THE FOURTEEN POUND BUDGIE
by
Mike Harding


I've this thing about budgies. I've got a thing about tortoises as well but not as bad as the thing about budgies. The thing about tortoises is that you can avoid them... unless you get a particularly fast one. But tortoises are horrible; really, when you look at them. They are like Vincent Price with a bus shelter on their backs. I picked up a tortoise once and I shook it and it fell out... they are really horrible in the nude, like gherkins with legs on. The only good thing about tortoises is that they make good pets for dogs with-no teeth 'cos you can throw them and if the dogs don't fetch them back, they can come back on their own. And at least a tortoise will smile a bit. You can always see a tortoise grinning a bit when it's going for a piece of lettuce, if you've got any imagination.

But a budgie never grins. It just sort of sits there all the time glaring at you and shifting from one leg to another, muttering. But I've had this thing about budgies since I was a kid. We had this budgie when I was a kid and it was the Khengis Khan of budgies. It was the horribilist budgie in the whole world. It had torn all its own feathers off so it looked hard and it had got a ball point pen and it had written 'Hell's Angels Cheekie Boy Chapter' on its chest.
Because it had no feathers it couldn't fly, so me dad had made it a pair of wings out of an old porridge packet and it used to hang-glide out of the cage and home in on the hot thermals that were coming off my porridge, and it used to just hang up there on these hot thermals going round and round with its cardboard wings, crapping in my porridge.
The thing about budgie muck is that it looks like porridge and me mother never noticed and the budgie used to climb up the pole and lie on the floor of its cage in the sandpaper, laughing and thumping its chest.
I've hated budgies ever since.
My second encounter with a budgie was even more traumatic. I was about twenty-one or two at the time, working in a factory making aerosol chips and living in a block of flats in Manchester. Living opposite me was the most beautiful Irish nurse you have ever seen. Two of everything she should have and all in the right place. But. I was very shy at the time with no idea how, to address women and even less of an idea of how to undress them.
I tried to show her that I' was interested in her by pulling funny faces and-wearing daft party hats every time she went past and putting subtle billets doux under her door, saying things like, 'I'd like to give you a punch up-the drawers.'
And then one day it happened. In a fit of generosity, she let me carry 4cwt. of coal upstairs for her and invited me in for a cup of coffee. This is it, I thought. I went in and sat dawn on the settee, and she made me a cup of coffee and told me that her name was Pog Mahone.,
Then a strange eerie feeling crept over me. I knew there was something wrong. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I broke out into a cold sweat, and then I saw it.
In a specially reinforced cage on the 'sideboard was a budgie that was even worse than the one we had. It had a patch over one eye, a pirate's hat on, one leg and a crutch and a little man on his shoulder, and it was hobbling about going, 'Pieces of Nine, 'Pieces of Nine'.
I stood up and zoomed out of the flat, and she flew - after me, asking, 'What's the matter?'
'Well, I've got this terrible thing- it's claustrophobia,'
'I'm sorry about that because I wanted to ask you a favour,' she said. -
'Well, go on then.'
'I was wondering if you would have Christmas dinner with me?'
'That's nice, 'cos I'll be on me own.'
'I'll be on my own as well.'
'Oh,' I said, 'certainly, ' because Christmas was only about a fortnight off.
Then she said, 'I wanted to ask you one other thing. I've got to go and see my mum and dad in Liverpool. While I'm away, would you mind Attila for me?'
'What?'
'Attila, my little budgie.'
'Oh,' I said, 'I'm not very good with living things. Plastic flowers die on me. The Wellies even fell off my Bear and he got pneumonia and died.'
"Oh," she said, 'I don't think you'll have any trouble with Attila, 'cos he loves people. He loved you, I could tell. And all you have to do is feed him, bath him and talk to him.'
'What do you talk to him about.'
'Oh, just tell him about what's gone on during the day,' she said, 'the news or anything like that. He likes to hear news. Read things out of the newspapers.'
I thought, 'Oh, my God, what's happening here?' All I wanted was an uncomplicated relationship with a quickup the drawers and down the pub.
But I gave in. 'Okay,' I said. And I took the budgie and looked after him for a fortnight.
Now, I'm being totally honest when I say that I would never, ever hurt any living thing on purpose. I looked after that budgie as if it was one of my own. I came in from work, I talked to it, I fed it well. I gave it everything I had - egg and bacon in the morning, meat, two veg and gravy at night. And you know, it never ate it. Just turned its nose up at it. I even bathed it. I felt stupid getting into the bath with a budgie, I can tell-you that, scrubbing it down, then drying it with a hair dryer and rubbing its little crutch dry. But I did everything I could. I even ripped up bits of newspaper and put it in it's cage so that it had something to read, and do you know what it did?
It died out of spite! Definitely.
