Emotions are a strange things. Despite what those of you out there might think, I am a big ball of emotion, draped in this flabby, out-of-condition skin, held up by piss and vinegar and the willpower to continue. Today, I lost a good friend. OK – it was just a pet cockatiel, but when a pet has been with you for 18 years, they become more than feathers and claws and a beak. He was a presence. He was someone who told me to go to bed (yes, he did indeed make a heck of a noise if I was staying up late and he wanted some peace and quiet and I would have to duly retreat), he was someone who would amuse me with his wolf-whistles and clucks and cuteness.

This bird had history: he knew my grandfather who sadly passed on in 1994. He was a link to the past. He’s lived in every house I’ve ever lived in. He’s travelled everywhere with me – a feat not even Alex the Wonderdog can boast. He’s been a presence for a long time. He was bought as a birthday present for me in 1994 from a pet shop in Wood Street in Walthamstow and he was named Speckle because he was speckly when we got him. Then he moulted and lost all his speckles. He ended up with a completely incongruous name. I might as well have called him Fred.

In the first decade, he would have the run of the house, perch on my knee whilst I watched movies on TV, sing to the birds through the window and generally be cock of the walk. Then things changed between us – not sure why – but he decided he wanted to be the alpha bird and would try and attack me whenever I let him out. And so, his freedom was limited severely and he was only allowed out for daily exercise.

As the years passed, his interest in flying diminished and he became a cage bird. But he survived the crash. In a fluke of luck for him, I moved him to the box room because he would sometimes disturb Verity as a baby and make a noise during feeds, so he was exiled for a period. This exile in the box room saved him, because if he’d been in the room when the car struck our previous dwelling, he’d have either died of fright or his cage would have fallen out of the building and ended up on the road. But he was saved.

Last year, after we moved, he wasn’t very well. He took to nesting at the bottom of the cage or his tail would be tucked under him, but I gave him some bird tonic and he always seemed to buck up. But in the past week, he was spending more and more time at the bottom of the cage, making it impossible for me to clean him and give him his food. Yesterday, I knew something was up and even warned Verity to be quiet because he was very ill and I was worried “something might happen”. Verity did as she was told and drew a picture of him and placed it in her room.

Today, I heard him in his cage in the morning, but as he’d been under the weather, wasn’t planning on uncovering him until later. When nursing a sick bird it is best to keep them warm, in a subdued environment and preferably covered to avoid any shocks or noise. And with two small kids who loved running up to his cage, keeping him covered was the only option.

Just before 4pm, worried I’d not heard anything, I checked his cage to find him passed on.

I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been crying today. Like I said, I am just a big ball of emotion.

Fly on, my friend…

Speckle giving you the eye back in 1998

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