Incongruous

So the story goes that my friend Julia the midwife has a fascination with all things Middle Eastern.

All year round, as we studied and socialised and ate together during our university years, we would talk of what she would do when the Summer holidays began.

Once she headed out in sandals and a sensible hat with a group of friends to Egypt: for she felt she simply must see those great wonders of the world, the Egyptian antiquities. They travelled to the city of Giza and left the suburbs to see the great pyramids which have caused wonder in Britain for centuries.

As they turned their back on the city and walked, they were filled with a feeling of growing isolation. It was the end of the day, and though this meant it was cooler, it also meant most people had gone back to their hotels to idle with a cocktail.

It was silent and warm and when she stood at the foot of one of the great wonders of the world, she was filled with awe.

But the walk had taken its toll and she and her friends were incredibly thirsty. They had a little water left but it must be conserved for the walk back. Thirst is such an elemental thing in that desiccated place: and Julia could soon think of nothing else but a cool glass of something refreshing. She could no more enjoy the pyramids than a marathon runner could stop and savour the passing architecture.

The need for a long cool drink became so overpowering that she could think of only one thing: to pray for a drink. It was a faint hope: there was not a soul for miles around. Even if one believed in a God, the likelihood of something turning up was infinitesimally small.

Just as she had muttered a few parched words the most incongruous figure rounded the pyramids.

It was a man on a camel: a local, it seemed. And he was shouting something: “Coca cola! Coca cola!”

The group hailed him enthusiastically and their thirst was soon quenched. My friend said Coca cola has never tasted as heavenly as that day, out in the desert, when a solitary man on a camel delivered it from behind a pyramid.

Truth, my good friends, is stranger than fiction. The camel coke salesman was incongruous: out-of-place; absurd.

A thought which struck me today, as I strolled through the great park which surrounds Windsor Castle, gazing up at a set of blatant interlopers whose presence one could not invent. It is too bizarre for words.

We are not a land of exotic birds. We love our sparrows and our crows, and get excited about the scarlet flash of a woodpecker, or the grey-and-peach livery of that treescaling nuthatch.

So when a flock of bright green parakeets settled along the Thames it caused quite a stir.

No one knows how a male rose-ringed parakeet and a female rose-ringed parakeet first found romance on British soil: but it has spawned a fabulous mine of urban myth.

One hypothesis posits that Jimi Hendrix brought them into the country; another that they escaped from a crate at Heathrow airport; and my favourite, that they were thespian parrots who scarpered from Shepperton Studios in Surrey in 1951, during the making ofย The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

Whatever the reason, they seem here to stay. A government enquiry has been launched. Some worry that the assertive birds might takeover the habitats inhabited by our woodpeckers and nuthatches.

Their numbers- estimated at 30,000 and rapidly expanding – are perplexing the gentle English ornithological community and causing riotous amusement with local punters

Surrey goalie Huw Mellor told the BBC: “I remember very well the first time I saw one, it was during a local football match about four years ago in which I was playing goalkeeper. I got distracted by this flash of green dashing from one tree to another. The opposition took advantage and scored. We ended up losing the game. Damn parrot.. ”

This afternoon we watched a flock of eight or so screeching happily in the sunshine, sitting on the Queen’s trees as if they owned the place.

Incongruous: but getting those little birdie talons under the table.ย Our friends will only be incongruous for as long as it takes for us to become accustomed to their face.

In 1675, playboy King Charles II was gifted a rather unusual present.

His royal gardener, John Rose, presented him with the first pineapple grown in England.

The event was so noteworthy that it was recorded in a painting byย Hendrik Danckerts. Charles and his gardener must have stood very still, presenting the pineapple for hours on end.

This fruit was exotic, absurd, incongruous: and where the King led, the smart set followed. By 1720 the hothouses of the wealthy were devoted to growing the sweetest fruit in its bizarre casing. One gentleman, at Dunmore House near Falkirk, Scotland, even shaped his greenhouse like an enormous pineapple.

Downstairs, as I type, a pineapple sits on the working surface waiting for preparation. It will go into the children’s packed lunch boxes tomorrow, as familiar as the wholemeal bread sandwich which will snuggle up in the Dr Who lunchbox until the middle of the day.

The absurd is only absurd as long as it is unfamiliar.

How long before the Queen has a portrait painted with bright green parakeets?

