Pets, particularly those with legs, tend to run in families.
My father (and his father and his father’s father, yea verily back unto the time when the Gouldings first crawled out of the swamp four generations ago) took the view that pets a) cost money and b) take a bit of trouble looking after and were therefore to be discouraged at all costs.
This trait was inherited by myself and all through my children’s childhood I remained impervious to their teary-eyed pleadings for a puppy, knowing too well that the animal would be a one week wonder and that their promises to walk it in all weathers and clean up its pooh were not worth the breath they were uttered with.
Magnanimously, I allowed my son Neil to adopt a snail that appeared on our drainpipe one day. With a logic unique to six year olds, he named this gastropod Nibby and it even moved house with us, remaining a cherished, if exterior member of the family for nearly four months until it either crawled away or was nobbled by a starling.
It was with something of a sense of irony, then, that with the children grown, my son arrived into our house in July with his girlfriend Amy, a birdcage and with what looked like a shoebox with holes under his arm. (That’s just the shoebox that was under his arm – the other two were under no such constraints)
With unerring perception, I guessed that there was something inside the “shoebox” and I doubted it was a pair of shoes. Neither a shoebox nor its habitual contents is normally associated with a birdcage and, whereas the juxtaposition of the two might make an interesting concept of modern art, I doubted that my son recognised this.
“There you go, ma. Happy Birthday,” he said, releasing into the cage a tiny yellow canary that fluttered nervously between the two perches, regarding the four of us with obvious mistrust.
I eyed this unusual birthday present suspiciously. Maybe it wouldn’t be too expensive to keep, I reasoned, and it wouldn’t take that much looking after. It probably wouldn’t smell and I wouldn’t have to bring it for walks. Then again, I acknowledged, I had absolutely no say in the matter as this was a gift from Neil and Amy to my wife and my opinions on the new arrival were completely irrelevant.
The birthday girl was completely taken by this little creature, adding that the black spot beneath his wings added a touch of individuality to his persona and did not indicate, as I maintained, that he was destined for Davy Jones’ Locker. She named him JoJo, which was at least an improvement on Nibby, and whenever he approached the front of his cage, it gave me the opportunity to say “Get back, JoJo” until I was told to shut up.
Sadly, we have no idea whether JoJo is male or female. We toyed with the idea of getting him / her a mate for a bit of company but we were warned that two birds of the same sex would knock the spots off each other, while if they were of different sex they would just squabble and bicker like a happily married couple. This knocked my wife’s idea of getting a second canary and calling him / her Loretta.
I have come to regard JoJo as male and refer to him as “he.” In the absence of any visual biological evidence, the only thing we have had to go on is the rather unscientific maxim that “if he sings a lot, he’s probably a male,” unlike humans, where men normally lead a downtrodden, miserable existence and singing is the furthest thing from their minds. I have pointed out that in JoJo’s case, it is more “whistling” than “singing” as no discernible words can be recognised when he’s in full throttle, but it’s still better than Lionel Ritchie.
The first decision to be made was where to put JoJo. In my very limited experience of pet birds, the cage either sits on a stand taking up half the space in the room or hangs from a rusty nail high up on the wall. However, Jojo’s mischievous habit of flinging his seeds all over the place, meant that neither option was viable. (Incidentally, the bird’s arrival coincided with our daughter Louise’s departure for Hawaii on a three month J1 visa – in effect we replaced one messy little article who throws her stuff all around the floor with another.)
Of course, if my DIY skills remotely touched mediocre, I would have put up a large square shelf in the kitchen on which the cage could repose, with an ample border to collect far flung seeds. As such an attempt would probably have brought down the connecting wall, not to mention hitting a water main, it was decided that the cage should reside on the kitchen table, with an old tablecloth under it to catch his detritus.
And there he remains, this scrawny little yellow grasshopper of a bird, who puffs himself up into a yellow tennis ball when he goes to sleep. He sits there, watching everything and ruling the roost so to speak. I am admonished if I come in from work and do not say hello to him, even though I maintain he never acknowledges me.
Naturally this new addition to the family lording it over the kitchen table has meant that our family habits have altered somewhat. You can’t eat your dinner with a canary lobbing caraway seeds onto your mashed potato at regular intervals and so we’ve gradually ceded the kitchen table to him for good.
This was never more apparent than at Christmas, when the kitchen table in years gone by always came in handy for mixing stuffing, carving turkeys, whipping cream and opening wine. This year the head chef and her helper competed, sometimes aggressively, for space on the worktops around the sink and at the cooker, while Little Lord Muck whistled at us disparagingly from his pride of place. In reply, I told him that we would be fattening him up for next Christmas and received a sharp rap over the knuckles with a wooden spoon for my troubles.
And naturally we’ve spent a fortune on him, getting him a bigger cage and mirrors and ladders and cuttlefish bones and all the other essential accoutrements. And yes, I have to clean out his cage and wash the pooh off his perches and step carefully around him as he struts about the kitchen floor on his temporary release. And it would seem that I have been totally usurped in the household pecking order.
But, even though I would never admit it, he’s starting to grow on me and it would be hard to imagine the house without him.