Procol Harum

the Pale

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Dave Ball tells his tale …

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Sutton Coldfield: Catholic frogs and a stunt budgie

Our new house at 190 Rectory Road was quite splendid. It was a detached house with its own garden, which lead to a park which had magnificent woods and fields to play in. There was a local cricket ground that had a beautiful thatched pavilion (until it got burnt down! Not us… honest!)

The trees in the woods, many of them hundreds of years old, were better than any Disney World. A superb stagnant pool resided at its heart. Every year it became the breeding ground for the local frog population, and the shallows would be overflowing with the semolina-like frogspawn. We would descend on the pool armed with plastic buckets, which would be filled to the brim with the eggs. Gradually the spawn matured into tadpoles and thence to tiny baby frogs. Perfect in every detail. By the time they were in hopping mode, our garden started to look and sound like the upper reaches of the Amazon with frogs cavorting around in every direction. When Dad mowed the lawn, the mower appeared to have a bow wave. This was in fact the hapless creatures desperately trying to get out of the way of the spinning blades.

Being English frogs, their vocal abilities were not very advanced so we were spared the worst excesses of the croaking common in South American rivers. Perhaps if they had been Welsh things might have been different.

We had so many frogs that it was possible to have a couple of pockets full of them wherever we went. School; cinema; church (there’s no greater sight than to see 20 or 30 Catholic frogs hopping down the aisles for communion - I mean, ‘fair go’, all God’s creatures and all that!)

Yes, we did much to spread the amphibian population in Sutton and the surrounding areas, and to this day their descendants can be recognised by their good manners, and urbane ways, only croaking when they are spoken to and with an excellent grasp of World events and politics. I expect that eventually we will see them at the UN representing the United Frog Nations. Perhaps one will make it to General Secretary, heaven knows, they couldn’t do a worse job!

We collected other sorts of wildlife in addition to the frogs. A baby magpie; it died. A baby grey squirrel; it died. A cat called Rusty; it died (pretending to be a bit of tarmac). A budgie called Dinky; it died (under tragic circumstances, of which I will speak later). A replacement budgie called Georgie Porgie; (he didn’t die but decided that he would be safer with my Auntie Molly and her kids, where he learnt to say "Pretty Polly" with a Birmingham accent - sort of "prutty Poilly".

What else? Oh yes, we had a rabbit called Whisky; it died (in a tragic casserole accident), and then there was Fred my Tortoise. He didn’t die, but had obviously looked at our history of pet genocide and decided to high-tail it to the woods. I really should have noticed his escape, since it actually took him over a year to run away, but he made it and went to live by the old Horse Chestnut tree where he became well-known as a philosopher and poet.

I mentioned Dinky, my budgie. He was named after the famous toy cars. [That’s not relevant to his demise. I just threw it in for the human interest]. Dinky had become extremely fat and dangerously constipated. When he tried to ‘go’ he would settle down on to his perch, get a fixed expression on his face and then begin to swivel his body back and forth on the perch, reaching quite high speeds (as was evidenced by the scorch marks on the wood). Usually, there was no result and he would just stand there panting and trying to cool his bum down on his water bottle, but occasionally there would be a piercing shriek followed by a … SPLAT … that could be heard in four counties (farmers would look up from their toil in the fields and exclaim - ‘Ooo ar’, zounds loike Dinky got one away!). Anyway, the resultant parcel of compacted Trill, Millet and Cuttlefish would smack on to the tray at the bottom of the cage, where like a gob of napalm it would eat away sections of the paper lining. This was not a well bird!

Now, Dinky’s cage was positioned by a front window. This was so he could gaze out at the traffic and watch the sparrows fighting for food. (Indoor birds have always felt somewhat superior to their outdoor cousins, and Dinky was no exception to this). On that fateful day a friend of ours – Phil Benton – thinking that we would be sitting in the front room, sneaked up under the window, still wearing his motorbike helmet. His idea (which, I must say, was a good one), was to give us a bit of a fright. With a mighty YELL, and looking like an early Power Ranger, he leapt up at the glass. Well this was all too much for Dinky, who took one look and fell off his perch - stone dead.

Ah, 'twas a sad day for me. The funeral in our own pet cemetery was a tearful affair as we laid Dinky to rest amongst all of the other failed pet experiments. Perhaps in a thousand years or more, some future archaeologist will write his or her thesis on the great animal wars, and the ancient burial site found in the centre of the land once called England.

Mother told me that Dinky had died of old age, thus sparing me the tragic details. It was only after thirty years or so that she decided that I was mature enough to hear the truth (or she forgot?). Anyway, I’m over it now, and I forgive Phil …(sniff).

One addition to Dinky’s story; My Brother Den and I were talking this afternoon (29 March 2000) about who would play us in the blockbuster movie. Having sorted that out, Den wondered who might play Dinky. I suggested that we would have to bring in a stunt budgie. Just thought you should know that.

Dave Ball's page at BtP

More excerpts of the Ball autobiography

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