Having attempted to eat Goldie 1 and unwittingly half-throttled Goldie 2 (See last week’s blog / Pt. 1) into early retirement I decided to down-scale somewhat with my next pet and acquired a hamster. He was a very lovely little hamster, with little dark beady hamster eyes and brown – almost ginger – and white hamster fur and very sharp little hamster front teeth, which he used to sink into my fingers at every opportunity, as hamsters are often wont to do (that’s fingers generally, not my fingers specifically. Or, at least, I think it is (?)).
I can’t actually remember, but I’d hazard an educated guess he was named ‘Hammy’, after the famous hamster on ‘Tales of the Riverbank’, as that was the only point of reference available to me hamster-wise in that era. Today’s child, gifted with an hamster, would, I imagine, apply similar logic and name their new pet ‘Richard’ after that snivelling little wankspanner Hammond off of Top Gear, but before his emergence on TG, and excluding a brief interlude in the early to mid-eighties when every speccy skoolkid named their pet SPG in homage to Ade Edmonson (IMO the Harry Worth of alternative comedy), ‘Hammy’ was pretty much the universally accepted name for all hamsters, and being a bear of very little brain that would have been good enough for me.
So Hammy and I happily co-habited for a while (apart from the odd nipped finger and tetanus injection) and I cheerfully lavished upon him all my love and affection; carefully tearing my Beano and Dandy comics into little shreds to supply him with bedding and foregoing the occasional Park Drive I could buy from Jack Wilson (yes, grocer’s really did sell individual cigarettes to primary age school kids back in those days) to spend any money I could cadge from my older brothers and sisters on whatever the hamster equivalent of ‘Trill’ was back then. [Trill, for any of you too young to remember, ‘made budgies bounce with health’ - an advertising claim I would have probably investigated further had a budgie been available to me as a six year old, undoubtedly with catastrophic and traumatic effects for both budgie and me.]
I would love to report that Hammy lived a happy and fulfilled life before gently slipping away in his dotage while being ministered to by his devoted and loving owner. I’d love to, but I can’t. What actually happened was that I broke the fishbowl I used to keep him in while I was cleaning his cage out, and after placing him in temporary accommodation afforded by a box of cotton wool my sister kept in the bathroom cabinet got distracted for an hour or so by something pressing on TV (I’m guessing ‘Stingray’, as at five I had a powerful crush on ‘Marina Aqua-Marina’ the underwater breathing mer-lady who Troy Tempest had his eye on, the bastard). After Stingray finished I had a quick cold shower and got back to my cage cleaning duties, but when I went to return Hammy to his nice, warm bed I found him (sniff) dead.
Turned out the my sister’s box of cotton wool wasn’t a box of cotton wool at all, but a box of tampons. For whatever reason, Hammy had decided that they looked quite tasty and nibbled a few of them, and had ‘expanded width ways and length ways up to three times’ his original size. I buried him in a shoebox (he wouldn’t fit in a matchbox – not even the ‘kitchen sized’ one my mum kept by the cooker for lighting the gas rings) under the ‘magic tree’ up the garden. I know he ascended to heaven, because I found the empty box the following morning. The next door neighbour’s cat hung around for the next few days, too, to comfort me, which I think was God’s way of telling me Hammy was happy.
I can’t remember what came next in the way of pets, but I think it might have been my stick insects. They were given to me by a neighbour who’d been ‘growing’ them in a tank in his bedroom. They’d been breeding all over the place, so he gave me about half a dozen to start my own collection. I hadn’t got a tank to put them in, but had a biggish pickled egg jar I’d scrounged from the local chip shop that only faintly smelled of vinegar after several careful washes. I made some holes in the top with a fork, lined the lid with mum’s pudding cloth (spotted dick for the use of), filled it with privet and Bob’s yer uncle.
The stick insects seemed quite happy for the first hour or so, but were less active than I’d imagined they might be. With hindsight, of course, that’s pretty much par for the course as far as stick insects go, but I think I was confusing them with grasshoppers or crickets and had been expecting more in the hopping from branch to branch department. Think squirrels or spider monkeys, and that’s more the kind of thing I had in mind. After a further hour or so of major inactivity I came to the conclusion that they were bored and in need of stimulation, and given that it was such a lovely day I decided to treat them to a holiday, so released them to wander freely over the entire range of our privet hedges.
At this point the Ice Cream man arrived, and I rushed indoors to demand money with menaces from mum for a Lord Toffingham. She took some convincing, but finally relented when I held her favourite china shire horse over the hard brick hearth of the fireplace and suggested it would be a ‘pity’ if it were to happen to slip from my hand. By the time I’d finished my Lord Toffingham my stick insects had cunningly blended themselves into the foliage of the privet, never to be seen again…
Hammy 2 was another very lovely little hamster. His eyes and teeth were very reminiscent of Hammy 1, but his fur was darker and I think there was some white in the mix too. I’m not sure if Hammy 2 actually belonged to me, or whether I was charged by some lunatic teacher who hadn’t really thought it through with the task of caring for him through the school holidays. Either way, I was very, very careful for the 48 hours or so I was caring for him before his disappearance to ensure he didn’t meet with any unfortunate sanitary product related accidents.