I could see what was running through its mind. It just said one day, 'Right, I'm going to knacker your chances with me mistress:' And he just lay down in the cage and finito benito, the wooden overcoat job, 'Come on, Death, let's have it. Thank you very much.' Wham, ham, thank you mam-gonsky. As far as the David Attenborough stakes were concerned, it was scoring zero on the livometer.
I came home from work and found it there. I tried everything I could. I tried giving it the kiss of life with a pea shooter over its beak. I tried steaming it fresh over the kettle. I even tried the rubber bands up the jacksie and the propeller on the nose but-it just kept divebombing the floor.
In the end I thought there's nothing for it... I'm going to have to get another one.
Now, bear in mind that this was Christmas.
I thought, 'Well, you can't walk through the streets of Manchester with a dead budgie sticking out the top of your pocket.' So I got an old Woolies carrier bag and stuck the budgie in the paper bag and went down the street.
On the way, with it being Christmas Eve, the town was going crackers; all the people were in the pubs from the offices getting drunk and insulting the boss.
And then I saw a mate of mine, Nobby Carr.
He said, 'Mike, come on a have a drink in Yates' Wine Lodge.'
I said, 'Nobby, I got to go to the pet shop.'
'The pet shops are open all day, don't worry about it."
So, of course, we went into Yates' Wine Lodge giving six-nowt, plenty of capneb, elbow-bending, milk of amnesia, doom booze, goodnight mother, the Martians have landed. In two hours time, I'm in no pain at all.
Now what I didn't know was that a bloke had come in and was stood at the side of us drinking and he had an identical Woolies bag. He puts his bag down, has a few bevvies and goes out with my bag, leaving me with a 14lb oven-ready turkey, in a Woolco carrier bag. Well, I picked it up and thought that it had gone heavy, but I thought maybe that it was just the drink weakening me. So I went into this pet shop, there's nobody about and I put it on the counter and started talking to the animals. 'Hello, rabbits, hello, piranha fish. Have a rabbit, piranha fish.' .And then in came the shopkeeper.
'What do you want pal?' he asked.
'I want a budgie exactly like that one in the bag.'
'What?'
"There's a dead budgie in that bag belonging to my girl friend. I've got to get her another one for Christmas. Get it changed. Exactly like that one.'
He looked in the bag, looked up, just shook his head, and didn't say very much apart from, 'Exactly like this one?'
'Yeah'
'We've got a right head-banger here,' he thought.
He went into the back of the shop and what I didn't know, of course, was that in the back he had 3000 turkeys that he had been fattening up for Christmas. And he went into the centre of this big pile of turkeys and pulled out the Al Capone of them all. It had a wing span of 12ft. He jammed it in the Woolco bag and sellotaped all the top up so that I couldn't see it. Sold it to me for £25.
Well, I got hold of the bag and it was jumping all over the place, this muttering bulk. I said, 'It's a lively bugger, this.'
'Oh aye,' he said, 'you'll get your mileage out of that.'
I went out of the shop and the turkey had kicked its legs out of the bag and it was leading me down the street. Well, I went in this pub for a few bevvies on the way home and this turkey is walking round kicking the landlord's dog and there's blokes looking at it, putting their drinks down and saying, 'That's it. That's the last drink I have. No more booze for me. I've just seen a Woolies carrier bag walking past kicking the landlord's dog.'
Well, I had a few more bevvies and staggered out with this turkey in the bag leading me down the street. And I was Christmas crackered by then, so I rode home on it all the way up the flight of stairs-and into the flat.
Now, you won't believe the trouble I had getting it in the cage. It did not want to know. I tried everything. I put down a row of dried peas, tried pecking them myself up to the door of the cage, showing it. But it did not want to know.
In the end, it was down to the vaseline and the brick hammer. I vaselined it all over, gave it one clout with the brick hammer and bang!... it was in.
But it did not like it. It jammed its head out of the cage and looked round saying, `What's happening, what's happening?'
Well, I threw a cover over it and left it there. Forgot all about it.
The next morning I woke up with a head like a burglar's dog. There was a knock on the door. It was Pog Mahone. She was back. So I flung open the door and said, `Happy Christmas,' because of course it was Christmas Day.
'Where's Attila? I bet he's missed his mummy, hasn't he?' she said.
Without thinking, I just pointed over to the corner of the flat. She went over, took the cover off the cage and nearly dropped cork-legged.
`You've been overfeeding him.'
'No, I haven't. I've just been giving him what I had, egg and bacon.'
Then she saw something that I'd forgotten completely. That one I'd got in the cage had two legs! She said, `That's not my Attila, you've killed him, you. monster!' and flew out of my flat into her own, shut the door and left me on my own. Christmas Day, no Christmas dinner, no food, no party.
`Well, that's it,' I thought.
And the turkey is still looking round' the flat, saying, `What's happening? What's happening?' So I covered it with a cloth again and went off down the pub.
