Tag Archives: Parrot

Apotheosis Now

I am still rather vague, I said to Amy, about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

Like all good parties. If you remember it, you not there.

Yes, they said that about the Sixties, but look at all the volumes of reminiscences hitting the bookshops in time for Christmas. And most good parties provide incidents to remember, if not a narrative. I don’t remember much at all. There was the better half leaving with the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached. She told me that they had already drunk the kefir and that they soon peeled off, most of them, some of them taking refuge in late-night bars and others finding benches to sleep on. I remember Parrot’s awful snores: not much more. Did you stay awake?

Oh yes. For a time.

So what else happened?

Tell me first about Thumper.

Ah, Thumper…

We had had a few days of Mariah Carey cover versions: different songs but you know how with Mariah Carey they all sound the same. They were always phoned through early in the morning. The better half was usually still dozing. Never a word introduced them; and no word afterwards: only the snap of Lycra replaced and the quiet breaking of the connection. Then there were a couple of days when there was no call, as if something major was in the offing. I guessed as much, and I told the better half to be prepared to record the next communication when it came.

It was just as well. He performed I Will Always Love You as recorded by Whitney Houston, but with a reckless coloratura that even she would have envied. It must have torn him apart: his anal sphincter if not his whole sensitive being.

I Will Always Love You that song with Harrison Ford as robot? said Amy.

Not Harrison Ford, not robot. He bodyguard, he Kevin Costner. Different film altogether. Harrison Ford robot in Blade Runner. No singing I Will Always Love You in Blade Runner.

In moments of stress I tended to take on her vocal mannerisms.

Ah.

She reflected.

With sax solo?

The lot.

He brave man. He arse bleeding tatters.

And since then nothing, I said. It must have been the climax. But what a song to end on. Eat your heart out Mariah Carey!

Why Mariah Carey eat own heart?

Not really. It’s just a saying.

Not really…

Like ‘Dui niu tan qin’.

Dui niu tan qin’ in Mandarin?

Yes.

Ah.

But maybe it is not the end. Kurd Maverick was round the following evening and I played the better half’s recording to him. He said that he was gob-smacked. Actually, since he has lived in Germany for so long, his adjective was not ‘gob-smacked’ but something teutonically anal: not to be reproduced here but probably appropriate in the circumstances. Anyway, he made his own copy and said that he intended to sample it.

It’s astonishing, he said. That’ll be that. He won’t top it. You’ll hear no more from him.

Chance would be a fine thing, I said.

Of course, said Kurd Maverick, he may have pre-recorded it, stitched it together. But even so. That aching dying fall at the end! How does he do it! What genius! What muscle control!

He ask Dolly Parton permission? said Amy, sticking to the point and now prepared to acknowledge that she was familiar with the song. She write I Will Always Love You, not Whitney Houston.

He’s in touch with Universal Music, the publishers. They will administer the rights.

I wasn’t prepared to put up with Amy’s showing off.

Ah.

(‘Dui niu tan qin’, by the way, literally means ‘to play music to a cow’, which is an expression that Chinese people sometimes use as we might say ‘to cast pearls before swine’. It was probably not an apt comparison but my command of colloquial Mandarin is sketchy at best.)

Anyway, enough of Thumper and his farts; tell me about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

You seen The Porridge Man since then?

I hadn’t.

I think he gone for good too.

That’s sad. I like The Porridge Man.

Sad and not sad. I like The Porridge Man too. I tell you what happen.

Everyone took the kefir, but The Porridge Man didn’t. He held back. Amy too held back for half an hour, and then took hers. Everyone else dropped off to sleep, and soon to dream.

You dream! You legs twitch like you bloody sick dog on Dornoch bloody Firth!

Dreamily, when everyone else had gone to sleep and Amy was succumbing fast, he helped himself from the bowl. He helped himself liberally. The kefir ran down his ample chin. Contented gurgles came from within him. His face, formerly bland and wheaty, became softer. His voice became creamier. His limbs became indistinct.

I said, You imagined it. You were half asleep and half dreaming.

