When I strode into reception, I was greeted by two sets of beady eyes, both of which stared intently at me. One was grey-green, fronted by spectacles in gold frames, belonging to a petite, silver-haired lady. She was smartly dressed in a 1970’s-style pale lemon trouser suit and matching jacket. The other pair of eyes – piercing yellow – belonged to an African Grey Parrot which was perched on the lady’s shoulder.
‘Who are you?’ screeched the Parrot in a lilting Scottish accent, raising his head questioningly.
‘Now then, Hamish, mind your manners,’ said the lady in a similar Scottish accent, turning her head to give the bird a wag of her finger.
‘Mind your manners,’ echoed the bird, bobbing its head up and down
‘My name’s Hamish,’ declared the Parrot, ruffling its feathers.
‘And I’m Amy MacTaggart,’ said his owner, introducing herself to me. Once in the consulting room, she went on to explain that there was nothing actually wrong with her Parrot.
‘Fit as a fiddle,’ Hamish interjected, puffing up what was a rather moth-eaten chest of feathers, several clumps missing allowing pimply grey skin to peep through.
It turned out that Amy was hoping to go away for a few days. Visit her sister up in Scotland. And needed somewhere to leave Hamish.
I hesitated. ‘Well we don’t usually board pets in the hospital.’
Amy’s face dropped. ‘I understand you used to own an African Grey and that you’re very knowledgeable about them. And I’d feel far happier if I knew he was in expert hands.’
‘Hands off,’ squawked Hamish.
‘Now, now,’ reprimanded Amy. ‘You don’t really mean that.’
‘Who says?’ the Parrot replied, far too defiantly for my liking. Mmm … If I did offer to board Hamish for a few days it seemed likely we’d have our hands full. Very full indeed.
‘He can speak well over 800 words,’ my receptionist, Beryl, informed me when Amy and her Parrot finally departed, having finally persuaded me to board Hamish the following week while she went up to Scotland. ‘And he’s won the National Cage and Aviary Birds’ Championship for best speaking Parrot in the world 12 times in a row.’
So, Beryl was delighted to rub shoulders with such a celebrity, chattering to him constantly as they sat on their respective perches in reception each day. But Hamish’s constant babble proved a problem, particularly when directed at incoming clients.
A prim, brittle-mannered spinster was not pleased when Hamish vehemently told her to b****r off.
‘Well really,’ she declared, exiting with great haste.
During the course of the next few days, Hamish’s outpourings got worse. More and more obscenities rent the air, turning it blue. A repertoire of swear words and curses that any sailor would have been proud of. All spoken in Amy’s lilting Scottish brogue. He eventually had to be banned from reception for fear of offending too many clients.
‘Why not let him stay with us for the last couple of days,’ suggested my wife, Maxeen.
So, Hamish came back to our cottage from the Wednesday through to the following Monday when he was going to be picked up by Amy at the hospital.
During that time, we fussed around him whenever we could, bar the times we were absent over at the hospital. But we certainly made up for it in the evenings and at the weekend. Plenty of chatter. Lots of different things for him to eat. Taken from the list Amy had provided. He was utterly spoilt. Accompanied with constant chatter on our part. From’ How are you Hamish’ first thing. To ‘Good night, sleep tight, Hamish’ last thing.
And masses in between. Especially over the weekend. A non-stop stream of chatter. Problem was he didn’t respond in kind. The incessant out-pouring of words in the hospital dried up. Nothing said from the moment we carried his cage over the threshold of the cottage.
‘Perhaps he’s pining for Amy?’ wondered Maxeen.
But he was eating well. Taking in his surroundings. Watching what was going on with those beady eyes of his. All in all, he seemed perfectly healthy. So, it was a bit puzzling.
Monday morning, I went down to the lounge and took the cover off his cage, announcing that today Amy was back. Guess he’d be pleased. Hoped he’d enjoyed his stay. We’d been delighted with his company. Blah. Blah. Blah. On and on I babbled. Only when I paused for breath did he speak for the first time since he’d arrived. Turning his head to give me a beady look, he screamed in Amy’s voice, ‘For Christ sake, shut up.’
‘I do hope Hamish behaved himself,’ said Amy on her return from Scotland.
‘Of course I did,’ he shrilled.
I didn’t say a word.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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