It was one of those perfect late summer mornings, where the sky is sapphire blue, gently cradling a few fluffy clouds. My oldest son was away with the Army Cadets so my younger son and I decided to take the dog for a walk, and meet up with my mother, who had two dogs at the time. My little dog, Lulu, was sister to Mum’s dog Rebel, and she also had her beautiful German Shepherd dog, Rowan.
It was one of those mornings where there was just a hint in the air of Autumn ahead, a crystalline quality to the light that showed the sun was nearing the end of the Summer Equinox. There was a light breeze, just enough to necessitate a thin jumper, with pockets, loaded as always with dog biscuits, tissues and poop bags. Most of the regular dogs knew I had a ‘magic pocket’ and I remember being alarmed yet pleasantly surprised, one day, when an extremely large Rottweiler raced towards me one day, then stopped abruptly in its tracks to sit at my side politely, yet hopefully, nosing the ‘magic pocket’.
The biscuits were both a bribe and a reward for my dog. She was elderly and a little dog, so she tended to wander too far ahead. Consequently she had already had one trip to the vet to remove a blockage from her gut as she had run ahead and eaten a dirty tea towel someone had left. As I could not rely on her to not eat rubbish, I had to muzzle her, not the very tight sleeve types, but the basket ones, that allowed her to move her jaws freely, drink, and eat a biscuit posted through the front. Just not rubbish.
It was a lovely morning. The temperature just right, not too hot, not too cold, with a gentle breeze to lift our hair and stir the fur on the dogs’ backs. As we strolled, my mother and I chatted amiably about what to have for dinner, and noticed the strands of blackberry bushes, prickly cages that held imprisoned orbs of dark purple sweet juice. We would have to come back without the dogs, we decided, to go blackberry picking, as they got bored and couldn’t really see the point of what we were doing in the bushes for so long. They weren’t even particularly interesting bushes, as far as the dogs were concerned… just fruit smells and spikes, not even a hint of fox or mouse.
A few leaves on the trees were starting to turn yellow at the edges, and slide from the trees to the floor, to gather in little groups at the side of the path, along with the discarded and empty husks of beech nuts, thorny on the outside, yet lined with the softest golden velvet on the inside, to cradle the precious seeds. We were walking past a stunted little apple tree when one leaf detached itself and fluttered to the floor, about ten paces in front of me.
“Oh look!” my son cried eagerly. “It’s a little bird!”
“Don’t be stupid,” I replied, making a mental note to get him to the optician’s before school started, “It’s a dead leaf!”
“No, no, look!” my son said, more definitively and darted off ahead. Lulu, noticing his sudden interest was way ahead of him and beat him to the spot where she pounced, and held the yellow leaf between her paws. Luckily, she was wearing her muzzle, or she might have had a bonus bird on top of her normal biscuit treats…
The two other dogs approached Lulu with interest, wanting to see what she had found, and my little dog, normally the gentlest and most fun-loving of dogs, growled fiercely, hunching aggressively over this dead leaf. But was it? No, my son was quite right, it was a little bird, a budgie. A budgie? We were accustomed to seeing sparrows, blackbirds, wrens and even a few jays, but a budgie was absolutely not your usual resident of this park.
“It is a bird! It’s a budgie! Can we keep him?” my son asked hopefully, face alight with excitement at this added twist to a pleasant dog walk.
“Well, I really don’t know, you’ll have to let me see if I can catch it first…” I replied somewhat reluctantly. I had previous experiences with budgies and had learned to my personal cost that they are not the sweet, cheerful companions of dear little old ladies; rather, they are feathered and feisty balls of fury, only too ready to lash out with curved beak and hooked feet…
I retrieved the dog, and passed her lead to my mother to hold, while my son danced about anxiously, keeping a careful eye on the budgie.
“Hurry up! We can’t leave him here… he’ll DIE!” my son stated with suitably dramatic emphasis.
The budgie, meanwhile, relieved from the grasp of dog paws, was pecking about listlessly in the dust at the side of the path, fluttering a few aimless steps, then dropping to the floor again. I gathered my courage, crept forwards, leaned down and – carefully cupped my hands around the despondent little bird.
I stood up. The budgie and I regarded each other, suspiciously. He made no attempt to bite me, or claw his way out of my hands. I knew he was definitely a “he” as the cere at the top of his beak was just starting to turn blue, a sign that the bird was, indeed, male. Now what was I supposed to do?
