Bird impersonator

Neil Armstrong (no, not that Neil Armstrong) reviewing Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Corers in the latest edition of Literary Review:

Among others, we meet Viscount Tredegar, an occultist and friend of Aleister Crowley. He was for a time in charge of the section of the army that supplied MI14(d) with birds but was eventually court-martialled for gossiping about Columba’s work. His defence cited his unhappy childhood and the fact that his mentally ill mother had built herself a large bird’s nest in the living room and sat in it wearing a beak.

Shaken, not stirred

BBC: Cambridge Five spy ring members 'hopeless drunks'
Members of the Cambridge Five spy ring were regarded by their Soviet handlers as hopeless drunks incapable of keeping secrets, newly-released files suggest[...]

A short passage describes Burgess as a man "constantly under the influence of alcohol".

Written in Russian, it goes on to recount one occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity.

"Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement," translator Svetlana Lokhova explained.

Moving on to Maclean, the note describes him as "not very good at keeping secrets".

It adds that he was "constantly drunk" and binged on alcohol.

Not wishing to be pedantic, but it sounds to me as if Burgess and Maclean, far from being ‘hopeless drunks’, were actually extremely accomplished drunks.

Code-10 abort

I answered the phone within two rings, but there was silence at the other end. Three seconds later, there was a click, and a woman with an Asian accent introduced herself as Rachel. She began to ask me about pension plans. From the slight time delays, I guessed the call was being bounced off a bird above Karachi.

I explained to Rachel that, yes, I was indeed already receiving a pension. She asked me who I was receiving my pension from. I explained that I was receiving a pension from the Queen. This seemed to confuse Rachel. She asked me which pension company I was received my pension from. I explained that it didn't work that way, and that I received a cheque through the post each month signed by the Queen.

Rachel put me on to her supervisor. I didn't catch his name. He also had an Asian accent. I then had to re-explain my pension arrangements to him. He sounded confused as well. He explained that their database showed that I might not be receiving as good a pension as I could be. This set alarm bells ringing. I demanded to know which database he was accessing, as my personal details were supposed to be secret. He sounded even more confused. I asked him where he had got my phone number. He explained that his company had bought my details off a data provider, and asked me if my concerns had anything to do with the telephone preference service.

I explained to the man that I am indeed registered with the telephone preference service, and that, in calling my private number, he had blown the cover of my MI6 safe-house. The man tried to reassure me that there was nothing to worry about, but he was far from convincing and sounded pretty worried himself. I told him he didn't know what he was talking about, and demanded to know whether our conversation was being recorded. He said that it was. So I blurted out something about having to establish a new safe-house and hung up.

I'm going deeply covert: Coventry Protocol. The code-phrase is BLACK APRICOT.