The half finished quarter bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum slipped from Mr Arthur Clack’s hand landing on the empty bottles of pale ale that surrounded his armchair. The sudden crash woke Mr Clack from his alcoholic sedation and his eyes darted around the room looking for any young thug, who may be about to clobber him over the head for his shop takings. There was nobody. Even so, he swore at his none existent assailant advising them not to try it with him.
As a locksmith and key-cutter by trade, with a small corner heel bar, the last thing he needed was a break-in and his picture appearing in the papers with a big black eye. Very bad for business if people think that he can’t lock his own doors. That’s why he kept the loaded Luger pistol down the side of the chair. If they got in, they weren’t getting out, he would say to anyone brave enough to stay in the room when he started waving it about.
“Let them bloody try it!” he’d shout as visitors edged towards the door suddenly remembering an urgent appointment.
It was the Luger pistol “what did” for Mrs Hewitt’s pet Macaw, Wilfred. He was called, Wilfred, after Wilfred Pickles, who was a big star at the time she got him. Wilfred Pickles had a weekly radio quiz called “Have A Go” which ran from the late 1940s for about 20 years. Contestants had to answer questions for cash prizes, and at a time when there was still rationing, the thought of winning cash was very exciting and it elevated Wilfred Pickles to superstardom. It was a very popular programme and Mrs Hewitt loved it and the host. Well Wilfred the Macaw was a wonderful talker and what’s more he could repeat all the catchphrases from the show.
“How do, how are yer?” "Are yer courting?", "What's on the table, Mabel?" and "Give him the money, Barney"
The macaw became a minor local celebrity amongst the neighbours. He could have become even more famous if he hadn’t taken a sudden vow of silence on the day Wilfred Pickles and the BBC actually turned up at the house to do a feature on him.
The moment they shoved the microphone up to his beak, Wilfred the macaw retired from all conversation. Cage Fright, they said. “Waste of my bloody time” said Mr Pickles as he stormed out without even saying goodbye to Mrs Herwitt, who stood there, holding open her unsigned autograph book that she’d bought just for the ocassion.
Years later, and the show long forgotten, Mrs Hewitt still had Wilfred, and still he refused to speak. One day, she announced that she had to go away and asked Mr Clack to mind Wilfred for a week. She was going to stay with her sister to help her about the house following her hip operation, although Mr Clack told everyone they’d put her sister in the Looney-bin, which was his standard observation when anyone went into hospital.
|Mrs Hewitt loving mummy to Wilfred the macaw|
Radio Four was playing in the background, broadcasting a nostalgic look at radio quiz shows. Clack had nodded off in the middle of a clip from Robert Robinson’s Brain of Britain. The clip had gone on for far too long and as he dozed, Mr Clack muttered something abusive about Robinson’s stupid combe over hair and him being a baldy know-all. “You should be proud of your baldy head! Like me!” He exclaimed as he slumped back into the chair.
|Robert Robinson (baldy)|
The Queen Mother was apparently a great fan and was in the audience for the particular survivng clip they began to play from the archives.
After all these years, the sound of old Wilfred Pickles, and his catchphrases must have been a bit of a shock for the Macaw, who suddenly found his voice and screamed out one of the half remembered catchphrases from his perch.
“Give us the money! ” It screeched.
A shot rang out, Clack had woken up thinking he was being robbed and imediately grabbed the gun. There was a muffled thud and three feathers floated down from the ceiling in front of Mr Clacks startled, bulging eyes. His nose twitched with the smell of gunpowder, and then the silence was broken by the sound of the neighbours, hammering on the wall.
“It’s alright..”, he shouted, “it was the bulb”
“You bleedin’ maniac, you want locking up!” cried the voice from next door.
“Sod off !” Mr Clack shouted, as he rose from his chair, still holding the smoking gun. He gingerly approached the tray at the base of Wilfred’s perch. There, eyes still wide but glazed in death and with his beak open and twisted to one side, lay Wilfred, who had quite evidently gone to join his namesake.
It had been a perfect clean shot, right through the heart but the pride in his marksmanship was offset by the concern about how he was going to explain it to old Ma Hewitt. Within the hour he was telephoning Mrs Hewitt, to get it over with and give her the bad news.
Mrs Hewitt, was grief stricken. “Oh poor Wilfred, I knew I should have taken
him with me but she’s allergic, I knew something like this would happen, I thought he was a bit off colour when he wouldn’t eat his seedless grapes”
“Well he’s at peace now …he didn’t suffer, it was very quick” said Mr Clack trying to give her some comfort. “..he even spoke one last time, just before he passed away, found his voice after all these years ”
“Oh what did he say?”
