eyes opened wide with horror. Grilles at both ends of the loft had broken away, the whole area was covered in bird droppings, adult birds were careering to and fro around the roof beams, eggs were nestling in the rafters and recently hatched youngsters blinked at him in the sunlight. Hurrying back down the ladder, Scott sent for the cavalry.
When the pest-control specialists arrived it took the best part of a week to remove the eggs, clean the worst of the mess, seal the skylights with mesh and fix pigeon-resistant spikes to the roof. Had we not called them, they said, the roof timbers would eventually have rotted and possibly caused a classroom ceiling to collapse. A sigh of relief and #163;2,000 later, we thought the problem had been solved.
Until Monday morning, when a teacher on the top floor discovered four pigeons in her classroom. They had been hovering all weekend, annoyed that they couldn't get into the loft. Presumably they couldn't believe their luck when they found an open window that nobody had noticed.
Hopefully, they will soon tire of trying and move somewhere else. I'll keep the spikes, though. Just in case any Ofsted inspectors are trying to land ...
Mike Kent's new book Tales from the Head's Room is published by Continuum, priced #163;14.99.