Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Parakeets and pigeons

We’ve got both. Lots of both. Lots of parakeets and lots of pigeons. The parakeets fly to the bird feeder in the middle of what passes for our lawn. There they crowd and cling and gorge themselves. The pigeons mostly cluster on the ground below, munching up the tit-bits of food that fall and generally talking to each other. For it really does sound like a kind of talking. A much-loved friend of ours, Adam Curle, alas long since passed away, used to do a wonderful imitation. Never mind that he was a very eminent Quaker and Professor of Peace Studies, he was never pompous, never too eminent to be a good laugh.

We got to know Adam and his wife Anne because their daughter, Deborah, had become our lodger. How we initially met has faded into the mists of my increasingly misty memory. But it’s a wonderful feature of that  misty memory that the mist can also part upon many unforgettably bright scenes from the past, including Adam doing his unfailingly convincing imitation of a pigeon talking. ‘Who do poo-poo? We do poo-poo. D’you do poo-poo?’

As for parakeets, my most vivid recollections of these extraordinarily gymnastic birds come from Tobago. Some years ago, I was in Tobago to do a week’s storytelling. The invitation to do this, together with all the arrangements, had come from my great storytelling icon and friend, Grace Hallworth, so highly regarded by me because she can combine such a strength in her storytelling with such a relaxed sense of informality.  After that week of storytelling, Paul came to Tobago to join me for my birthday and a week’s holiday. The place where we stayed looked out on an extended garden bounded by a forest. We’d be looking towards that forest from the window of our room when, all of a sudden, the forest would seem to move towards us as out of the trees would burst a battalion of parakeets.

For parakeets are of course very green. Indeed, the brightness of their green may be one of the things that has made people in the UK wonder how on earth they came to be in this country. One story is that they were brought to Shepperton Studios for the filming of the Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn film, The African Queen, and released back in 1951. But my scientific research has put paid to that theory: evidently, there have been many separate releases of the parakeet, including in the Victorian era.

As for pigeons, they feel very integral to London life. When I was a young person in London for the first time, brought here by my redoubtable Aunty Mali when she was preparing for her first major trip to Australia, people would go to Trafalgar Square with the specific purpose of feeding the many, many pigeons that had made that part of Central London their home. In more recent times,  after the pigeons were deliberately culled as a health hazard, they no longer  congregate there as they once did.

And talking of Trafalgar Square, here’s an interesting question with which to finish this week’s blog. Did you know that when Nelson’s Column was newly erected, and before the statue of Nelson was put on the top of it, the men responsible for the erection of the column held a dinner party on the plinth on top? It boggles imagination, the hauling up of the food and the hauling down of the dirty plates, let alone the cutlery and the glasses and the chairs to sit on. Goodness knows if there were pigeons in Trafalgar Square at that time but if there were, I wonder what on earth they thought about what was going on.

PS: The parakeet is patently a colourful bird with its very green plumage and very red beak. In contrast the pigeon looks rather dull except when it comes to getting what it wants. Besides, it’s worth remembering the pigeon is a very intelligent bird, highly trainable to do extraordinary things such as carrying messages.


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