“ He...er…he called your name, he said where’s ….where’s …he said where’s… Agnes?”
“It’s you isn’t it?”
“ Oh, well I can’t bloody remember….look I was too upset to take bleedin' notes, anyway he was probably delirious with the fever”
“what fever? I thought you said it was a hole in his heart”
“ It was but he had some complications, that’s why they couldn’t operate..look I’m not a bleedin’ vet ask them”
“Oh I will, don’t you worry, what’s their number?”
“ You can’t..…..the vet’s dead as well”
“The vet’s dead? How did that happen?”
“…er…he got bitten by a python. A big one”
“I thought pythons crush you don't they, you say he got bitten by it, that wouldn’t kill him would it?
“No, well a Tarantula bit him first, then the python grabbed him in it’s claws, and bit him as well before it wrapped itself around him, so he couldn’t get to the cupboard for a dock leaf or whatever they put on Tarantula stings I mean scorpion bites. Look does it matter? I'm still in shock here! You know what, they shouldn’t be allowed to have these dangerous pets, I’ve always said… anyway, look he’s dead, so there’s no point you ringing them.”
“How awful, oh I don’t know what to say! Would you do me a favour, Mr Clack, will you get a nice box to bury him in?”
“What, the vet? His family will sort that wont they?”
“No, for Wilfred I mean, I want him buried in the garden by the Clematis. Get something decent. Go to the antiques place by the church, they have some lovely ones there. I’ll pay you for it and see you right for the cost of the vet’s bill, but make sure you get a nice one, I’m not bothered about the cost. I want Wilfred to have the best. Actually there’s a lovely one in the window, with a brass lock and hinges on it”
“What do you need a brass lock on it for, he’s not going to try and get out?”
“Because it looks nice, will you just do it for me please. I’ll give you the money when I get back”
The conversation went better than expected but Mr Clack couldn’t help thinking what a waste of money, buying some antique box to bury some dead bird in the ground.
Mr Clack looked down at Wilfred’s carcase still lying open beaked in the tray. His hands moved from side to side with uncertainty over the dead macaw, while he wondered how best to pick it up. There was a long thin stick of rock from Llandudno on the shelf, it had been there for years and the cellophane had turned yellow with age. That might do it, he thought, looks about the right size. It was a perfect fit for the bullet hole and Mr Clack was able gently thread it through and lift Wilfred from the floor, being careful to not allow the bird to slide down the rock onto his hand. This was a difficult move as Wilfred’s now stiff body began to spin around requiring him to be centred with a hand on each end of the stick of rock to balance Wilfred in the middle. Looks like he’s on a spit, thought Mr Clack, giving it an extra twirl as he entered the kitchen…he paused, looking towards the grill…..no best not, he thought, probably not much meat on them anyway.
Mr Clack let Wilfred slide from the Llandudno keepsake into a Tesco carrier bag and quickly rolled the top of it tightly together. A bag for life, it said. Not if you’re a parrot, he thought to himself.
“A Polly-thene bag!” he suddenly shouted, smiling at his wit in the face of such tragedy. Ahh you have to have a joke, he said, it’s our way of dealing with things.
Right, he said, I’ve got to buy you a wooden overcoat tomorrow. And with that, he turned out the light and went to bed.
The next morning, Mr Clack was standing outside, Austin Cambridge’s Antiques Shop on the High Street. In Mr Clack’s opinion, the proprietor of the shop was; a pillock, a robbing swine, or a smarmy little spiv. Primarily though he was a pillock, for having the same name as the model of the car owned by Mr Clack. (not that it ever came out of the garage other than for it’s monthly polish and turn-over of the engine)
Mr Cambridge had to listen to this same wearying opening gambit every time Mr Clack walked by or worse called in for a look around, saying everything in the shop was spiv prices. But this time, as he walked through the doorway, he got straight to business. How much is that box in the window? And give me the proper price not the spiv price! He demanded.
“Eighty Five Pounds” Cambridge replied, just waiting for the cries of outrage and “I’ve thrown better stuff than that on the skip”
But instead, Mr Clack said, “Right, I’m interested in that.”
“Really?” asked Cambridge expressing some doubt.
“ Oh yes,” he replied with a grin. Mr Clack, rested his elbow on the counter holding his chin in his hand stroking it with one finger, whilst he began to think. “Eighty Five Quid eh? So these things really sell for that?”
“Yes they do Mr Clack, but if you want it, you’d better hurry up as there’s somebody coming to see it this afternoon, he’s a dealer from London”
“I tell you what, just hold the price tag up and let me take a picture of it, just to see if it goes with the rest of my collection and I’ll let you know later, but don’t keep it for me if there’s another buyer” Mr Clack took out the camera, that he always carried, in the hope of photographing an accident and selling the picture to the papers.
