Magazine article The Spectator

The Pecking Order

Magazine article The Spectator

The Pecking Order

Article excerpt

My children have finally left home - but their pet parrot still controls my life

Every now and again you read about 'Empty Nest Syndrome' - a curious affliction suffered by parents who are sad that their children have left home. It sounds like heaven to me. My wife and I should be, well, free as a bird now that all our little ones have fled to university and beyond. Those arduous parent evenings, competitive end-of-term picnics and final warnings from the bursar are already a distant memory. We can come and go as we please, spending weekends learning to grow asparagus. Except that we can't. Because of Nero.

Nero is a parrot who lives with us and who will still be squawking a decade or so after I've joined the great grumpy chorus in the sky. We are chained once more. Any discussion about weekend plans must be followed by '. . . and what shall we do about Nero?'

Then there's a pause, followed by the realisation that we can't make any plans at all any more.

We did not choose Nero. We acquired him - he is a green cheek conure - after one of my stepsons bought him from a shop in Newcastle and took him back to the flat he shared with four other male undergraduates. Instantly, Nero was a success; a babe magnet. 'Would you like to come back to my house and meet our parrot?' the boys asked the girls. They would.

Then, once university was done and dusted, Nero moved in with us. We had no objections at first - a parrot seemed like the perfect pet: small, clever, no need to walk it.

But pricey even so, we found out after spending £1,500 on cages. The first one was very pretty, with a whiff of Edwardiana about it, but Nero soon worked out how to chip away at the paint, bend the bars and squeeze his body to freedom. This was replaced by a cheapo affair that reminded my wife of a hamster cage. Nero was not amused. So my wife found a whopper designed to look like the Crystal Palace. An antique, easy on the eye, ruinously expensive. We also had to buy a small cage for travelling to and from our cottage in Wiltshire, a journey that displeases Nero so much that once we get there he shrieks for a good hour.

Nero is dictatorial by name and tyrannical by nature. He doesn't like me at all, but he absolutely cannot tolerate the fact that I don't like him. It drives him crazy. The more I seek to disassociate myself, the more he wants to be with me.

When I'm working he sits on my shoulder, waiting patiently for the telephone to ring. …

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