Regular readers may recall my mention from time to time of my two dool-alley aunts who both ended up in institutions that had padded walls and bars on the windows ?
They were both elder sisters of my father and before they went dool-alley the pair of them lived way above their station with pretensions of high social status, they affected accents far from their Hunslet roots, drank tea from china cups, baked cakes that you could actually eat (unlike my mothers cakes which were often used by the council to pave the streets in town), all in all they were posh and my father mocked them mercilessly using their childhood nicknames to remind them of their lowly roots, “Dying-by-inches” was my posh Auntie Doris due to her extreme skinnyness as a child while my posh Auntie Phyllis was always “Thora” after Thora Hird for whom she was a dead ringer.
And its my posh Auntie Phyllis of whom we speak today for it was her who once gave me a budgie in a chrome cage with a stand and everything for my birthday.
Yes I know that sounds like it was a very generous deal, I mean, a budgie in a chrome cage with a stand and its own bird bath that clipped to the cage door so the budgie could bathe at will, that must have cost a fair packet mustn’t it ?
Well I have no doubt that when she bought the cage, and the stand, and the bird bath, and the plastic flowery skirt that went all around the bottom of the cage to stop seed and shit flying out, and the cuttlefish, and a ladder with a bell on top, and a mirror, not forgetting the blue budgie that they called “Mickey” for a reason that was never explained – all of that undoubtedly cost a small fortune even from Pets Row at the back of Leeds Market.
And so Mickey and his expensive bird house went to live at my posh Auntie Phyllis’s for a while.
What, you thought it was my birthday present ?
Hang on, I haven’t got there yet.
So Mickey the budgie went to live at my posh Auntie Phyllis’s for several years and she taught him to fly all around their front room and land on my bald Uncle Tommy’s head, oh what fun they had, they were very happy together.
And then one August they decided to take a holiday somewhere and as they couldn’t take budgerigars where they were going and as Mickey the budgie couldn’t be trusted to look after himself for two weeks without forgetting to turn the lights off at night and put the empty milk bottles out, they brought Mickey the budgie and his very expensive cage and stand etc, round to our house and asked me to look after him while they were on holiday.
And then they forgot to come back for him when they returned.
When eventually, sometime in September, my dad asked his barmy posh older sister when could he bring the bloody bird back she replied “Give it to the boy for his birthday” for she could never remember my name, quite fitting then that when she grew very old she forgot her own name and ended up living in a padded room.
So it was that I received a budgie and an expensive stand and cage and bath and all the other gubbins for my birthday without even wanting a budgie and accoutrements for my birthday, indeed a budgie and its travelling home was the last thing on my mind for my birthday,
“What did you get for your birthday ?” my friends must have asked
“My posh Auntie Phylis’s budgie” I must have replied
Oh how my friends will have laughed.
Mickey the blue budgie was an alcoholic.
And it was my dad that made him so.
We arose one day and as was the custom I approached the budgie cage to replenish his drinking water, drinking water that I never once saw him drink, I am not convinced that budgies actually need water at all, they are Australian after all, most Australians don’t need water.
Anyway, I look in the cage and the budgie is not there, I look in the bottom of the cage and there is the budgie, lying stiff as a dead blue budgie in among his own shit and that sand and grit stuff you throw in the bottom of budgie cages, the man in the pet shop said that budgies eat the sand and grit stuff, the man in the pet shop was as barking mad as our Auntie Phyllis turned out to be.
So my dad comes to look at the poor dead budgie and he declares that its not dead yet actually, he can still see it breathing and sure enough when I look you can just see its beak moving, like a dying man in a bad cowboy film he wants us to lift his head and let him sip from his water bottle before he croaks it.
So my dad picks him up from the bottom of the cage and with some inbuilt knowledge that fathers must inherit from their fathers, he takes the budgie over to the sideboard from wherein he takes out the first aid box, or rather the old biscuit tin that contained six elastoplasts, some smelling salts, one of those wooden spatulas that you press your tongue down with and for an inexplicable reason, a miniature bottle of brandy.
And he takes the miniature bottle of brandy and a plastic cough medicine spoon , pours a good slug of brandy into the spoon, forces open the birds beak and tips the lot down the budgies throat.
I stand close and whisper to my father “Are you trying to kill it dad ?”
And he whispers, “It will either kill or cure him son”
And father and son hold their breath as the last of the teaspoon of brandy disappears down the birds gullet, and they wait…
…and ten seconds later the bird coughs, sneezes, shivers, and opens its eyes.
My father carries him back across to his cage and places him on his perch where he sways slightly in the manner of a cartoon drunk.
And then miraculously Mickey the by now very drunk budgie starts to sing in the manner of all drunk people, he sings at the top of his head, out of tune three verses and chorus of “I’ll take you home again Kathleen-aaaaaah”, swaying from side to side while steadying himself on the bars of the cage and when he’s finished singing he runs up his little ladder to stare in the mirror on the top and pick a fight with himself.
Mickey the budgie recovered fully from whatever had ailed him, but now he had a taste for the brandy and would often lay in the bottom of his cage in a morning, eyes closed, breathing shallow, and my father would sometimes give him the brandy again at which the bird would make a miraculous recovery, and sometimes my father would refuse to give the budgie some brandy at which he’d lie there a bit longer and then finally drag himself to his budgie feet, climb up his later and peck hell out of the mirror, cursing all the time until retiring into the corner of his cage and sulking for the rest of the day.