The Family Shame
Posted: 14 August 2003
Word Count: 1920
Summary: Life is turned upside down for a good samaritan who adopts a budgie with a violent past
I should have known. ‘Nothing for nothing’ is what they say. I should have known. The
ad was written or should I say, scrawled, in green ink. that should have triggered alarm
bells, but it didn’t. ‘Budgie free to good home.’ ‘Budgie’. ha! Sounds so innocent
doesn’t it? Little was I to know it was a budgie with a violent past.
The phone box outside the Post Office window, where I noticed the ad,
smelt of chips and cigarettes. Someone had burnt a hole in the middle of the head of a
woman smiling happily on the phone, and a wasp, drunk by the october cold, crawled
out of the phone card disposal bin. The phone was answered before it could ring. “It’s
about the budgie”, I said. there was a long silence, before a trembling voice replied,
“What about it? “Free to good home,” I murmured apologetically, not knowing why I
should apologise, but I just felt compelled. “Why are you getting rid ?” I asked.
Another stony silence. I just about caught the address as the pips went. The house
seemed normal enough for an old person’s house, apart from a large ‘Smiths’ poster
which proclaimed ‘Sheila Takes A Bow’. Joey, as he was called then, sat on his perch
and pecked at the round mirror and admired his reflection.
“There it is”, the woman whispered as if not wanting Joey to hear. “Right”, I said, “any
thing I should know about?” The woman looked frightened. it was odd. it’s not as if I
was an 18 stone skinhead saying, “Right Grandma, let’s have your savings?” I only
asked if there was anything that I should know about.Twenty eight seconds later, I was
stood in the road with a budgie cage, a budgie, a half packet of Trill, two sheets of
sandpaper and a lump of cuttlefish that a pterodactyl could have sharpened its beak on.
I looked back and the chintz curtains twitched back into place. I wasn’t sure then but I am now,
that I heard a cry of ‘Yeessss!’
I’d never really had a pet since uncle Peter killed the goldfish. He transferred
them into a kettle and unwittingly flicked the switch on and boiled the lot. He’d transferred
them several times before without fatal consequences. it happened when him and his divorced
friends came round to our house. they’d transfer the contents of the bowl into the kettle of cold
water,fill the bowl full of vodka and dance the afternoon away to a hits album that had a large-
chested girl in an Arsenal kit on the cover. I buried four of them in a Swan matchbox, two in a
tube from a toilet roll sellotaped at the ends and I kept one and tried to bring it back to life by
pressing it into my forehead during a Uri Geller Special. It didn’t work, of course. it just
disintegrated and smeared across my forehead and I spent the rest of the evening with a scaled
face sitting in my Paddington Pi- Jams like ‘Daughter From The Black Lagoon’.
I had a pet now alright. oh yes, the Reggie bloody Kray of the budgie world.
I’d been at the bus stop for about fifteen minutes when a nice old dear came and stood next
to me. You know the sort, blue hair and large incandescent plastic teeth that rattled whenever a
‘th’ was spoken. I caught her eye as she fumbled for her bus pass. She smiled and nodded
toward the bird. “That’s a pretty bird”, she commented. “Yes”, I agreed, “I’ve just got him.”
The old lady, warmed by my friendly response, fumbled into the pocket of her green cardigan
and pulled out a salted peanut. She poked it through the flaked chrome bar. It wasn’t so much a
scream, as a gargle of pain. Joey had ignored the peanut and instead hooked its beaked right
through the nail of the pensioner, no sooner had it done so than it unhooked its beak and ran
up and down his perch like Gazza after scoring at Wembley. It chirped and danced and
shook its little feathered shoulders like a proper little gangster. I was mortified. I felt awful. I
couldn’t apologise enough. I paid for a taxi and looked suspiciously at Joey as the old dear
was whisked away to Walton General casualty department. He seemed to be smiling. The
little bugger had a smile on his beak. I looked back at the house and thought of returning it,
but as I did so, the door opened and the old woman almost ran down the path and scurried
away in the opposite direction, looking everywhere but at me. On the bus home, the finger
count increased to three. As I looked carelessly out of the window, two schoolkids decided to
feed Joey a tooty-frooty each. The screams stopped the bus. A thirty-something woman
provided the handkerchieves and the bus driver detoured to Walton casualty. As they swept
through the automatic doors, I could see the old lady sat waiting. I swear she gave me a
look. Three people with budgie bites must be a record for one afternoon. Joey looked
pleased. The sand on the bottom of his cage looked like a Jackson Pollock.
Two months on and I’m at the edge, staring out into the abyss.
