I wish to register a complaint… no, not about the hackneyed use of old Monty Python references, but the unfair treatment of a gang of potty-mouthed parrots who were condemned to months of isolation at a UK wildlife park. The park owners decided to separate them from the public-facing aviaries. Kept away from their “politer” feathered friends in an effort to sanitise their explicit vocabulary and demonised for daring to communicate with us humans in our very own language. For me, talking animals — and sweary birds — are one of life’s funniest things. It’s what Instagram was made for.
Now meet Joey, my African Grey parrot. Despite his scarily strong beak and eyes with pinpoint poise, he’s as soft as Larry. He loves nothing more than a head rub and a little dance. He lives in our lounge and is in his element when he’s hanging out with his flock. That’s us. Usually flopped out on the sofa after a busy day in the Standard newsroom (honest, Ed). To him, we are his family and he’ll do anything to connect with us. Whether through a mimicked phrase (“All right, geezer”), a cheeky wolf whistle as we pass his domain, or the odd expletive if he doesn’t feel he’s getting enough attention (such a high-maintenance bird).
Why keep these magnificent and intelligent birds caged up only to then censor their visitors’ ears in case they offend someone?
No matter what the dramatic cliffhanger moment is on TV, Joey now has our undivided attention. All it takes is a naughty word and he’s our sole focus as we chuckle like schoolkids. Joey “Frankie Boyle” Millichamp we call him. He could out-swear the unreconstructed comedian Bernard Manning who’s just stood on a piece of Lego. He is blissfully unaware of the actual meaning of the words that he is saying, only that he is mimicking words we use (which is perhaps a negative reflection on us?) and that it solicits a cheerful response from his flock. I love a good ol’ swear word. I’m not advocating we pepper our everyday vocabulary with foul language — it can come across as crass — but in context, and with a little humour, the injection of a cheeky little **** word can liven up any conversation.
I struggle with the concept of caged birds as pets, especially larger breeds like the African Grey. Their health and welfare is paramount if we are to cage them for our entertainment (FYI, Joey lives in a mansion-sized bird house and is spoilt rotten), so the thought of these poor birds being imprisoned at the park and kept away from their flock makes my f***ing blood boil. Why keep these magnificent and intelligent birds caged up only to then censor their visitors’ ears in case they offend someone?
A flock of cheeky parrots swearing their heads off in front of a coachload of kids on a school trip? Even John Cleese couldn’t write a funnier script than that.
Ped Millichamp is head of design at the Evening Standard