As if sensing my indecision, the bird made one last attempt to regain his unlooked-for freedom, pushing his feathered head between my fingers with some force, then subsiding as if too weak to put up much of a fight. That decided me. My mother’s house was nearer, and she had a cockatiel. The budgie could stay there until this afternoon when we could pick him up, having gathered the essentials, like a cage, seed…
“Oh PLEASE can we keep him!” My son cried, dancing in anticipation at my side.
“Well, I suppose so, I’ll have to ring your father, but let’s take the bird to your grandmother’s until this afternoon.”
Leaving my mother with three dogs and, a bewildered air, “You can’t have a budgie, Samantha, the cat will eat it!” (despite the fact that my cat at the time, Walter, was gentle and somewhat elderly and had never caught a bird in his life, caged or otherwise.) Nevertheless, we set off, budgie carefully enclosed in my hands back towards my mother’s house. The cockatiel actually belonged to my oldest son, and lodged quite happily at my mother’s, screaming every so often in some sort of avian rage… He seemed quite pleased to see the budgie. We poured some bird seed into my son’s hand and he pecked desperately at the seed.
“Poor thing, he was starving!” my son cooed tenderly, before leaving to find a suitable water dish. We left the bird safely enclosed with seed and water, the cockatiel screaming amiably at him every so often, to return to my mother and collect the dog.
I rang my partner. “Hi, it’s just me, we found a budgie on the dog walk and Alex wants to know if he can keep him.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, A BUDGIE?”
“You know, one of those little caged birds that tweet.”
“YES I KNOW WHAT A BUDGIE IS! WHY HAVE YOU FOUND IT?”
“It was lost, and it just came flying out of the trees, and it just came flying out of the trees, and the dog – oh never mind, I’ll tell you when we get back.” Having explained in great detail exactly how we found the budgie and yes, it was definitely a budgie, I, too knew what one looked like, and no, we didn’t know who he belonged to as he was in the middle of the park, my partner agreed my son could keep him.
Cage, sandsheets and all the avian paraphernalia duly purchased and installed, we returned later that afternoon with the budgie and introduced him to his new home. That was eight years ago. During his residency with us, this bird has cheated death no less than three times… The stray cat we adopted, Billy, decided one day, to pad his cat kibble ration with a little meat on the wing, so to speak. There was a loud crash from my son’s bedroom so en masse, my partner, two sons and I all rushed upstairs to see the bird cage lying on the floor on its side, the budgie half out the door, half in the cat’s mouth, my youngest son screamed in rage and fright at the cat who released the budgie and left hurriedly…
“Really, gov’nor, no need to take on… but when a bloke’s hungry what is he supposed to do?”
The budgie was soothed and checked, no injuries other than a somewhat chewed tail. Next my partner in a fit of thoughtless ‘kindness’ gave my son’s budgie to his mother, while I was out, without asking me or my son, just assuming, that it would be fine to give my son’s pet away to entertain his mother. I was enraged.
“BUT I CAN’T TAKE THE BUDGIE OFF ME MAM! SHE’S LONELY!”
“Not my fault and not my problem.” was my retort as I comforted my son. A week passed. His mother gave the budgie nothing but millet. The budgie had diarrhoea and looked poorly and thin.
“Oo, ‘es gone right miserable ‘e ‘as. ‘e don’t tweet, he bites me when I want to take him out the cage…”
I replied somewhat sharply:
“He’s probably dying , because he misses my son, he was his pet and his father had no right to give him away.”
I got the budgie back. My son was overjoyed, as was the bird, he sat on his shoulder and murmured confidingly into his ear about the terrible time he’d spent away from home…
Another close encounter with a cat, this time just the cage was pulled off the stand and upended, seed and feathers everywhere, alarmed cat, angry budgie:
“Woman! What have I told you about those fur beasts! Keep them out of my room!”
And yet he developed a fondness for Charlie, my cat. When, accompanied by me, she was little, she would come and play in Alex’s room. The budgie, perhaps enchanted by her antics, edged closer to the bars so he could see her better and made an odd creaking sound, which I assume to be his version of a laugh. She is the only cat he will not scream an alarm for, and if I lift her up to look in the cage, he will come closer and tweet to her.
This budgie is the bane of my life sometimes, with the tweeting and screaming, the seed throwing and careful directing of crap up the walls, but my son loves him. What else can I do but put up with it….
The name of the budgie? Why, Lucky of course!