So I'm stood there with this daft party hat on and a meat pie with a piece of holly sticking our of the middle of it and a brandy; I've set fire to it and I'm watching the Queen on the telly when in comes the bloke who took my budgie by mistake the day before. He looks like he's just fought World War III on his own. He's got a black eye, a broken nose, all his teeth missing, half his hair's been torn out, his arm's in plaster of Paris, one of his legs is broken, his suit's flapping in the breeze and he's got one of these blowers with the feather on the end that unwraps and makes a squeaking noise, permanently lodged up his right nostril. Every time he says anything that begins with 'f', this blower unravels itself and squeaks.
So he stands, at the bar and says, 'Give me a pint of (wheeping) bitter, please, Jimmy.' I looked at him and said, 'You've had a good Christmas, pal?'
Don't talk to me about (wheeping) Christmas. I had a few (wheeping ) beers yesterday in Yates' and gets home totally (wheeping) wasted. Well, the wife's at her ( wheeping) mother's getting the kids' presents so I thought I'll get the (wheeping) turkey ready. So I opens the (wheeping) bag and if that's a (wheeping) fourteen and a (wheeping) half pound turkey I'm the (wheeping) Pope. I've seen more meat on a (wheeping) butcher's biro. And it isn't even plucked.
So it's two o' (wheeping) clock in the (wheeping) morning and I've got the (wheeping) electric razor out and I'm shaving it.
Then I've got four pound of (wheeping) stuffing to get in it. In the end it's down to the icing bag up the jacksie.
So I've got it stuffed. I lie it there with a little bacon waistcoat and put all the (wheeping) spuds round it. I work it out on the timer... twenty minutes a (wheeping) pound that's nine times six divided by three, call it ten hours, that's twelve o'clock tomorrow. So I set it, get to (wheeping) feather and crash out.
So I wake up this (wheeping) morning. I've got a head like a bucket of frogs, the (wheeping) kids are running round mad.
There's one of them (wheeping) dolls that eats, drinks and wets herself throwing up in the corner, there's a (wheeping) Action Man walking round with a (wheeping) Scalextric out all over the (wheeping) place, up the (wheeping) sideboard, over their granny's head. And sat all round the table is the wife's family all getting (wheeping) smashed on my booze.
All the wife's (wheeping) brothers are there, all eleven of them straight out of nick. They're all so (wheeping) hard they make Al Capone look like a pouf.
The wife's got a face like a box of chisels She just says, "I've got the (wheeping) veg, get the (wheeping) turkey out of the oven."
I open the oven door and you won't believe it. It's lying there like a walnut with three matchsticks. I thought, say nowt and they (wheeping) all might not notice. I took it in and the brothers thought I was taking the (wheeping) mickey, over goes the (wheeping) table, fuses the (weeping) Scalextric, the (wheeping) brothers are smashing the place up, in comes the (wheeping) law, knock, knock, bang, bang, 'ello, 'ello, 'ello, thump, thump, nut, nut, boot, boot, bleed, bleed, (wheeping) bracelets and meat wagon and two hundred quid bail, and do you know what I got for Xmas? - a (wheeping) budgie.'
Then I was suddenly thinking. And I'm starting to piece things together, which is not very easy for me at that time in the afternoon after giving it plenty of elbowbending. And I suddenly thought that maybe that wasn't a budgie in the cage back at the flat. So I went back and I had a look and I decided that it wasn't a budgie.
And I got it out of the cage with a sink plunger and I thought I would take it back down and find the bloke and get it changed again. Then maybe I'll be back in Pog Mahone's good books.
So I get it out with the sink plunger, bung it in the bag and offski. On the way I met Nobby again and he said, `Mike, where are you going?'
'I've got to go round to the pet shop and knock him up,' I said.
`Well,' said Nobby, `he's not in, He boozes in 'The Dog and Dilemma' over there. We'll go in there and we'll sit down and have a few beers and he'll be in in a bit.'
`Okay,' I said. But he wasn't there.
So we were sitting down having a few beers and playing a game of crib....
And I'm sat there and this turkey is between my legs below the seat.
The turkey by now has just about had enough. It's been up and down Manchester in a Woolies carrier bag. It's been shoved in a wire vest, not fed, left for hours on end, been vaselined, brick-hammered and sink-plunged and it's pigsick, it's in the bag and I'm playing cards and it thinks, "That's enough.' Bump ... straight out of the bag, rips the top off, sticks its head right out between my legs - poking out like a periscope, looking round, going, `Gobble, gobble, gobble...'
There's this little old lady sat next to me.
And she sees the turkey and says, 'Oooh! Look, Vera... this bloke here... he's got his 'Oh be joyful' out!'
'Well,' says Vera, 'when you've seen one, you've seen them all.'
'I know, but this one's eating my crisps and winkin' at me!!'

The end