Sunday, 7 February 2010

The curse of the daily parrot

I don't know about you, but I find that nicknames can be funny, yet even the funniest can have a cruel edge to them if you look hard enough. The first nickname I ever had, which stuck to me for a couple of years in Primary School, was Squirrel. Now, on the face of it, you could say I earned this one fair and square. At the time, the only squirrels in Liverpool's parks and gardens were the native red ones, and I had red hair. But the edge was this: squirrels hoard their food and the other kids were making fun of the fact that I carefully hung onto every rubber band, pencil, crayon, piece of paper and bit of string I could find. My pockets bulged with old conkers from the year before. I kept stray gloves I'd found, hoping to find its mate. People knew they could come to me if they ever needed a sticking plaster, peppermint or spare hanky. I was a walking village store. I was just like my dad, who hoarded things in the shed in case they should ever 'come in useful'.

My grammar school days were, miraculously, nickname free. Scroll forward to my second job as an advertorial writer for the Kilburn Times in North-West London. Here, I became known as Lorn the Porn. This moniker was extremely clairvoyant because it would be another eight years before I actually started writing freelance smut for men's magazines to supplement my income. The tag 'Porn' was partly to do with the fact that it rhymed with 'Lorn', partly to do with the fact that I loved a dirty joke, but mainly to do with the office trip to a sauna. This was the free-lovin' 1970s and a unisex sauna opened in Swiss Cottage. They offered the newspaper staff a free visit in return for what they hoped would be some free advertorial. Naturally, as a crowd of high-spirited twenty-somethings, we couldn't wait to disrobe in the steamy pine cubicle. And guess whose fluffy white towel fell off? Next day, I found a salacious limerick propped on my typewriter, all about a young lady called Lorna who was a peculiar species of fauna and had an affair in the sauna! (Did I? I can't remember - but then, we did bring some bottles of wine in with us as well...)

My next job was for a rock music magazine. I shared an office with five guys and gained the nickname Polly Parrot. This was deserved, according to them, because of the way I dressed in bright, clashing colours and the way I squawked to my friends down the phone. They devoted an entire wall in the office to anything remotely 'parrotic': labels from Polyfilla and Polyhose, pictures of me with a parrot's head stuck over my own, etc. I became very friendly with the editor and his wife Louise, a friendship that endured through their split-up and her subsequent remarriage, until her death last year, and for thirty whole years they called me Parrot, Polly, or Prott, sending me birthday cards with parrots on, and presents with a parrot connection.

Fast-forward to the late '80s and a boyfriend who, noting my predilection for orange jam on toast in the mornings nicknamed me Marmalade. No cruel edge to that one, unless it indicated that my once flaming red locks were by now fading to a kind of red-gold colour. That one stuck for a while. In fact, I really liked it. It was far better than that allotted me by a guy with whom I had a very short-lived relationship, who used to call me Fuck-Nose, a pun on the fact that when we were driving, I could never read a map and always got us lost, so that when asked where we were, the answer was... Why he changed the spelling, I just don't know. Maybe he couldn't spell. It was certainly nothing to do with soixante-neuf!

Yesterday, I read my daughter's Facebook page and found a friend of hers had posted a comment saying, 'Have fun on your birthday with the Ginger Winger.' I immediately assumed that meant me, as I was supposed to be there on her birthday, and I am ginger, and yes, I do winge. Well, what would you have thought? I felt a bit upset. Nobody knows what anyone says about them behind their back, and to find out I was called the Ginger Winger stung a bit.

So I texted her and said, 'Sorry the Ginger Winger couldn't make your party.' Shortly afterwards came the reply: 'He did. He's here. He's my cat!!!!! LOLxxx.'

My over-active imagination had got the better of me on that occasion. Ginger Winger, indeed! Though it would have been rather appropriate. Just a teensy bit...

