“HE is good at bad language - my brother Eugene is teaching him that. He can do cats and birds. And he always says ‘Bye, see ya’, when I’m going out to work.”
John A. Murphy, a lifelong resident of the Waterfall area, is telling me all about his thirty-plus-year-old South African red-tail parrot, Charlie. They are the latest pet owner and pet to feature in our new series My Pet and Me.
“If the phone rings he will always say ‘Hello!’ He is very intelligent. The worst part is he can count from 1 to 10 in numbers, so if I’m giving a phone number to someone, Charlie always butts in with his own numbers, and the person on the phone gets all confused,” says John.
“He can do people’s voices, but only at times. If someone is watching him then he stays quiet. He does his own thing in his own time.
“He picks up sayings from people. If he heard the same word a few times, then one day he will just shout it out when you’re not expecting it.”
Charlie arrived in the Murphy household by pure chance. John’s brother Eugene had been working in London, clearing out deserted houses, when the sound of whistling caught his attention.
“Charlie was loose on the scaffolding. They were a long time trying to catch him but eventually they threw a coat over him.
“Eugene reported the bird to the police, and they said if no-one comes forward looking for him, that my brother could keep him,” says John, who works with Foroige.
“So, he brought him home for my mother that Christmas, 1994. Our dad had died only a few months before that, so Eugene thought Charlie would keep our mum company, especially as he knew words, and could whistle the tune of Laurel and Hardy.”
But there was one problem getting Charlie across from the UK.
“The bird kept saying ‘F*** the Queen’ on the journey, so Eugene had to cover him up in the cage to keep him quiet, as the Northern troubles were bad at that time.”
John’s mother took instantly to Charlie.
“She was delighted as he was so charming and he helped her during her times of grief and when she developed dementia.
“He gave her something to focus on,” adds John.
But there’s one day, or more specifically, ten minutes of his life, that John will never forget, when it comes to his mother and Charlie.
“My mother was always trying to take the cage – our original smaller one - outside in the garden with her. One day, I came out from the toilet, and Charlie and his cage were both gone. Mum had just gone out the back door, opened the cage, and Charlie was loose. Of course, the dog jumped on him. Thankfully, he only got a red feather as he fell over him.
“Then Charlie jumped or flew a few yards up on a small bush, and the cat jumped on him. So, there I was roaring at the cat and the dog, trying to get the top of the cage over Charlie, when I realised my mother was after walking away up the road on her own. The dementia was making her lose contact with what was happening.
"So, I nearly lost the bird and my mum in the same ten minutes. I’ll never forget it.”
John grew up surrounded by pets.
“Dad had 35 dogs when I was young - all kinds of dogs. Greyhounds, terriers, and bits of everything. He was able to feed them all as he was working in the council as a binman, and he used to bring three bags of bread and food home that had been thrown out by people on his route. He got another worker to drop off the bags as my dad only ever drove a motorbike.”
It’s a quieter house these days. Both brothers were formerly engaged – “it was a bad decision, so we stayed single since. We still think we’re playboys.”
Apart from Charlie, the brothers feed three stray cats. But it sounds like they’ve their hands full with the lively Charlie, who has now been in their lives 28 years.
“Charlie likes to be rubbed in the head, but if he turns and catches your finger, then he won’t let go.
“He can be a fussy eater as well. He likes fresh fruit… bananas, oranges, and monkey nuts. His favourite food is banana chips. But, if he doesn’t like the food, then he will throw it out all over the house, so there’s lots of cleaning up the floor after him.
“If you’re eating something he wants, he’ll start banging his beak off his food tray, so he gets some too. He loves potatoes.”
When asked what Charlie has taught him about life, John answers: “Charlie has his own personality. That is very important in life. Be yourself and have your own personality rather than doing things that everyone else is doing.”