Thursday, July 05, 2007

Unlimited Dream Company

Coming from the south of England, I’m familiar with the landscapes known as Ballardian. I was born in Chertsey; spent my earliest months living in Walton-on-Thames, which glows in the firmament of Ballard’s cruciform intelligence as a kind of silent centre – along with Shepperton, Weybridge and Surbiton, Heathrow and its perimeter roads. From Camberley, where I used to live, the M3 traces through a land of golf-courses, leisure complexes, industrial units and ornamental parks until it hits the M25, then spools down into Shepperton, the end of the road.

Driving the other evening along the M25 I found myself headed straight for a a column of rainbow as wide as my palm hanging above heathrow, lit weirdly through a section of storm. The whole sky was congested and bruised, with patches of turquoise as deep and clear as pools. Even at 80 miles an hour, the scary pull of wind towards the stormbase tugged the car, rushing across the elevated motorway section to fill the vacancy left by air pulled up thousands of feet to the cloud’s blossoming apex. I was underneath the storm, in the dark, so I couldn’t see the white top of the cloud stroked windward by the jetstream, but I could see the tiny crosses that were transatlantic jets, steering their courses around the storm’s perimeter. Half-feared for them. There were clips of lightning though this atmospheric carnage, and across one of the turquoise pools of clear sky flew a flock of about twelve rose-ringed parakeets. They fly straight, and they fly fast, with precise, falcon-like wingbeats and their streaming tails straight out behind them.

No-one knows where these parakeets came from. There’s a theory they were extras in The African Queen, or a Tarzan movie, set free at the end of the shoot because no-one could catch them in Shepperton’s vast sound-stages. Or the stock of a bankrupt pet-store let loose in the 1960s. Even that the nucleus pair was released by Jimi Hendrix — love that one. I first saw the occasional pair flying over, years ago—I went to school in Sunningdale, for a while. They weren’t hard to spot. They are noisy as hell. There’s a roost of about 6,000 in Esher, by the Rugby Club: they stream in, in the evening, all the world as if Esher were Ootacamund. Now there are about thirty thousand of the things, moving down into Kent and across to Surrey, and the government is making noises about culling them. (I didn’t understood the concept of parrots as orchard pests until I gave mine a leafy apple branch one day. He purred with delight, clambered all over it, snipped off each and every leaf to the floor, until the entire thing was bare. Then he started on the buds. A flock of these things is sort of avian agent orange, I suspect).

And they're not alone. There's this proliferation of psittacines right across Ballard land...
Alexandrine parakeets have been spotted by Lewisham crematorium and orange-winged parakeets, native to the Amazon, have now set up home in Weybridge. South American monk parakeets have formed a colony in Borehamwood and blue-crowned parakeets were observed in Bromley.
I love it. Rich, strange, crazy. These parakeets still seem exotic, but they fit so precisely in the Ballardian aesthetic that it’s tempting to think that Ballard himself released the buggers. That strangest and most disturbing of his messianic tales, the Unlimited Dream Company, is full of parrots, bursting into irrepressible life as Shepperton sprouts lush jungle vegetation and our possibly-drowned aviator finds it imposible to leave.

In Twickenham, people call these parrot newcomers ‘posh sparrows’. They’re seen by some as proof of global warming. I love this. Put something unusual somewhere, and someone will draw some wider-scale, global issue into the mix. I was told by an Uzbek farmer in Margilan in October that the new birds they were seeing on their farmland were because of global warming: it made birds of different species mate with each other, and these new birds were the result.

There's something very pithy and (unlike this) unlaboured to be said about feral parrots and global warming and immigration and how communities take natural phenomena for signs of greater mysteries. I can't work out what it is now though: not only must I go to my office and write up a report, but the parrot is sitting on my left hand while I type, which makes it rather hard to write at all.


Heidi the Hick said...

I'm having such a hard time imagining a flock of parakeets! that's not what I expected to read about as you were describing the storm.

I'd like to think that Jimi Hendrix is responsible for it.

apprentice said...

I love the posh sparrows expression, it's so British and understated. An interesting piece thank you.

ashbirder said...

Interesting post, thanks.
I am from Bombay where the Rose ringed are resident birds. When I came to London for the first time two years ago, I went for a walk in Hyde Park & suddenly heard a familiar call. I couldn't believe it when I saw a rose ringed parakeet on the top of a tree! It was a very weird moment. Found out later that the birds had been introduced there.