There is a group of people who believe that animals can talk. Like the Flat Earth Society they're regarded as being a bunch of nutters by just about everybody else, but they're a well established club, whose numbers continue to grow.
I became a member of this odd little society many years ago because I'd always suspected that animals could speak perfectly good English, once your back is turned, and I was hoping to discover the truth.
From other members at club get-togethers I heard some amazing stories. The reason that animals keep secret the fact that they can talk is because they don't want to work. That's right. It suits them better to lie around all day waiting for the sound of the tin-opener than to go out and get a proper job. They know that if they once let on that they could speak, they'd be immediately shipped off to call centres and put to selling insurance and patio doors and advertising space. This would eat into their time, and so they play dumb. It's pure indolence.
I learned that not all animals have the same breadth of vocabulary. Gorillas don't say a lot, possibly because they don't need to, and neither do koalas, possibly because they're too stoned to. In fact wild animals in general are less chatty than their domestic cousins. We shouldn't be too surprised by this. Wild animals are usually either hunting or being hunted, and both parties do better by keeping quiet. Not a great idea to be hanging around the water-hole gossiping, and this applies whether you're a gazelle or a tiger hoping to meet a gazelle.
But domestic animals are naturally talkative, and it must be painful to them to have to just lie on the rug and keep schtum. Agony for fox-terriers, I should imagine, who really do have lots to say. Their choice, though.
Parrots are the truly clever ones. They play this dangerous game of double-bluff - pretending that they can talk a bit, but in such stupid comedy voices that we believe they're just mimicking our own. It's kind of funny, although I can't help thinking that it's demeaning for them, the parrot's natural speaking voice being such a deep and warm baritone. They sing very well too. Big Gilbert and Sullivan fans. Parrots of Penzance is practically their national anthem.
Anyway, after about twelve years of club membership, I finally heard an animal speak. I'll never forget it. It was a Friday night. I came home unaccountably late, and realised that I'd forgotten my door key. Damn. I really didn't want to wake the wife and kids. I mean, they're fond of me, but beyond 2 a.m. they're apt to forget it.
What to do? I wondered if I could get in through the cat flap. I was thinner in those days...
I'm joking of course. What I actually wondered was whether I could reach in through the cat flap and poke the door-latch up with a stick. It seemed worth a go. So I found a stick ( it was growing on a tree, funnily enough) and I knelt down and lifted the cat flap. The light was on in the kitchen, and I could see our little black cat, Charlie, lying in his basket, right next to the door. What luck!
"Hey Charlie!" I whispered. "I've forgotten my key. Give us a break and let me in."
So Charlie looks at me, and then he looks up at the Yale lock, which is about five feet from the ground. Then he looks back at me, and that's when I hear him speak. Clear as you like.
Then he just goes back to sleep! Like I said, bone idle. Fortunately for me - and for him - I was able to flip the latch up with that stick, but when I tried to demonstrate the same clever manoeuvre the next morning to my admiring family I couldn't do it. Even though I was on the right side of the door. All I got was a load of grief about how I'd broken the new plum tree that had only just been bought from the garden centre, and what a vandal I was.
No matter, because from then on I was a fully qualified member of The Club. I could hold my head up among that righteous group of believers who make it their life's work to spread tales of talking animals, despite the ridicule such activity brings. New members are always welcome, by the way. We call ourselves Children's Authors.