Mrs Tidy swung the Parrot cage containing the Cockatiel onto the table. Bill’s cage was spotless. Its metal bars gleamed. Its mirrors shone. Both feed and water pots brilliant in their whiteness. The floor too was spotless. Not a mark on the overlying sand sheet. It was a wonder Bill ever dared to relieve himself.
Even Bill managed to reflect this immaculate clean image. He was a Lutino. No dusty grey feathering for him. But a pristine, pure white plumage. Unmarked save for the yellow head and crest and the characteristic orange cheek feathers.
Just at that moment Bill wagged his tail and relieved himself.
‘Sorry about that,’ murmured Mrs Tidy.
“Perfectly natural,’ I replied with a shrug. ‘It’s the Call of Nature.’
‘It’s all the germs I worry about,’ said Mrs Tidy with a switch of her broad builder’s shoulders.
‘ You’re a vet. You should know what I mean.’ Mrs Tidy looked round as if in fear of being overheard. ‘Salmonella, E. coli. Chlamydia,’ she hissed. ‘Even …’ She paused and leaned forward. ‘Even MRSA.’
She straightened up to her full height and gazed down at me. ‘So I want you to give Bill the works.’
Mrs Tidy went on to explain. A complete blood count, Chlamydia screen, and a culture of the throat and vent were required.
I gulped. Bill scuttled to the other end of his perch and raised his crest in alarm. The suggestion of a swab up his cloaca was clearly not to his liking.
But Mrs Tidy was adamant. ‘Bugs,’ she boomed her steel grey eyebrows rising like Tower Bridge. No way could she be crossed.
So I acquiesced. Bill was booked in for his overhaul the following day. And once the tests had been carried out he was returned to Mrs Tidy with instructions to come back in a week’s time to discuss the results.
A week to the day, I was subjected to another blast from Mrs Tidy’s spray gun before Bill’s cage was hoisted onto the table.
‘All clear,’ I was able to pronounce. ‘Bill’s got a clean bill of health.’
‘Well you’ve missed something then,’ said Mrs Tidy. ‘He’s got the squits. ‘Probably picked it up when he was here last week.’ Mrs Tidy shuddered. The word ‘Germs’ floated unsaid in the air between us.
I peered in at Bill’s sand-sheet. Pristine. Unsoiled . Spotless.
‘Just changed it,’ said Mrs Tidy. ‘But he has been loose these last three days.’
I tried to reassure her that all was well with Bill. ‘Still eating is he?’ I asked. The scoured empty containers in his cage gave me no indication of his food intake.
‘’Yes,’ replied Mrs Tidy.
A long list ensued. Peanuts, thoroughly washed. Sunflower and sesame seeds equally scoured. Sprouts, steamed. Sweet corn, boiled. Apples, stewed’
‘Well there’s your answer.’
I explained. ‘Bill’s environment and feeding regime are just too sterile for his own good. He needs a few bugs around to build up some natural immunity.’
The mention of ‘bugs’ sent a shiver coursing through Mrs Tidy’s torso. She visibly flinched. But I persevered. Tried to convince her a more down-to-earth diet would suit Bill better. Eventually she acquiesced and left assuring me she’d take my advice and feed Bill a more natural diet.
A fortnight later, I received a package in the post. It was carefully sealed with a biohazard label plastered across it. Having hacked it open, I was presented with a plastic container labelled ‘Bill Tidy’ and dated. For a panic-stricken second I thought I was being presented with Bill’s body. But no. When I unscrewed the lid, there, on a piece of cut sand-sheet, was a dropping. Green and white. Well formed. A perfect poo.
I was delighted.
Why? Because it meant Mrs Tidy would no longer poo-poo my advice.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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