“And what would you like me to bring you back?” asked my Father as he set off once more for the Gold Coast – now known as Ghana. “A pet parrot, please” I responded. “I’d like a cheetah!” I was in awe of her imaginative suggestion, but my little sister was only six and a half so the impossibility of keeping such a creature never occurred to her. Anyway, both of us knew that grownups did not really mean it when they said such things.
Four months later we arrived at my Father’s house on a visit to find a young African Grey Parrot sitting on a wooden perch on the verandah. “Where did you get her?” I asked. Now it is almost impossible to tell the gender of a pet parrot, but from the start I deemed Polly to be a girl. And she was most definitely my bird. It just never dawned on me that she might bite when I picked her up. Dad showed me how to grasp her from above, with my fingers curled under her breast and my thumbs along her back, this pinning down her wings. She allowed my Father to handle her as well. He had bought her in the market and she her red tail feathers had been pulled to use in ju-ju magic ceremonies. She did not fly because her wings had been clipped. Back in those days there were no specialist magazines to explain parrot psychology and how to look after your bird, so we were feeding Polly mainly on rice – as advised by the seller in the market. When the time came for us to return to the UK. My Father commissioned a wooden cage with a sturdy metal mesh removable front from the local prison.
There were six other parrots travelling on the ship and their cages were housed in a small room on the main deck. We attended to Poly daily and were most concerned when w noticed one of the other birds sickening. The poor thing died and was unceremoniously dumped overboard, cage and all. The day before we were due to land at Liverpool we found Polly in a terrible state. She had pecked every feather from her breast. “We’ll have to strap her up, ” said Dad. So I held her with his hanky over her head to stop her biting while he bound her chest with insulating tape – it was all we could find! The following morning when we went to check on her before disembarkation the tape was lying on the floor of her cage. Goodness knows she got it off. Dad said that some interfering *** must have removed it. So we taped her up once more. And, unbelievably, the Authorities allowed her into the country. She was taken to a vet as soon as we reached home and he explained that the pecking was probably the result of the inadequate diet combined with the stress of the journey. From then on she had a balanced mix based on sunflower seeds –plus whatever tidbits we poked through the bars of her cage.