Possibly I imagine. But when I wake up – and I wake up first – he absolutely gone. Instead, two things. One, many bowls warm creamy porridge, but not sickly rich creamy porridge but sweet and sour creamy porridge, made with kefir. Delicious. Two, address of supply and pro forma order form.

He gave his life…

Maybe, maybe not. The Porridge Man never quite like us.

It’s a great idea: start the day the way you mean to end it.

Pft, said Amy. Anyway, Great Secret Miss now sell The Porridge Man kefir porridge.

And those were the two apotheoses.

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The Great Secret Miss Slumber Party

I miss the Court of Appeal judge, said Amy.

It was a quiet moment at the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party. At least it seemed like a quiet moment at the time, but it got quieter later. A slumber party follows an entirely different arc from a normal party, which starts quietly, gets noisy and finally gets quiet again just before people go home. A slumber party has long stretches when absolutely nothing appears to happen, and those are often the best bits.

Anyway, this was a blip on the early part of the arc of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party. In general it was still getting noisier but in particular there was a lull, Amy’s attention was not for the time being required elsewhere and there was time for a chat.

So do I, I said, but it was different for me. Our professional relationship as lawyers was inescapable. I had to treat him with a certain deference.

Even at my place?

(The judge had died before it had become known as Great Secret Miss.)

Less than anywhere else at your place, but still a bit. If I met him at a garden party I’d probably call him Sir.

If at garden party he not hanging on my tit, spilling kefir on Garrick tie.

True.

The death and unintended relocation by private plane of the body of the Court of Appeal judge, clad like a modest Muslim woman in a jibjab, to Novosibirsk seemed to have passed off as unobtrusively as could be hoped. There were notices in the broadsheet newspapers which were vague as to the circumstances of his death, a memorial service in the Temple church but no mention of a funeral. The Dawn Chorus of the Unattached had come up with increasingly paranoid and outrageous theories about what had ‘really happened’, but no one took much notice of them at the best of times. Of course I told nothing. Our dear friend P had a theory linking it all personally and malignantly to Mr Putin, but then most of her theories did.

He always want have sex with me, said Amy. I say no: you married people from Hampshire, I married people from Kettering: no sex.

The judge had been devoted to her and had followed her from Mr Lee’s opium den, which, despite all the benefits of kefir, must have been a wrench for him as it certainly had been for Mr Lee and his stakeholders. It may also have been the occasion of opium withdrawal symptoms on the judge’s part and, in consequence, questionable legal reasoning on the Bench.

I recalled as regards the question of sex, the judge and Amy a rare confidence that he had imparted to me once, as we sat on the divan together drinking green tea.

“Little Chinese girl. Got a hand into her knickers. Great success. She shouted, ‘Oh! Excuse me! I come!’”

Maybe he meant one of Amy’s girls rather than Amy herself. Maybe it was a story from his remoter past. Maybe he simply made it up.

I reflected not for the first time on the difficulties consequent on the absence among the Chinese and Russians, and to a large extent the English upper classes, of definite and indefinite articles. If he had said ‘the little Chinese girl’ or ‘a little Chinese girl’ the story would have been clearer even if still untrue. And now we would never know, as I certainly would never ask Amy directly.

Anyway, at that point she was called away. The moment had arrived for the unveiling of the new kefir: that made with The Culture.

I knew that there had been trial runs and that Amy was very excited about them, but this was the first time that the new kefir was to be made available to anyone outside a small circle of intimates, which excluded me.

People gathered round.

A number of familiar faces were there.

The better half was explaining in Russian some of the subtleties to the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached, who were responding with expressions of cynical disbelief.

The son had returned to the South China Sea, daughter one could not have brought my grandchildren and daughter three was in the North, but daughter two was there, Parrot on her shoulder. Parrot was enjoying a succes d’estime. His sampled speech on Kurd Maverick’s latest release Pieces of Eight had attracted the attentions of the music press and his articulations generally, unusual for an otter, particularly when overlying what the son strenuously maintained was semantic bedrock, had attracted the attentions of the scientific press. His photo graced the cover of the latest editions of both Q Magazine and Nature: a first, I believe – certainly for an otter.