It's very sad that there is nobody to call me Parrot any longer. It became part of my personality. Parrot was my noisy, flamboyant side. When my friend and her first husband split and he knew I would no longer be visiting him like I had done frequently when they were together, he said, as a farewell, 'I am putting the curse of the daily parrot on you. You'll see a parrot every day.' It worked. I couldn't open a magazine or switch on the telly without seeing a bloody parrot!

But, there is a postscript... Ever since my friend died (this is my writer friend who died at the end of last October), there have been green parakeets visiting my garden every day. The curse of the daily parrot has been redoubled. There is always one who stands out from the flock, the one who squawks loudest, or does acrobatics from a tree branch with one beady eye on me. And when I see it, I always say, "Hello, Louise!"


Teresa Ashby said...

I love this post!

Reminds me of the scruffy seagull that used to sit on our linen post - my mum told me it was my great grandad and I used to have to say hello to him!

My mum used to call me Maria Marten (of the red barn) - I have no idea why!

Jacula said...

I know I shouldn't have laughed at your mistake over the identity of the 'ginger winger' but your daughter's friend got the spelling wrong anyway, unless the cat's a footballer. It should be Ginger Whinger.

My Mum often called me Fanny-Ann - don't know why. I went on to call my own daughter that at times. Again, I don't know why.

My ex-hubby used to call me Plum - something to do with my smooth skin. If we'd remained married into old age, I'd probably have become Prune!

Perovskia said...

Heh.. what a great post.

But, dare I ask what a 'winger' is? :)

hydra said...

Pervoskia, a winger (spelled wrong, it should be whinger) is someone who moans and grumbles a lot about everything. In Australia they often call the British 'whingeing Poms', a 'Pom' being their nickname for a Brit. They refer to the fact that when the British get to Oz they moan about everything from spiders under the toilet seat to the fact that Vegemite isn't as good as the British Marmite. (Don't know if you have an equivalent to either of those where you live. You'll have to Google it!)

hydra said...

Teresa referred to Maria Marten so I just had to look it up!
The Red Barn Murder was a notorious murder committed in Polstead, Suffolk, England, in 1827. A young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder. The two had arranged to meet at the Red Barn, a local landmark, before eloping to Ipswich. Maria was never heard from again. Corder fled the scene and although he sent Marten's family letters claiming she was in good health, her body was later discovered buried in the barn after her stepmother spoke of having dreamt about the murder.

Corder was tracked down in London, where he had married and started a new life. He was brought back to Suffolk, and, after a well-publicised trial, found guilty of murder. He was hanged in Bury St. Edmunds in 1828; a huge crowd witnessed Corder's execution. The story provoked numerous articles in the newspapers, and songs and plays. The village where the crime had taken place became a tourist attraction and the barn was stripped by souvenir hunters. The plays and ballads remained popular throughout the next century and continue to be performed today.

Teresa Ashby said...

The Red Barn murder has always fascinated me. I have my doubts about Corder's guilt though.

hydra said...

Teresa, why not write a novelised version of the murder!

Jacula said...

Hydra - I'm pretty sure it's already been done. I read it a while ago but can't remember the title. It was one of those series of 'quick reads' that was sold in supermarkets.

Jacula said...

Just checked - it was 'Chickenfeed' by Minette Walters. Based on the real-life ‘chicken farm murder’ of 1924, this is a gripping mystery thriller. Norman Thorne was found guilty of the murder of Elsie Cameron, but even at the time of his execution there were doubts about his guilt.

Similar, but different murder.

Teresa Ashby said...

Thank you for even thinking I could, Hydra!
I remember reading Chickenfeed too, Jacula.
I dreamt I went to Polstead last night - hm, think I need to stop thinking about barns now. Didn't help reading about a book bound in Corder's skin, his tanned scalp plus one ear and finding a picture on the internet of his death mask which shows the engorged veins in his head from the hanging. Gruesome!

Jacula said...

Teresa - you really should have a go at writing a novelised version. You seem to be halfway under Corder's skin already. (That's meant as a compliment in the writing sense, btw!)

Jacula said...

Hydra - if you want more info on the gruesome stuff here's a link: