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A Shout From The Attic: The Parrot

Ronnie Bray's mother and grandmother believed their pet animals could understand English. Which resulted in interesting consquences when the Amazon green parrot cried out "The teacakes are burning!''

Read earlier chapters of Ronnie's life story by clicking on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. And look out for Ronnie's weekly Letter From America.

I don’t remember the name of the parrot, but I have vague recollections of him in a cage that hung over the end of the desk, furthest from the fireplace. If my memory is accurate – please, don’t laugh – he was an Amazon green of considerable size, but he was gone by the time I reached six or seven and is remembered only for his foibles.

You must realise that my Nana and Mother always believed that their animals could understand English, and the parrot doubly so, because he was able to imitate human speech. My Nana was certain that animals had the gift of speech, and that her animals understood English as well as most human adults. I have seen her stand, her hands on her hips – a sure sign of trouble – with elbows akimbo, addressing Dinky, our black cat (really one in a continuous series of black cats called Dinky) who sat on the desk in front of the windows, washing himself after the manner of cats, telling him, in ear-splitting Staffordshire accents, to get down.

“If you don’t get down from there, I’ll bloody well knock you down!”

The cat licked on, unconscious that he was being addressed. He had heard Nanny’s raised voice before without any evil consequences befalling him. He did not even raise his head towards the source of the voice, but continued his lavage. This was taken by Nanny to mean that Dinky was ignoring her and that he was deliberately attracting her wrath. This was too much for she who must be obeyed! Removing her right hand from her hip she swung it with considerable force, propelled by muscles grown large by years of handling cast iron cooking pans, rolling out many square miles of short pastry, turning the handles of industrial sized mangles, wringing blankets by hand, and cuffing small children.

By the time her hand reached the cat’s head it was travelling around mach two. The cat was propelled with his head still licking the back of his upstretched leg, landing in an untidy heap ten feet away, just missing the hearthrug and thus a soft landing. Turning to him, she continued her address: “I warned you, but you wouldn’t listen! You damned fool!” I made mental notes to get off whatever it was that I was ever ordered to dismount, double quick!

In common with other members of my family, I talk to animals. However, I don’t deem them capable of understanding everything I say, nor do I expect them to interpret complicated sentences. And so it is in a spirit of understanding rather than of criticism that I write what I clearly remember having been told by my mother. She is the old lady who still believes her three cats – she really only has one furry friend, but that’s another story – understand English to a high degree. Her cat, she says, recognises my ring when I call her on the telephone. I do not contradict her.

It was, perhaps, typical of my childhood home that people were remembered for their negative virtues rather than for positive ones, and so the parrot’s only claim to fame was his habit of shouting, “The teacakes are burning!” Auntie Nora ran into the kitchen to check the oven, returning to the dining room after finding nothing amiss, when he would gleefully call out, “That made you run, you bugger!”

What a clever parrot he was, and what a loss to the family humour when he was no longer there to tease. And what a relief to Auntie Nora who, apparently, believing every word the bizarre bird said, was no longer constrained to dash into the scullery and check the currant teacakes.


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