Ripping Yarns
Flaming Parrots!Flaming Parrots!

By Sam Morris

A Performance artist learns the painful lesson of never performing with children or animals

NOTE: da Management wish to make it absolutely clear that NO parrots, live, dead or stuffed, were harmed during the creation of this story. No really, trust us, they weren't — not even a virtual one..

If the parrot hadn’t died at that exact moment, I think we would have been all right. Perhaps, if we could have put the flames out quickly enough, we might have been able to continue. Just pretend it was all part of the act. But it was not to be. Poor little Pudsy the parrot lay charred and rigid as a board on the pavement, while the crowd looked on in awkward silence.

This unfortunate event happened so many years ago. Why has it reared its grilled and feathery head again after all this time? Most of the tabloid papers are running the story as a headline feature. They even have pictures for fuck's sake! I’m finished in England and once CNN and the other US networks get wind of this I’ll be finished back home as well. Why now, after all these years?

Of course, when we planned the stunt as our new grand finale, we did worry that the combination of flaming batons and live birds was perhaps not entirely wise. Indeed, as we stood transfixed by the smouldering remains of little Pudsy, we both wondered if, ‘Dave & Steve’s Extraordinary Juggling Experience,' may have pushed the boundaries of innovation a little too far this time.

Some began gagging as the smell of burning feathers wafted over then. I stood, still as the surrounding crowds, trying to remember if my tutor at the Royal Society of the Performing Arts had given me any useful advice regarding the spontaneous combustion of flying parrots. Drawing a complete blank, I turned around to look at Dave. He stared straight back at me with a slightly puzzled expression; as if somebody had asked him the time, and he was trying to remember if he’d put on his watch.

It was clear there was only one possible course of action open to us; with skills honed from years of careful practice, and the study of our art, we both turned away with prefect synchronisation and legged it.

I didn’t see Dave for years after that. In fact, it wasn’t until a few months ago our paths finally crossed again. It seems that things hadn’t gone so well for him; the guy was driving my taxi! At first he joked that he was in training for a film role. But it turned out that this was actually the poor sod’s job. Anyway he gave me his phone number and I told him I’d give him a call. What else could I do? I’ve still got it in my wallet. Might come in handy if I need a cab late one night.

Back on that fateful day it had all started out so well. The crowds had ‘oo’d’ and ‘ah’d’ in all the right places. The brightly coloured bird flew gracefully between our flaming batons. The little chap actually seemed to be enjoying himself. For the first couple of minutes he was the natural performer. Even if he did have one slightly unfortunate quirk of character. You see, we had bought Pudsy from one of the charming cockney characters who inhabited a run-down housing estate just round the corner from our hotel — Del, I think his name was. As I am sure you’re aware, parrots have an uncanny ability to mimic the familiar phrases they pick up from their owners. Steve quickly concluded that our feathered accomplice had come from what he termed, ‘a bit of a geezer.’

It was certainly true that our impressionable little parrot had picked up some rather colourful turns of phrase. As he glided iridescent through the air he would squawk things like: ‘Fuck me, look at the tits on that!’ Not that the crowds seemed to mind, perhaps it was all part of the act to them. I guess it was kind of comical at the time.

My tutor at the Royal College had told me, ‘timing, my boy, is the absolute essence of any performance.’ This advice turned out to be unerringly accurate. As Pudsy completed one of his final loops over us I threw one of my batons just a gnats whisker too high. Who would have thought Pudsy would be so flammable; how do these chaps survive in the wild? They must catch alight when a forest fire is just a vicious rumour. I swear to you, that baton barely touched him.

Anyway, whatever — that little bird expired years ago; he is an ex-parrot. A victim of what was then my embryonic desire to find new ways to woo and shock a crowd — or possibly impress my girlfriend Sharon enough to let me do her doggie fashion. I learnt a lot from that incident. It’s unfair that it has come back to haunt me. Everyone has to find their limits, and keen observers of my career would have to agree that none of my performances since have featured birds of any variety — expect for Sharon sporting a leather thong and tied to a stake, but that's another story. No matter, these British tabloid hacks will stop at nothing to pull you into the gutter with them.

All my work hard over the years now been reduced to a mere footnote in the annals of the performing arts. Freezing myself in ice, standing on top of a column for hours on end — even locking myself in a Perspex cage for a month while delinquents aimed laser sights at me (and when they got bored, golf balls). I am convinced that people came from hundreds of miles away just so they could enjoy a juicy burger in full sight of my emaciated figure. Now instead of my incredible feats of endurance entertainment, my name will be forever associated with that unfortunate, inflammatory event.

All it took was just that one picture of me, with the wild flowing hair that I had at the time, standing aghast next to the smouldering remains of a bird. Now suddenly I’m a laughing stock. I still haven’t worked out where that picture came from. But when I do, those responsible better find some reserves of endurance and have pretty deep bottoms. I am determined to have my revenge and buggering the authors of my shame with a very large tropical bird is only the beginning of it. Perhaps I could make it into a TV show and sell the rights to one of those up and coming satellite channels? Now there’s an idea. Where’s my mobile — I need to talk to my agent, NOW!

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Story © Sam Morris 2004. Picture and construction © 2004
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