Gwladys the Actress Penguin

Enjoying the penguin in the John Lewis Christmas advert? Think it’s a bit far fetched? Here’s a true story written in 1982 by the Irish writer, Theodora Fitzgibbon.

Gwladys was a rara avis in the true sense because she was an actress penguin. She had starred in a film called ‘To Brighton with a Bird’ and it was in a film studio that I had first met her and her owner. Her owner had expressed to me her concern to find a home for Gwladys for two weeks while she went away. Gwladys hated other penguins, preferred human company, therefore a zoo was out of the question. On the spur of the moment I said I would look after her. The fish should have warned me but, having been in hospital, had put it right out of my mind.

Brian’s large enquiring eyes opened even wider when I bought Gwladys into the kitchen in my arms. He sipped his gin. Gwladys wriggled when she smelt the fish so I put her on the floor. She waddled over to the open barrel and very rapidly swallowed down several large fish. Spying the gin glass on top of the unopened barrel, Gwladys walked over to it and in a flash the beak was in and the gin was gone. She looked up at us, turned round and walked unsteadily out of the room.

We followed her along the corridor as, unerringly, she went into the bathroom, hoisted herself up onto the side of the bath, and tugged at the taps. As the water gushed out she chortled, rolled and splashed about in ecstasy.

It was a tumultuous two weeks, for there were many times when the flat looked like a second-rate lagoon. The gin had to kept under lock and key; the bathroom door locked. Once, we came back to find the place awash, the floors intricately patterned with tiny wet webbed-feet. She was a full time job. Nevertheless, it was worth it when she sat on my lap in the evening, her beak nestled under my ear as I read my book. Brian liked the surrealist ‘mother and child’ effect, saying it almost made him want to take up photography again, had he possessed a camera.


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