Bobby, the gout-ridden budgie

Many of you will be finding the presence of pets comforting in these strange times. I don’t have any pets these days but, looking back, my childhood seems to be full of happy times with a variety of animals.

Our first pet was a black Labrador called Kit. I was very young and don’t actually remember her but I’m told I used to lean down from my high chair and feed her my dinner.

Unfortunately, when I was four, I was badly bitten by a friend’s dog and that put me off them almost for life. I carried the physical and psychological scars for many years. I would occasionally meet individual dogs with whom I was able to strike up a friendship but, in general, it was a case of “once bitten, twice shy.” It has only been in recent years that I have been able to shake off this fear.

My first animal that was all mine rather than a family pet was a goldfish. You might think that you couldn’t bond with a fish but I was very fond of mine. I could see the flash of orange as he swam round his tank and I enjoyed buying him a little castle with which to adorn the floor of his aquarium.

He started off all by himself but soon acquired a companion. Our next-door neighbours had cats and a goldfish, which is not a good combination. One day they came upon one of the cats fishing in the tank. They literally rescued the fish from his paw (you could see the claw marks) and gave him to us for safekeeping. We popped him in the tank with our fish and there he made a good recovery, going on to live a long and, as far as we could tell, happy life.

When I was nine or ten we got a budgerigar called Bobby. He was eccentric to say the least. He had a little bell on his cage and, rather than ringing it with his beak like any other budgie, he would put his head inside it so that it looked as though he was wearing a helmet. He loved company and would sing merrily along to whatever song I was listening to on Radio 1.

He had health problems, though, and seemed to have some difficulty breathing at times. He would fly round and round the room and then land, exhausted, on the floor, wheezing loudly.

His favourite perch when outside his cage was the bald patch on top of my father’s head. We called it his “lunar landing pad” (moon landings were all the rage just then). Bobby would sit there on top of Dad’s head all through mealtimes, observing us and chirping away.

Then poor Bobby the budgie developed gout. We joked that this was because, when we stayed at my grandmother’s, we hung his cage above her drinks cabinet, where she kept her bottles of port.

Unfortunately, Bobby didn’t find much amusement in this development. His poor feet became deformed, so that he could no longer grasp anything properly. When he tried to sit on his perch, he would fall off in a flurry of feathers. He took to sitting on the piece of cuttlefish which was attached to the outside of his cage. He would then stick his beak through the bars and nibble morosely on the piece of cuttlefish extending inside his home.

Those were the animals we had at home when I was little. Next week, I’ll tell you about the pets we had at school.