A six inch, blue and white terrorist has ruined everything. Roger, the man who once shared
my bed and the man who fought bare-handed with Argentine soldiers during the Falklands
conflict and emerged without a scratch, now has, shall we say, ‘less’ of his right ear. Stupidly,
after a drinking spree, he decided to ‘get back to nature’ and took Joey out of the cage and
put him on his head. Exit stage right my only decent shag in the last four years, (not
counting the young man who tried to get me to swap my gas provider - all Brylcreem and
rough hands, but that’s another story). I tried to starve Joey, but crumpled after half a day. I
even took the advice of an animal psychologist, who, through his haphazard column in a
women’s magazine, advised that if I put an egg in the bottom of the cage, he might calm
down a bit. I placed the small hens egg in the bottom of the cage and waited for the new
Joey. I swear he just looked at me and grinned. Of course, it didn’t work, as the nice loft
insulation chap found out the next afternoon. He spotted the egg and thought the budgie
had laid it. he was obviously thicker than the stuff he was laying in the loft. He reached
in and Joey took a strip of skin off the back of his hand. His proud Borstal tattoo now
read ‘Mim and Dad’. He was none too pleased.
The worst part of it all has been the family. no longer are Uncle
Jack and his young window dressing male lover, the family shame. It’s me and ‘Mad
Joey’ that get talked about between the double brandies and tough chicken legs at
funerals. ‘The Thug’, I heard him being called at the last family gathering. Uncle Albert,
Preston and district pigeon racing champion, three years in the seventies, who
incidently wouldn’t get excited if he saw a chair walk, was foaming at the mouth and
gesticulating how he would ring Joey’s neck like a ‘scrag mick’ if he ever bit him.
There’s no chance of that. I’d never let him through my door again. Not after the incident
with the ladies’ underwear, hear this. Two in the morning, one February, they rushed
him away with a suspected heart attack. When the nurses undressed him, he was
ashamedly sporting a pair of ripped Camay knickers and a peephole bra. It was all very
hush-hush. I only got to know because Veronica Procter, who I went to school with, was a
staff nurse on the ward. They said they all had a right laugh, especially when one of the
young nurses with a wicked sense of humour, put on his notes, blood pressure ‘60 over
20’, ‘temperature - normal’, ‘knicker elastic - tight’. He doesn’t know that I know, but
when I told him to calm down and not to get his knickers in a twist, he went the colour of
the beetroot on his tongue sandwiches. It got me wondering what he had on. was it a
fetching Marks and Spencer two-piece, or black, high-leg tangas and sports bra?
A year on and things are no better. The valium helps, as does the holistic nerve remedy.
Someone told me that if I ever got hot and bothered, to run my wrists under the cold tap.
It didn’t work, and as I’m on a water meter, it added ninety quid to the annual bill. I toyed
with crushing a valium and putting it into the Trill, but decided against it, as I wasn’t going
to waste eight hours tranquillity on the swine. I bought a cat to try and scare him, but it
took three hours for me to drag the poor thing, stiff with fright from under the sofa. It had
bounced up to the cage like Olga Corbett. I don’t know what ‘mad Joey’ chirped, but it did
the trick. I had to fold her back into the cardboard cat carrier and return her to the
animal rescue people. They refused to believe my story and threatened me with prosecution
and RSPCA blacklisting. I asked would they like a budgie and they threatened to call the
police. From then on I made a determined effort to make ‘Mad Joey’ as uncomfortable as
possible. I lined his cage with copies of The Watchtower; I played the birdie song
continuously; I tried locking him in the fridge but he created such a fuss he covered the
entire contents with Trill and sand, not to mention vandalised a chunk of Wenslydale I was
saving for the following sunday. One night after a bucket of homemade elderberry and
banana wine, I even blew smoke from six Cuban cigars that Roz brought me back from
Havana straight into the cage. I managed to set off the smoke alarm and turn myself pale
green in the process. ‘Mad Joey’ didn’t even cough, although I swear I heard him whistle
the chorus of ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ as I hugged the toilet bowl. That pushed me over
the edge. I must have passed out and when I awoke, vowed to take some positive action.
The Samaritans hung up twice. I managed to get to ‘end of my tether’, then as soon as I
mentioned Mad Joey was a budgie and not my partner, I got a mouthful of abuse the first
time and a ‘very funny’ and hang up the second. I’m not surprised that they hung up, I mean
they’re privvy to some of the most heart breaking situations, people on the edge of suicide,
desperate weeping men cuckolded by best friends, people who have lost loved ones in tragic
circumstances and then there’s me. What was my desperate tale of woe? A middle aged
woman slurring on about being bullied by a budgie. I must have sounded really sincere. Oh,
excuse me, there’s the phone. “Hello... yes that’s right he’s a lovely little bird, why?
Health reasons, I’ve developed an allergy. The address? Yes, 14 Cresswell Street. That’s
great! See you in five then.Bye. Yesssssss!
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