Daughter two had become Parrot’s representative with the press and was making the most of it. Kurd Maverick, irritated as a composer that Parrot had stolen his musical thunder – the cries of ‘Pieces of Eight!’ were after all intended as no more than a witty embellishment to the master’s electronic concepts – and infuriated as a lover of dairy products that even Nature referred to the beast as ‘Parrot’ and not as ‘Rick Otter’, was sulking and had returned to Montenegro where he was properly appreciated.

No Kurd, I said to daughter two, stirring it. He would have loved to be at the conclusion of the story of The Culture, in which he played such a part.

Daughter two responded obscenely.

An American graduate had been dispatched, either at the behest or merely with the approval (stories differed) of Professor Chomsky to find out whether Parrot’s little brain was hard-wired with the great man’s Universal Grammar. This person hovered with a tape recorder a step behind daughter two, on whose shoulder Parrot sat looking as pleased with himself as might have been expected.

I caught the eye of Aubergine Small. He had abandoned his habitual disguise as an Edwardian washerwoman and was dressed as a rear admiral. Possibly, on reflection, that was his uniform on The Jolly Thought. He grinned and held up a sign:

KEFIR AT GREAT SECRET MISS: WE NEVER KNOW WHEN WE’RE BEATEN

A new friend was The Porridge Man, who had been introduced to me recently by my friend Céleste. His interest in dairy products was, he frankly admitted, not disinterested. As The Porridge Man, he said, my passion is relationships. Porridge and dairy products. Dairy products and porridge. But I believe, he said, that we’re in for something special today.

Amy uncovered a brimming china bowl and clapped her hands.

I don’t tell you, she said, about Apa’tman, great Golden Age Montenegrin warlord. I don’t tell you about Kurd Maverick, his great voyage and his great rescue by the ketch Scintilla. There are rumours about these. Rumours are best that way. I don’t tell you about this kefir, except one thing. It’s the best. It’s better than Mr Lee opium (and Pft, incidentally, to Mr Lee’s stakeholders). It’s better than chasing best of all possible dragons or sipping tastiest gin and tonic.

It’s even better than green tea.

It’s kefir at Great Secret Miss.

Have some!

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Parrot!

Aaargh, said Kurd Maverick.

Or its equivalent in Kurdish.

Now read on…

When the great wave hit the boat three things happened in quick succession.

With the first impact of the wave The Culture became detached from the bow and disappeared into the murk.

With the second the mast snapped and the boat assumed a quaint and unnatural position in the water. The Valkyrie struggled panicking to the deck, where they joined Kurd Maverick. At the same time the great wave seemed to have exhausted the violence of the storm. The sea flattened, and the rain became heavy.

The third was that a black shape slid out of the darkness. It was a ship. A voice came from above them – an English voice.

Ahoy there! Kurd Maverick! This is Captain Alablague of the ketch Scintilla, attached to Her Majesty’s Letter of Marque The Jolly Thought.

It was the son, though neither Kurd Maverick nor the Valkyrie were to know that.

Come aboard! I’m putting down a ladder. You’ll not be able to climb the side in these conditions. My men will secure your wreck.

Captain Alablague made good his promise and soon Kurd Maverick and the women were on the bridge of the ketch. Some of the philosophers among the crew eyed the latter appraisingly. If the women had ever been ship-shape they were no longer. The older had a look of Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC, with scraps of material ensuring her modesty in trying conditions – not fur, but then not dinosaurs.

How did you…

Kurd Maverick, out of breath, gasped the question.

We’ve been following you, of course.

But I didn’t see you…

The son looked at him pityingly.

No, of course you didn’t.

We can’t move from here. The Culture…

Of course, said Captain Alablague again. It’s for The Culture that we’re shadowing you, not for your own safety. My men are out in dinghies already. It’s unlikely to have sunk, and the sheepskin should protect it from the elements, but only for so long.

And for the salvage, he added, under his breath.

Indeed, the remains of the yacht were already lashed to the stern of the Scintilla, a sorry sight, and in the darkness around the ship could be seen lanterns, though not the small boats to which they were attached.

Kurd Maverick was briefly overcome with emotion.

Thank God, he said, for the British Navy!

Indeed, sir, said my son. The British Navy is a fine outfit, but I, sir, am a privateer.