All afternoon, Mr Clack kept phoning Austin, and true to form, calling him a different model of automobile each time.
Hello, is that Morris Oxford? Has that box sold yet?
Hello, is that Vauxhall Victor, have they been in to buy the box yet?
Hello, is that The Hatchback of Notre Dame, has it….Yes? It’s been sold, bloody marvellous! No I don’t need another one, that one is perfect.”
So armed with the photographic evidence of an £85.00 Victorian Rosewood and Brass fittings sewing box. Wilfred the Macaw was laid to rest under the clematis in Mrs Hewitt’s back garden, wrapped in the Tesco shopping bag along with a receipt for a bottle of Lambs Navy Rum, six bottles of Pale Ale and an Admirals Pie.
When Mrs Hewitt returned, a few days later she called to the house looking for the box so that she could bury Wilfred, and asked if Mr Clack would be kind enough to dig a little hole for her. (Mr Clack resisted the temptation to say why, are you not well either?)
Oh you can’t, it’s too late, said Mr Clack, I had to bury him yesterday, he was stinking the house out. Mrs Hewitt winced, but said oh, I see, yes, I’ll go and look. Mr Clack went with her to the grave, I didn’t want you getting upset he said, showing her the photo of the box in which Wilfred was supposed to have been laid to rest and telling her the price, several times. “And then the vet was another twenty” he said. They arrived at the resting place and Mrs Hewitt looked at it in surprise, holding her hands to her face…
”Oh Mr Clack!” she said, “..that’s lovely, oh you are thoughtful, how kind of you!”
The little grave had been marked out with some round white stones (stolen from the rockery across the road) and a little cross had been manufactured from two old pencils and an elastic band and stuck into the soil. The finishing touch was a little bunch of plastic grapes taken from Mrs Hewitt’s ornamental vine by the kitchen door.
“He loved his grapes didn’t he” said Mr Clack, as he took out his handkerchief and blew his nose productively before offering it to Mrs Hewitt so she could wipe the tear from her cheek. “It’s alright, I have a tissue” she said reaching into her bag. The next thing he knew, Mrs Hewitt placed a hundred and ten pounds into Mr Clack’s hand.
“That’s for the vet bill and the box, you keep the change…” she said, “..have a little drink, to Wilfred” And for the first time ever, Mrs Hewitt leaned forward placing her hands on Mr Clacks shoulders and gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
“You’re a good man at heart Arthur, despite what everyone says. I won’t forget you for this. I really won’t”
Clack looked at the money and then glanced at the grave and at Mrs Hewitt as she tried to hold back another dignified tear…..
Something was stirring in that dark cavity where once lived a conscience.
“Arrgghhhh!” he suddenly bellowed.
“Good grief! Whatever’s the matter?” cried Mrs Hewitt, turning in alarm.
“Cramp” he said….he paused and looked at the grave and again at Mrs Hewitt..
“Look, I can’t take this, I won’t take it. I don’t want any money, you have it back, you keep it, do what you want with it, give it to the RSPB or something, I don’t want it…….I LOVED THAT BLOODY BIRD!
Reovering his composure, and not wanting to overdo it, he said “Let me pay for it, it’s the least I can do for him, my way of thanking him for all the years of pleasure he gave us. God Bless the little fellow.”
Mrs Hewitt was amazed. “Arthur, you’ve taken my breath away, I had no idea you cared so much about Wilfred, you were always flicking things at him when you came round or making those sudden loud spitting noises like a cat to make him jump. Oh you! You’re just a big softy really aren’t you, it’s all an act, all this meanness. Well thank you, thank you from both of us. What a lovely gesture.” Mrs Hewitt took the money, popped it back into her bag and turned again to look at the grave.
“Arthur, go on, you get yourself off to the pub, I know you want to. I’ll be fine, don’t worry and thank you
for that idea, I’m going to write that cheque to the RSPB right now.”
“Er hang on…” Arthur spluttered, suddenly remembering that he was skint and hearing that the money was going to charity. What better charity than his beer kitty?
“I tell you what….er, just pay me for the vet, only I’m a bit short for the pub…and I’d like to raise a glass in Wilfred’s memory”
“Yes of course” said Mrs Hewitt, slightly flustered as she began digging back into her handbag. “Twenty they charged you wasn’t it?”