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23 thoughts on “Incongruous

  1. How do they survive the cold? That’s what makes them flying free seem so incongrous there.

    I wasted a morning once, working as is my wont, seated on my bed with a lovely view of treetops, when a flash of something brilliant quite far off attracted my attention. Several hours later, my Roberts book of birds and binocs at the ready, I identified the European bee eaters in a gang (as is their wont) in the willow alongside the spruit. They are relatively common here but they were the first I had seen, therefore they took all my time and attention.

    1. Clearly a memorable moment, Sidey. It is always glorious to spot something really different. In our garden we only get sparrows, dunnocks, members of the tit family and nuthatches with the odd woodpecker or jay thrown in for good measure. I’m waiting for the parakeets to reach us!

  2. I love how you got from Egypt to London via parakeets and coke.

    You speak truth. The ubiquitous American grey squirrel has almost seen off our native Red, but I love them anyway; they are a part of my landscape.

    1. I love grey squirrels. They attempt daring feats of acrobatics on my washing line in pursuit of the nut feeders which tempt them. Once there they use strong arm tactics to prize open the feeder….fabulous interlopers!

  3. I’m a bird-lover, and I would absolutely adore having a few parakeets show up in my garden! I do know what danger can come from non-indigenous species invading foreign territory – much like plants brought in from other countries – supposedly for good reasons – have taken over certain parts of the country and become incredible nuisances – i.e. KUDZOO! The scourge of the South, and it is creeping (no pun intended) farther North all the time.

    Do people domesticate the parakeets, if they manage to catch one, or find a foundling baby? I would, I think! ๐Ÿ˜€ But I’d get a pair, most probably – they do like to nuzzle one another.

    1. Apparently Kudzu is edible: if man turned predator I wonder how long it would last?

      Never heard of someone domesticating a parakeet, Paula, but it could well have happened already knowing Blighty. There’s probably a municipal by-law against it somewhere… ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Charles and his gardener standing still (or kneeling, as the case may be – my knees are sore just thinking about it!) for that length of time is wonder enough, but imagine trying to get that little dog to behave himself for the duration? – Sure glad ‘they’ (not Chas. & JR) had the foresight to invent a proper camera, and the digital one at that – makes painting (well, ‘sitting’) so much easier… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. The pineapple would get awful heavy after a while, wouldn’t it, Ruth? And as for the dog I can only surmise some form of adhesive was used ๐Ÿ˜€ If the camera had been invented in Charles’s time I would love to see the photographic record of his reign…zoo animals in the tower of London…all night parties….

  5. I loved the image of a camel toting a coke salesman around the corner of a pyramid. Wonderful.

    His appearance reminded me of a post about the bagpiper that appeared in our isolated campground . . . just as we were discussing our desire to visit Scotland:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/a-lone-piper-in-the-mist/

    I love watching wild parrots flying about. I wonder how they grew so great in numbers in London, given the cooler temps they must endure?

    1. Apparently they’re quite hardy, and we’ve had a lot of mild winters before the last two which helped them get their talons under the table.

      Just read the Lone Piper In the Mist – what a beautiful piece. And just as incongruous. Did you ever go to Scotland?

    2. Not yet.

      At the moment, our travel funds are a bit limited. I donโ€™t want to go and then not be able to do, see, and taste everything that appeals . . . we will be able to save a bit of money for Scotch by skipping the Haggis.

      1. If you ever come over you must needs alert the Shrewsday household ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a Shrewsday brother living opposite Mull on the mainland in a fishing cottage by the sea….

      2. Excellent! I love islands and mainlands across from islands.

        I definitely plan to fit in the Orkney Isles since my grandmother and great aunt spent many summers there with their paternal grandmother.

  6. It is amazing what we can get used to, accepting as normal what another generation would have gawped at.
    I vaguely remember a clip where I think Rowan Atkinson says, something along the lines of
    “So, you take these leaves and you dry them? And then you roll then up? And set light to them? And breathe in the smoke? Pull the other one.”

    Maybe I have imagined it?

    There was his potato sketch

    and I suppose the potato was incongruous in its time?

  7. First off, the parched scene with the coke bearing camel rider brought me to fits of laughter. So out of place and so welcome at the same time. Oh, Kate, your telling just “tickled me ribs”.

    These parrots build enormous nests and take over neighborhoods with their beautiful colors – and their bullying ways. All it takes is two, of course, and then they colonize. We had them in the neighborhood of our first house and they were quite a nuisance once they became commonplace.

    I’m off to eat some pineapple.

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