A pirate!

No.

The son sighed.

Privateers are different. I’ll explain later. Go below. There is fresh and dry clothing. I commend the latter to you and especially to your companions. The men have been at sea now for months and have not seen a woman until today. They will of course behave with propriety but it will be well not to inflame their passions. A randy philosopher is a philosopher prone to solecism.

All of this the son and Kurd Maverick related to me some weeks later. The Scintilla had remained at sea, restlessly scouring the Channel for prey, but all concerned had transferred to The Jolly Thought, of which the son had resumed command. Actually, almost all had transferred to The Jolly Thought. The elder of the two Valkyrie, the one resembling Raquel Welch, had remained on the Scintilla. It had soon become apparent that she had a flair for navigation beyond that of the philosophical incumbent. The son had made landfall at Southampton and I had taken the train down to meet him. Amy, though vitally interested in the result of the quest, had remained at Great Secret Miss. We were in a seamen’s pub, near the docks. Daughter two, who works in Southampton as a diver, was to join us. It may be remembered that she had assisted me in an exorcism in 1934 and had lost her sea-bird Parrot in the process. She had been nagging me in a friendly way ever since to replace it.

So, I said. Did you get The Culture?

The son removed a vile plug of tobacco from his mouth. Whatever trick this was intended to do it clearly didn’t. He needed to rinse the remains out with a great draught of Badger ale. Then a paroxysm of coughing distorted his grim weather-beaten features.

We searched all night, he said, eventually. No joy. I was sure that when dawn came we would see The Culture, but with the first light the sea was flat, the rain had stopped – not a trace. I sent a young logician up to the crow’s nest. Still no sign. I never thought it would sink, but my only conclusion could be that it must have.

There was only one shot left in my locker.

A group of us who are concerned with linguistics have been teaching language to some otters.

Sea otters? I said.

Of course.

When the logician in the crow’s nest drew a blank I had them brought up from the hold. We had had a spoonful of yoghurt each for breakfast, on our porridge. I put some on my finger and gave it to each of the otters to sniff.

Fetch, I instructed, guiding them over the side.

They’ll choose freedom, said the ethicist first mate, who is one of nature’s Eeyores; we’ll not see them again. So much for the research. And we’ll have to return the grant.

Well, one did make a bid for freedom. But another did the business. Straight over the side, straight down and a minute later he was back at the ship’s rail, The Culture, still in its sheepskin, gently held in his teeth.

This little fellow, it was. Rick, we call him.

I hadn’t noticed the sea creature at his feet. In pubs of that sort, at the seamier end of Southampton, most of the customers have a sea creature of some sort at their feet.

Kurd Maverick, said the son, who was overcome with guilt, thumped The Culture without ceasing until we sighted land; and I’m glad to report that it’s fine. We made some kefir – just to test it. My God it’s good. I was thinking about Fermat’s last theorem when I went to sleep, and when I woke up I’d solved it, all over again!

Kurd Maverick smiled shyly.

Rick the otter smiled shyly.

At that moment the door opened. There was high wind outside and the draft blew some Wanted posters around – some pirate or other. Daughter two strode in. She was on her way from work and still in her diving gear. She walked to our table making little puddles with every step. Under one arm she held the enormous brass helmet.

Then she saw Rick the otter, and a familial greeting died on her lips. It was love at first sight.

Parrot, she said.

No, said the son, for whom precision of language is both his profession and his passion. Rick. Otter.

Parrot, she said.

As if in a trance Rick the otter crossed the floor, jumped onto a table and thence to her shoulder, where he took up residence.

Parrot, she said.

Pieces of eight, said Parrot.

Happy now? I said

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Confidence in Young Bradman

Daughter two came round to see us. She brought Polish fudge for the dog. It is sold in yellow packaging with a smiling cow on it, and it has always been his favourite. For some reason they have stopped selling it in Sainsbury’s in London but it is still available in Southampton, where she lives.