“Er thirty… with the taxi”
“Look, here’s forty, I don’t want you out of pocket, now take it or I’ll be cross with you”
Clack took the forty pounds and thrust it into his long deep trouser pocket, before he got another attack of conscience. “Give us a shout if you need anything” he said, going out of the gate and heading in the direction of the local with a cheerful whistle.
For the next five hours, Mr Clack drank heavily but without enjoyment. He had visions of Wilfred spinning, - literally - in his mind. He was about to take out his last five pound note when the barman called for everyone to drink-up.
When he got home, he put the fiver in a jug on the shelf, where it sat for over a year, A year in which Mrs Hewitt had filled her house with Macaw and parrot ornaments and little pictures in an ever growing shrine to Wilfred.
“Oh, that sodding bird!” The radio played Big Ben’s chimes announcing midnight and Christmas Eve. “Too late now, he thought, I’ll nip out tomorrow.
That night he dreamed of fighting his way through the Amazon Rainforest looking for an off licence, Parrots shouted directions at him deliberately sending him the wrong way and then laughing and squawking, mocking him as he fell through the dense foliage and tore his clothes on the thick sharp branches.
On the morning of Christmas Eve at precisely 11.00am he set out for the off licence on the main road, to get his bottle of Rum, clutching the five pound note from the jug. On the way, he passed by many of the increasing number of charity shops that had opened up on the High Street, and he suddenly stopped as something in one of the window displays caught his eye. It was a large toy macaw, almost the same colour as Wilfred. It sat there, almost smiling at him, resting happily on a plastic swing perch suspended by a string from the ceiling. The slightly battered original box was below. The print on the side read “Monty The Talking Macaw. Realistic Movements, 10 fun phrases and playback voice recorder.” The shop had stuck on a price tag of £4.99, with batteries included” Clack looked at the toy bird and began to think.
|Queen's Christmas Speech 3.00pm|
“I’ll have a large rum if there’s any going?” he said, smiling with anticipation and rubbing his hands.
|The rude Professor|
They went into the lounge and greeted the neighbours, who’d also been invited in for the annual festive drink. They had been looking at the mountain of parrots and macaws covering the sideboard, the shelves and the table in the window. I see you’re admiring my collection, said Mrs Hewitt proudly. Yes, there’s a load of junk in our shed you can have if you want, said the professor from next door. Mrs Hewitt thought he was a very rude man but she was a good friend to his wife so she usually had to tolerate him.
“Mr Clack bought me a christmas present you know” she announced to the guests. The professor, who was a regular drinking partner with Mr Clack and knew how careful he was with money, almost choked and spluttered his drink on hearing this news. He knew more than most how tight-fisted Mr Clack was, and yet only a couple of hours earlier, when he saw him, he’d given him a glass of rum, which was a nice surprise, even though he had to pick some bits of fluff out of it. He’d even given him a present for his wife; a stick of Llandudno rock. But Clack buying Mrs Hewitt a Christmas present went beyond all comprehension. The professor couldn’t think what had gotten into his miserable old friend. “Christmas?” He thought to himself hearing the voice of Tiny-Tim in his head.
|Sorry..wrong Tiny Tim |
|Tiny Tim; A Christmas Carol|
“He probably just can’t get a word in edge ways” the professor muttered.
Mr Clack took the bird and said it might be the batteries and began to fiddle with it. As he did so, Mrs Hewitt told everyone the story of Mr Clack’s kindness when Wilfred had died and how he’d bought the expensive box in which to bury him, how he paid for the vet and had even made the little grave in the garden. As she spoke everyone leaned forward in disbelief wondering if it was the same Mr Clack she was talking about.
“Don’t look at him like that..” she said, “…you don’t know him like I do. He loved Wilfred, didn’t you Mr Clack?”
“Here that should do it, one of the batteries was in the wrong way round” said Mr Clack, standing the toy macaw on the coffee table for everyone to admire.
“Say something into it..” he said, “…it copies your voice and plays it back funny”.
Mrs Hewitt leaned forward and said loudly, “Hello Wilfred”
The macaws head and wings began to move.
“Hello Wilfred” it replied in a speeded up version of Mrs Hewitt.
Everybody laughed and then the macaw laughed too, copying them. This went on several times causing even more laughter, even Mr Clack was laughing.
Mrs Hewitt clapped her hands in enjoyment. The macaw’s head and wings moved again playing back the sound of her clap. Wait, she said, I’ve got one, quiet a moment...
Mrs Hewitt leaned over the bird and said,
“Hello Mr Clack, thank you and Merry Christmas ”
The toy bird moved it’s head and wings, about to repeat her words and this time the wing seemed almost to point at Mr Clack.
“Murderer, murderer, murderer !!!!” It screamed.