Thursday, October 23, 2008
Yes, it's time to redress the Mabelcentric blog!
The Birdoole is a parrot. That’s what I tell people, though in fact he’s a cinnamon green-cheeked conure, a colour variant of a spry little South American species the colour of a child’s paintbox. Bright green, with blue wings and a blood-red tail, and just the right size to enjoy lying upside down in my palm to have his tummy tickled, little nubby tongue waggling and eyes blinking in pleasure.
It took me a long while to realise that parrots like to cuddle, to be groomed. Little, clambering avian monkeys. We have a routine. In the morning he’ll whistle and puff softly, and I’ll get out of bed and let him out. He stretches his wings, flies down onto my bed and then sidles up, crabwise, with his little pinkish feet, to nestle right under my chin. He’ll murmur away in parrot Esperanto; exactly the same chunter of half-formed syllables and tones of a year-old child, then purr softly, preening my chin and neck with very soft nibbles that still make me grit my teeth; he can’t help it. Birds have feathers, humans have skin. Skin has more nerve-endings. Ow, yes, birdoole, I say. I love you too.
The birdoole was an impulse buy: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but he’s come to stand for the kind of unexpected event that seems small at the time but becomes lifechanging in retrospect I wa sitting down in the bowels of Starbucks six years ago with Xtin, who then shared my house, and considering. “You know, I think I’m going to get a bird” I said. “I really need a bird around the house. A couple of canaries, or something. Want to come and buy one?” Half an hour later, I’ve checked the yellow pages and Xtin and I are driving out into the lawless fenland countryside. We find the sign; it’s a numberplate-style affair, half-buried in nettles by the side of an endless, thin road that sinks and rises across dark arable fields. We turn down it, and pass burned out cars and anonymous farms. There is no-one. The road narrows, and turns, and we find ourself driving deep through a tunnel of six-foot high nettles, over a humpback-bridge so tiny and steep I’m worried the car will be grounded, and finally turn into a paddock full of portakabins, aviaries, and livestock. A couple of Dobermans; a sheep. A goat. Ducks. Wire on the windows of the cabins, and cabins full of birds. Big poffy canaries that look like they’re made of yellow foam and polystyrene. Tiny zebra finches, bouncing from perch to perch like hyperactive insects. Others. Bengalese finches, java sparrows. Christina considers them. “Can you … connect with these things? I mean, have a relationship with them?” I’m not sure what she means. They’re birds.
We wander about a bit more, and fate is set when we walk into the hand-reared parrot room. It’s got an airlock door, and faded posters of parrots on the walls, and there are a couple already in there, trying to interact with a beautiful sun conure who is not too friendly. And there’s a glorious green ecletctus parrot, and we stroll about. Right at the back of the room is a twilweld mesh door, and hanging onto it is a tiny, scruffy, bird. Both his feet grip the mesh and his tail is spread against it for balance. He is the smallest and ugliest parrot imaginable. And we walk in, and he flies to us immediately. He sits on my hand and nibbles and bites my fingers; not from ire, but because he’s bored, and he’s a baby, and I can see his little bright green cycling shorts and the irrepressible confidence of the thing. Christina has never held a bird, so we get the bird onto her hand, and it nibbles her too. Ow, she says, but her face is bright with amazement. I have a bird on my hand, she says.
And about twenty minutes later, we’re driving back to Cambridge with a cage and a bird in it. He's hanging onto the wire, bug-eyed and amazed by it all. "Widget!" he says. "Widget! Widget!" and makes little prrrrp! noises at things of interest: clouds, houses, other cars. And that's how the Birdoole arrived.
Birdoole has a very small English vocabulary. He can say "hewo" and "whatchadoing?" and "Birdle!" but his overall vocabulary is as rich as a sixteenth-century playwright. There're noises that mean everything from 'hello!' (a double whistle) to 'black-headed gull!' (admiring purr) to 'sparrowhawk' (eeeeeeep!). There are bath noises and happy eating noises. There are I'm sleepy noises, and noises that mean: I'm enjoying this piece of crumpled paper. Apple noises. Raisin noises. A double-kritch noise that means "running water!". The static burr hzzzzz! that means 'bugger off!' And of course, the high-pitched trill that means 'good night'.
Xtin and I joke (but only just, because it's true) that we've learned far more parrot from The Birdoole than he's learned English. There's a moral to that somewhere. Possibly.