She is an underwater explorer. Sometimes she does this in her guise as an archaeologist and hands over the goodies that she discovers to the University where she works, but at other times she is a treasure hunter and then she keeps what she finds. It is rather like doctors. You go and see them on the NHS and they bounce around enthusiastically on their beds, sing about Voldemort and take six months to send you the letter that says, yes, you do have cancer; so you go private and, just like in Hammer Horror films, it’s the same man sitting grinning across the desk, deadly efficient now and clocking up the charges like a manic runaway taxi.

She had on her shoulder a rather mangy bird.

What’s that bird, I asked.

It’s my Parrot.

It’s not a parrot.

I know it’s not a parrot. Parrots can’t swim. It’s called Parrot.

Is it one of those birds that swim on David Attenborough?

It’s very good when I’m treasure hunting under water.

You’d be better off with an otter.

Why she needs anything on her shoulder I can’t think and didn’t ask. Probably she’s jealous of her brother, the privateer, who often sports an exotic bird or two when at the wheel of The Jolly Thought and, less acceptably, when visiting his family in England.

Anyway the dog was the point of her visit and she was saddened to see him. He was listless and took little notice of his fudge. Previously he has always been delighted when she visits, but not today; he lay on his rug muttering and from time to time his head turned three hundred and sixty degrees.

Do stop that, I said whenever he did it, but to no avail. He fixed me with his new diabolical stare and said something in Latin.

I walked daughter two to the station. Something will have to be done she said, and I agreed.

I’m hoping that your great great uncle can help, I said.

Who?

Never mind. I’ll tell you if anything comes of it.

No sooner had daughter two descended into the Underground than it did. I was walking back along the pavement when someone barged into me.

My God, it’s Jessica Ennis, I cried. I’m such a fan of yours.

Stow it, said P2.

P2’s slang sometimes betrays her pre-War origins.

Much better than your Victoria Beckham, I said, recovering my dignity.

Pft, said P2, and disappeared, as did the whole King’s Cross mise-en-scene.

Just a quick one, said Uncle Edgerton. On my lunch break. From the insurance. What’s all this about exorcism?

I explained about the dog. I’m at my wits’ end, I said. Can you help? I can’t think of anyone else who can.

Uncle Edgerton stroked his chin, in a way no longer fashionable.

Yes. I probably can. Won’t be easy. Won’t be cheap.

He fell silent.

And?

Two things. It’s a bad spirit. We’ll need to drive it out.

It says it’s Satan himself.

Pft. They all say that. Satan wouldn’t waste his time on a pet dog.

I bridled. The dog is a much-loved Staffordshire bull terrier of good parentage. He wrote The Ride of the Valkyrie by Wagner.

It’s a bad spirit. We’ll need to drive it out and we’ll need something to drive it out into.

A person? A Z person?

No, for a dog it’ll have to be another animal. You fix that and await the call. You, the dog, the receptacle and we’ll do our best. Never certain, these things, but we’ll do our best.

Two things, you said, Uncle E. The other one?

Ah yes. We have a test series this summer.

Yes I know, I said, the 1934 Australians. Bent on avenging the Bodyline tour.

Tell me something I can use. You can use the shaving mirror again.

I smiled.

I don’t need to. The second Test is at Lords.

Of course, he said irritably. The second Test is always at Lords.

I smiled again.

Hedley Verity takes fifteen wickets in the match. Seven for sixty-one in the first innings and an astonishing eight for forty-three when Australia follow on. England win. The last time in a Lords test against Australia in the century – not that that helps you.

And the rubber?

Australia win two to one.

And young Bradman. Does he come good?

Oh yes, very good. Though not at Lords. The greatest batsman ever.

He looked at me sideways.

Looks like a busted flush to me. All right, all right. My people will be in touch.

Your P2?

Of course.

I staggered slightly as I reconnected with my body at King’s Cross in 2012.

Behave yourself, sir, said a nearby policemen. A Paralympian ® might see you….

I rang daughter two on my mobile.

How do you fancy meeting your great great uncle Edgerton in 1934?

Yeah.

She’s a brave girl.

The only thing…

Yes?

Parrot. He needs to come. And he needs to be very brave.

She was silent.

I’ll get you an otter…

OK then.

We arranged to await developments.

When I got home the dog had embarked on learning the Lord’s Prayer backwards, in Latin. I tested him on it. Whatever the outcome it might come in useful.

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