I’d met Hamish some months before. And now I was to see the African Grey once again.
That afternoon, up in reception, a loud ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist,’ rang out. Very precise. Very clear. Even though announced in a Scottish burr.
‘Ah,’ exclaimed my receptionist, Beryl, finishing the remains of her mug of tea. ‘That will be your next appointment. You know who that is, don’t you?’
I must have looked puzzled for a moment, briefly searching my mind for the connection.
‘Knickers,’ hissed Beryl, in enigmatic mode. Something she could do at the drop of a hat if not at the drop of her own undergarment.
Then the penny dropped. Of course. Hamish. The African Grey Parrot, owned by Amy MacTaggart. The bird who had boarded with us and consistently screeched about her owner’s underwear.
As I ushered them into my consulting room, I asked, ‘So, how are we?’ looking at Miss MacTaggart.
‘She’s fine,’ said Hamish, looking at me.
‘He’s not though,’ said Miss MacTaggart, looking at Hamish, perched on her shoulder.
I had to agree. The Parrot’s plumage, light grey in colour, was ragged and ruffled. His claws far too long. Beak overgrown. And the striking vermillion tail he should have been sporting, just a clump of chewed barbs. He looked as if he’d flown through a hedge backwards.
I hesitated, not wishing to offend Miss MacTaggart, ruffle her feathers.
‘You don’t have to tell me,’ she said. ‘He’s in rotten shape.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ said Hamish, with a sharp bob of his head.
I had to prevent myself from correcting the Parrot. Miss MacTaggart looked in peak condition. Well groomed. Positively bouncing with health. Her hair colour-matched that of Hamish’s plumage. Grey, bordering on silver. Swept back into the perfect chignon. Had she sported feathers, not one would have been out of place.
‘I want a clean bill of health,’ she declared.
‘You’d be certain to get one,’ I nearly said, for a brief moment thinking she was referring to herself. But, of course, she was referring to Hamish.
‘You know his background, don’t you?’ she went on.
Yes, I did know. We’d been given his full history when he was boarding with us. ‘He can speak 800 words.’
‘A lot of words,’ shrilled Hamish, puffing up his chest.
‘Indeed,’ I said.
‘He’s in the Guinness Book of Records,’ Miss MacTaggart reminded me, her chest also puffing up.
What for? I wondered. Tattiest tail? Parrot with the longest claws? Hamish opened his beak and hissed at me as if reading my thoughts.
‘Get me out of here,’ he said.
‘Most certainly not,’ declared Miss MacTaggart. ‘I need Mr Mitchell to put you right. Get you shipshape.’ She went on to explain that the BBC was doing a feature on intelligent birds. Crows. Budgies, Mynahs.
‘And me,’ butted in Hamish.
‘Well, Parrots certainly. And African Greys in particular. After all, they’re known to be the most intelligent of all the Parrot family.’
Her Parrot nodded his head vigorously. ‘Clever Hamish,’ he said.
‘Yes, we know you are,’ said Miss MacTaggart, with obvious pride in her voice. ‘And now you’re going to be on TV. A star.’
‘Big star,’ said Hamish.
‘’Big head,’ I was tempted to say.
‘But not looking a mess like you do.’ Miss MacTaggart turned to me and asked if I could give Hamish a beak trim and nail pedicure. This I did with Hamish bundled up in a towel. And at the same time had a look at his tail end. There was a muffled ‘Do you mind’ from Hamish as I examined his bottom.
I found a small cyst just below his preening gland. The area was sufficiently inflamed to have made him nibble at it and excessively tweak some of his tail feathers. Hence their mashed appearance. I pulled out the worst stumps amid several ‘Leave off darlings’ from him.
Once back in his cage, Miss MacTaggart told him to say, ‘Thank you’
He glared at me. ‘Not on your Nellie,’ his response.
Uhm. That’s gratitude for you I thought.
A course of antibiotics in the drinking water was prescribed to treat any infection in the inflamed area. I reassured Miss MacTaggart that it should all settle down before he made his TV appearance.
‘Fat chance,’ growled Hamish.
A couple of weeks later, Miss MacTaggart phoned to say Hamish was going to be on the Meridian show that night.
‘You’ll have to watch it,’ said my receptionist.
‘Don’t see why I should bother,’ I replied rather churlishly, still remembering Hamish’s ungrateful comments.
But, nevertheless, curiosity overcame me and I did.
Hamish looked well, sporting a fine set of new red tail feathers. And he spoke well. When the presenter commented on his sleek appearance, Hamish turned to the camera and said clearly, ‘All thanks to my vet.’
On hearing that you could have knocked me down with a feather. One of Hamish’s naturally.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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