This was the only English – or mostly English – phrase Wordsworth seemed to know. Undaunted Aunt Irene applied all of her formidable elocution-teaching experience to his re-education. He would have to speak English if they were going to communicate, since she had no means of learning his language. Wordsworth proved a quick learner; he had an uncanny knack of saying approximately the right thing at approximately the right time.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends,” he said, if anyone went to the bathroom.
“Polly put the kettle on,” he sang, as My Aunt headed for the kitchenette.
“Goes around, comes around,” he would pronounce as you were getting up to leave. He was a bit of a brute, Wordsworth, but also a bit of a charmer. I was becoming quite fond of him myself, and Aunt Irene – well, she was besotted. I noticed how much better she had begun to look. She’d been and got her hair sorted out, the TV was off and the bedroom-slippers had disappeared.
The one thing my aunt did not seem to be able to teach Wordsworth was his home address.
“Where do you live, eh?” she would ask him, and he would unfailingly respond “Where do you live, eh?”
This exasperated Aunt Irene. It seemed to be a slur on her professional abilities. “I’ve repeated this address until I’m blue in the face. It’s not as if I was expecting him to remember the postcode!
“All these years of tutoring urchins brought up on Home And Away not to go up at the end of a sentence, yet I am unable to persuade a parrot – a very intelligent parrot in many ways -,” she said, looking sideways at Wordsworth, “- to repeat his address. What happens if you get lost, Wordsworth? How are you going to get back home to Mummy?”
A month or two later, the worst happened.
It was a hot, stuffy day and Aunt Irene opened the window to let some fresh air in, then decided to clean out Wordsworth’s cage whilst he perched on the top, overseeing the operation. Inevitably, she got distracted by children hammering on the front door and as soon as her back was turned, Wordsworth seized his opportunity. She spotted him, poised on the windowsill, but before she could get to him he was out of the open window and doing a long, slow glide down over Tottenham. She was beside herself.
“He has to remember his address. How is he going to tell people where his Mummy lives? Oh, the poor little chap. What if he should be set upon by the ravens from the Tower of London, or blown off-course in a tempest and end up in the Thames?”
A trifle melodramatic, perhaps, but it was no laughing matter. Aunt Irene was genuinely distraught. Unfortunately, apart from informing the police and the RSPCA, there wasn’t much either of us could do.
“Why not leave that window open,” I suggested. “The weather’s warm, and it doesn’t open directly onto the balcony, so you should be safe enough from intruders. Wordsworth might just come back of his own accord. Maybe he’s just decided to go on a little holiday.”
I didn’t really believe it, though.