The past couple of nights as I have lain awake listening to the Mouse Clog-Dancing Club in the loft, I have wished for birdsong. In the summer I am woken up, or joined if already awake, by birds just as the sky begins to lighten. This can be very early indeed, but is at least pleasant to listen to. Unless it’s the wood pigeons. They get old very fast.
It’s been a birdy week. Yesterday a friend said she was planning to start keeping chickens. She had a bit of a glint in her eye which seems to afflict those who turn to this hobby. There are people at work who evangelise the benefits of henliness, and keep rescue chickens in order to avoid having to do the gardening. (There’s no point if demented birds are pecking up everything in sight.) They show me pictures on their phones of the feathered ladies. The conversation may run along these lines…
“We lost Bianca last week. She’d been in a moult and very quiet, then she died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Here’s a picture of her. Wasn’t she lovely?”
“Poor Beryl misses her terribly so we went to find a new friend for her on Saturday.”
“But we couldn’t choose, they were all so lovely; so now we have Gladys, Candy and Cherry as well! Isn’t it great? Look, here are some pictures of them settling in!”
“Crikey, is that the time?…”
I don’t understand why so many of the birds get either granny or hooker names, but there you go. They are bedraggled creatures, being rescue chickens, and don’t last long as a result. So the conversation gets repeated quite frequently. The inventor of camera-phones has much to account for. Occasionally people make comments about how you can get knitted jumpers for battery hens that have lost their feathers, and look at me eagerly. I tend to make my excuses. If I gave in to that kind of pressure I’d have to give up the day job.
Regardless of their culinary potential, for eggs or flesh, birds are undoubtedly insane. All birds are. Look into the eyes of a bird and you see a demented dinosaur in feathers, and furious at what it has become. It senses its raptor ancestry deep within its soul, and is demeaned by its feeble modern incarnation. Just as dogs dream of chasing rabbits, sparrows dream of hunting their prey and rending them limb from limb. What they do to insects is unspeakable.
Naturally, birds make excellent pets for small children.
When I was very little my first pet was a goldfish, and later my father became an enthusiast for fish in general. We moved to catfish and then tropical fish. I taught mine to come up to feed when I rang a bell, which was fun. My catfish would bring its head out of the water to take the flake of food from my fingers, and had about as much personality as you can fit into a such a creature. We called him Layabout, because that is what he did best, and he died of whisky poisoning. But that’s another story.
Then we got a budgie. I remember my dad announcing it one evening, as I was eating a slice of Weetabix with butter and jam. Funny how odd details stick. A friend of my dad’s needed a home for a bird that he had in his aviary. For some reason all the other birds kept attacking him, and as a result he had no feathers on the back of his head. With startling clarity of thought, he was named Baldy. So up we jumped and cycled to the man’s house and met Baldy. I brought him home on my bicycle in a little box and I talked to him all the way so he wouldn’t be scared (it didn’t work, but I tried). The next day dad came home with books on how to look after a budgerigar, and we read them together, although I didn’t understand all the words, especially the Latin.
Baldy was a clever little thing, and soon worked out how to unhook the door to his cage. We had to close it up with a bulldog clip if we needed him to stay inside (if the windows were open for example). He learned a few phrases and chatted away to himself. I was horrified when my cousin, who looked after him for a couple of weeks while we were away, taught him to say “Here puss, puss, puss.” While our neighbour’s cat was no Sylvester, it was still a bloodthirsty budgie-killing machine.
I loved that bird as children do. My mother said she knew when I was due home from school because he started chirping madly a couple of minutes before I came in the door. He would sit on my head and slide down my hair, which was long, until he got to my shoulder. Then he would nibble my ear and chirrup at me. He would do this even after, just as a random example, he had walked through my mashed potatoes and gravy, then dried his feet in the bowl of sugar. The scamp.
One day I had to go to the optician for a check up and new glasses (always new glasses), and my mother told me as we came out of the shop into the street that she had found him dead in the cage. I have to say in retrospect it wasn’t the best place to break the news. Dad had buried him in the garden in a small box at lunchtime and left a little marker so I could see where he was under the honeysuckle.
We got another bird after that but she was not too bright and just squawked. She never learned to come and sit on a finger, and panicked if we let her out of the cage so she hurt herself flying into things. After Baldy I really didn’t take to her anyway, poor thing. She was a classic rebound.
One of the local gardening centres nearby sells canaries and budgies; lots of people keep them around here, mostly outside which is incredible given how cold it can be. I always go over and chirrup at them a bit, but, as I said, they are all insane. They chirp back sometimes, but it doesn’t mean anything,
First love always leaves a mark and it’s hard to measure up.
Care to tell me about your first pets? Do you remember them still?