A non-existent parrot

The price of fame


In the 90s I lived in London with my sister. This was in Charlton, near Greenwich. At the same time I had a column in the Big Issue. It was literally a column: the whole length of the page, one column wide, appearing on the outer edge. It was called, naturally enough, “On The Edge”.

It had a black and white picture of me at the top, with long hair and a beard, laughing into the camera’s eye. It was tight cropped, so all you could see was my face, framed by my hair. It was mischievous picture. I had a mischievous grin on my face.

Very soon after moving to London I started to get recognised. It was my only moment of fame. People would see me on the street, or on the tube, or in a pub somewhere, and clock me. They would do a double-take. They’d look, and then look again. Occasionally they would even talk to me.

An observational point: when someone recognises you their pupils grow large. It’s like the pupils open up just that little bit to take in more light, like the brain needs confirmation of what the eye’s just seen and increases the pupil size to take in more light in order to get more information.

One day it was this handsome young black dude with braids in his hair, called Antonio. He said, “are you a writer or something? Do you write for the Big Issue?” We spent a pleasant 15 minutes or so on the train to Lewisham, and that was that. I enjoyed that little taste of recognition, not least because it whiled away a brief moment of time on an otherwise boring train journey.

Later there was a man in a pub I’d taken to frequenting, in Charlton Village. He’d look at me and his pupils would go huge, like deep, black pools in his eyes. He kept staring at me. I was waiting for the inevitable question, the one asked by Antonio, and a few others since arriving in London: “Do you write for the Big Issue?”

Instead he said, “look at the state of you.”

“Whaddya mean?” I said.

“You should get your hair cut, you cunt,” he said.

There’s not much you can say to that. This went on for weeks. He’d stare at me, his pupils would expand, and he’d make some unexpected comment.

Eventually I confronted him. “Why do you keep staring at me? Do you think you know me or something?”

“’Course I do,” he said. “Years ago. You sold me a parrot.”


“A parrot. You remember. A parrot. Red and white thing. Beady eyes. Used to bite my finger. I taught it to swear. You remember.”

It was a statement not a question. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Listen,” I said, “I’ve never had a parrot in my life, let alone sold one, let alone to you. I’ve only just moved to London, and I never saw you outside this pub.”

“Well you must have a twin,” he said. “I’m sure I bought a parrot from you.”

“Sorry mate, I think you’re thinking of someone else.”

So that was it, the only brief moment of fame in my life and all it turned into was a conversation about a non-existent parrot…

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