Ah, that got your attention. I decided to revert back to my Christmas present “Dear Dad – journal of a lifetime” and see what the next question is. And it is all about pets.
So, without any ‘fur’ ther ado…
The first pets I recall were a couple of budgies that my mum had – a beautiful blue one, such a vibrant colour, and a parrot green one – both called Joey I think. Both would fly around the living room when mum let them out, and they would fight to get them back in their cage – never let anyone fool you that birds can be trained like dogs. These would fly up on the pelmet, use the facilities (you know what I mean) and then march up and down fluttering between curtain rail and chandelier. Mum would race round with a wet cloth wiping the pelmet before it stained.
Next door at number 24, Grandma Burch used to keep a large white rabbit in a tiny hutch. I don’t quite recall but I’m sure it ended up in a wheelbarrow being carted off for someone else to look after. It WAS huge.
Grandma Burch also kept budgies and she had a spectacular one at one point that could really talk and mimic people. But not if you looked at it. If you faced the other way, it would chatter along for hours. Unfortunately my Uncle Colin taught it many things that it really shouldn’t be repeating in public.
My first pet that I recall was a goldfish – we would often win them at the local fair, and I had my little tub of ant egg fish food which we used to sprinkle in each day. Of course, fish don’t live long, and I soon found myself on a regular basis parcelling it up in a Matchbox toy car box and burying it the garden. Mum and Dad soon got fed up with this and started flushing the dead ones down the loo, much to my great protestations.
Eventually as I grew up, as all kids do, they wander past the local pet shop and spy the hamsters in the window. I had to have one and sure enough before I knew it, Hammy was here to stay. Except he wasn’t. He soon figured out how to open his cage door – an amazing task as he swung out over the roof bars, paw over paw, and just hung there clinging on with his little fingers while his powerful jaws worked on unclipping the door, after which he would somehow manage to swing his whole body up and through the opening. His regular haunt would be to run down from his vantage point on top of the twin tub washer, jump down and squeeze down by the side of the kitchen sink.
Fortunately his favourite snack was peanuts still in their shells, and we found that if we tied a monkey nut to a piece of wool, we could throw it into the gap and as we dragged it back out, Hammy would be firmly attached to the nut. Often we would just lift him up still clinging on to the shell, and drop him back in his cage. Mum would tie up the cage with wool to no avail, he would just chew through the wool, while still hanging on with two hands.
Hammy eventually died one winter, in the freezing cold of our unheated kitchen, and was buried in a Philips Philishave box at the top of our garden. We learned afterwards that he had probably just hibernated and we had buried him alive. I like to think that maybe he managed to burrow out of the box and dig a tunnel out again before he suffocated…
That was my last pet in my own house but my Grandma and Grandad at Blidworth had a little Jack Russell called Patch who was my best friend for many years. I would train him to do tricks and often collected him and took him for long walks in the forests behind the Jolly Friar pub. One year, when I was about 15, my mum told me that they had taken Patch to my Aunty Eunice and Uncle Joe’s house in Forest Town, where he often went out to roam on an open field behind their house. On this occasion though he hadn’t come back. I was very upset.
Above : Grandad Len with Patch amongst his vegetable patch.
Below : Patch – my best mate for a long time. He loved his dog biscuits.
I was even more upset when I was about 30 and it suddenly dawned on me that he hadn’t run off at all!
Since then we have had our own fair share of pets in our own house – We had our own Joey, more than one hamster, numerous fish, and although I wouldn’t and still won’t succumb to having a dog we did get into rabbits in a big way.
Our first rabbit Spike was very tame and often laid between the girls on the carpet watching TV, before eventually being put back outside in his hutch each evening. Unfortunately one year we found the cage door open, and after a brief search, found Spike buried under shallow woodchip, a distinct wound at the back of his neck – A sure sign that a fox had managed to get the cage open and drag him away.
After that we kept our rabbits indoors, first Fudge, who met an untimely end due to digestion issues – and after that we became experts in nursing sick rabbits who had managed to interrupt their normal digestive cycle.
Of course the most memorable of them all was Alfie, who lived with us a very long time, survived many a life threatening illness by constant nursing, and remained a loved member of the household until the fateful day that we found he had an inoperable tumour on his tongue. It’s always hard making the final decision, but you can’t let them suffer.
Alfie loved being stroked, although hated being picked up (in common with most rabbits). He especially gravitated towards children and Freya and Poppy spent many a hour with him. In the house, Alfie loved nothing more than to find a juicy cable and start stripping the insulation. How he didn’t blow himself up, start a fire or electrocute one of us we’ll never know. Outside, in our now rabbit proof garden where there was no possibility of escape except for arduous tunnelling under the fence, his favourite spot was hiding behind the hydrangeas, lazing on the lawn in the sun or nibbling the buds off of our freshly planted Marigolds.
In the evenings, he would do this rabbit thing (I’ve seen it at work) where just as dusk came and the sun set, he would suddenly start racing around the garden and leaping vertically in the air.
At night, you could shout “Alfie, bedtime” and he would come running from wherever he was hiding, race across the decking, jump up through the french doors and climb back into his house cage. Except the nights when he fancied staying out all night, upon which it was a battle of wills for myself, Kimberley and Kirsty to patiently poke and prod the bushes until he came out of hiding, after which we would corral him up the lawn and through the french door. Except it didn’t always work that way and we would spend many hours having him run circles around us. I expect he found it amusing. Normally, as it went totally dark, he would eventually realise it wasn’t so safe and he would come to the now closed french doors and stand there until we opened it and let him back in.
He was tame, never bit anyone, very house trained, used his own cat litter tray, and we even managed to teach him to strip the wallpaper. Which was a bad move has he then proceeded to strip the new wallpaper too…
Although deeply missed, he was quickly replaced with Olly, Kirsty’s pet really, who now lives with Kirsty and Alun in their own home.
We’ve not had the urge to fill the place on the carpet with another cage – I’m quite happy not to have the mess (masses of soft hair floating around and blocking up the air vents on our AV equipment) and the lack of damage to our cables and wallpaper is a bonus that I don’t wish to give up. Olly occasionally returns for a short vacation, but I’m sure he prefers his new home and his new little playmate.
But hey, who knows what will happen in the future…