He was a chipper little fella, I remember, and would hang from the bars at the top of his cage by his little front paws (Claws? Hands?) swinging merrily back and forth. It was probably this that led me to cast him in the leading role of my upcoming back garden production of ‘Blondin the Death Defying Wire Walker’ scheduled for the following day.
We had been learning about Blondin at school, and I’d been so taken with his exploits that I’d been reliving them by walking up and down the length of a skipping rope laid flat on the path in our back garden. I’d tried walking along the washing line, but after several misses jumping for it from the roof of the shed (12 stitches and two very sore and swollen goolies, I seem to remember) had given up on that idea, but not on the project itself. Hammy 2 presented me with a golden (hamster) opportunity to fulfil my fantasy of recreating Blondin’s famous stroll across Niagara falls without any further risk of personal injury, and in devising my miniaturised ‘stage’ interpretation I also saw an opportunity to make some much needed pocket money (I was addicted to Lord Toffinghams by this stage… If they’re ever reintroduced, remember the wise words of Tucker and his cohorts and ‘Just Say No’) by charging other kids on the estate a penny a pop to come and watch.
With a piece of string tied between the backs of two kitchen chairs I recreated Blondin’s tightrope, then placed mum’s washing up bowl on the ground beneath it. I hadn’t filled it with water at this point, assuming Hammy 2 deserved at least a couple of dry runs before going for the biggy. I intended creating the ‘falls’ by pouring additional water from a number of saucepans at various points on the crossing, and had even loaded a washing-up liquid bottle for use as a water pistol with the intention of creating a realistic ‘spray’ effect around the halfway point, and had worked out several angles that would give the paying audience a clear and thrilling view while ensuring that Hammy 2 remained completely dry and safe throughout.
But alas, as with the majority of best laid plans of mice, men and hamsters, things did not go the way I had envisaged, and on the first dummy run Hammy 2 slipped from the tightrope, hit the edge of the bowl beneath and bounced directly into the long grass running alongside the garden path. I saw a couple of blades twitching and lunged to grab him, but despite his fall he was remarkably fast and slipped between my probing fingers. I called his name for over an hour, but he must have had a hearing problem. The only thing I succeeded in attracting was next door’s cat again, who this time seemed to playing with an old sock or glove he’d found, the silly beggar. I dunno, cat’s, eh? Daft or wot?
Anyoldhoo – suffice to say that Hammy 2 never reappeared. There never was, as far as I can remember, a Hammy 3, but I did acquire a rabbit at some point who lived in a big old radiogram I converted with some chicken wire, a couple of sheets of plywood and some six inch nails. It was about six foot wide (the radiogram, not the rabbit, you eejit!) and had speaker cabinets at either end with a centre section that housed all the ‘guts’ of the radio and one of those clonking great 16-78rpm turntables in the middle.
Having stripped out the interior, I replaced the cloth covers of the speaker holes with chicken wire and ‘knocked through’ the centre section to make it into one big open plan living area (tres desirable, and well ahead of its time). You gained access to the hutch by lifting the lid of the radiogram, which weighed about three ton, and leaning in over the top, which made cleaning a bit of a nightmare but was much easier for a boy with limited design skills and DIY ability to knock up than a traditional ‘front loader’. Even then it took me many hours and several lost fingernails (I was more miss than hit when it came to hammer control) to construct the hutch to my satisfaction, but in the end I was very well pleased with the result, and so, it initially seemed, was ‘Fluffy’, or whatever his/her name was.
It took about two days for the flaw in my design to make itself apparent, but by the time it did it was already too late. While I’d been very careful about filling in all the gaps around the speaker enclosures etc with plywood and nails I’d overlooked the fact that the floor of the cabinet was made of hardboard. After 48 hours the combination of rabbit’s piss and rodent teeth (they’re rather given to chewing, them dang wabbits!) had left a hole big enough for a great dane to disappear through, let alone a bunny. Fluffy, unlike next door’s cat, was never seen again.
Well, we’ve covered fish, hamsters, stick insects and rabbits, but as my son’s just got home from school and is demanding food I’ll leave the birds and pussies for another day. I’ve had a few guineapigs and gerbils and other things along the way, but anecdotes regarding them – even if you’re as cavalier regarding the quality of your anecdotes as I am – are a little bit thin on the ground.
So next time, possibly, if I can be arsed, it’ll be birds and pussies. And no, that is not a euphemism – SHAME ON YOU – IT’S NOT 1980 YOU KNOW!