Parrot sketch

Alexander Cockburn, in quasi-sentimental mood..

I was nearly 30 and yearned for escape. I could see English politics stretching drearily ahead. After Wilson’s return there would be James Callaghan. After Callaghan, Michael Foot. After Foot, Neal Kinnock. After Kinnock…One day in the late summer of 1972 I had occasion to be in the portion of south London known as Balham. It was hot, and the streets infinitely dreary. I must get away, I muttered to myself, like Razumov  talking to Councillor Mikulin  in Conrad’s Under Western Eyes.

I turned in the direction of the subway station. A dingy sign caught my eye, in a sub-basement window. Parrot readings. I was puzzled. Surely it should be Tarot. I knocked, and the sibyl, in Indian saree, greeted me. She had tarot cards and a parrot, a method of divination with an ancient lineage in India. She dealt the cards. The parrot looked at them, then at me, then at the fortune teller. Some current of energy passed between them. The sybil  paused,  then in a low yet vibrant voice, bodied forth the future to me , disclosing what lay ahead in British public life. Her lips curved around the as yet unfamiliar words “New Labor”. Falteringly, raising her hands before her eyes in trembling dismay at the secret message of the cards, she described a man I know now to have been Tony Blair. I paid her double, then triple as, amid the advisory shrieks of the parrot, she poured out the shape of things to come.

Within a week, obeying the promptings of the parrot, I had booked a flight to New York and a new life. Ahead of me lay a vast political landscape, seemingly of infinite richness and possibility. Never for a moment have I regretted my journey westward. That parrot in Balham had read the cards correctly. It is probably still alive, and I’m sure that if I were to return for another consultation, it would cry out, “I could have told you so”, and cackle heartily as it described the blasted expectations raised by Democrats stretching from Carter to Clinton…

Thanks to Godfrey Boyle for spotting it.