Hammy Houdini and other pets

If you’re not a pet owner and think such people are bonkers, then you might like to read on for pure piss-taking entertainment.

Better still, if you are or have been a pet owner, chances re you’ll recognise some of this stuff and you’ll catch my drift nicely.  Isobel of IsobelandCat fame, inspired this piece with a blog in memory of Cat

Pets have only been a big part of my life since I was 18 and old enough to look after one but I had my first pet (apart from my racing stable of woodlice) much earlier. Bobby the Dutch rabbit ate his way to freedom from the plastic confines of my dolls’ pram when I was about six years old.

It was all my fault. I didn’t really make the differentiation properly between Bobby, the live furry animal dying to escape from his temporary prison of pillow and pram blankets and my teddy bear and Towser the pink toy dog. The toys were much easier to look after, didn’t chew the electric wires in the house and didn’t produce pellets that needed clearing up.

Bobby was a perfectly nice-looking black and white rabbit but I can’t say our friendship blossomed into a relationship. He wasn’t my type. He didn’t like being cuddled and didn’t like being wheeled around in a pram. He didn’t respond to calling. All he did was nibble dandelion leaves that were offered and then thump moodily into the dark sleeping compartment of his hutch.

So my first great love was Scamp, a working-type English Springer Spaniel. I first saw him among his littermates in the flagstoned spacious kitchen of a Cotswold farmhouse. His mother was sitting looking tired and ratty-coated in the middle of a heap of puppies and a wicker dog basket chewed down to only two inches high. He was a liver and white dog who had a pedigree full of field trial champions.

Mum and I took him home (he was my 18th birthday present to myself) and dad, on the drive, who disapproved wholly, totally ignored us and the beautiful little bundle of fleas that I carried past him wrapped in a towel. Flea-treatment sorted, Scamp provided to be the puppy my father dreaded and each morning for a few months, I was woken by shouts of “Will you come and clean up after this bloody dog??!!!”

Scamp was incredibly brave and clever with a wonderfully amiable nature and he thought he was human. He never bothered with other dogs and those early games of hide and seek, where Capt Sensible and I would flee and hide behind bushes like lunatics escaped from the asylum, helped build an unbreakable bond and ensured he never let us out of his view.

His working instinct was strong but I was too young stupid and busy to do anything with it or he’d have surely been a Field Trial Champion like his relatives. As a pet he was great fun and the best hoover of any accidentally dropped or spilled foodstuffs. He accepted the two babies with aplomb, endured their ham-fisted handling and pokings and only rarely demonstrated his objection to being left alone in the kitchen by tearing up the nice rush-matting. There was an incident when he shredded the post and another where he minced a large ficus house plant but he at least had the good grace to look guilty when each misdemeanour was discovered.

When he died, very suddenly, aged 13 of kidney cancer, I couldn’t believe the huge gap he left in our household and how everyone – not just me – missed him sorely. That’s when it became evident that the pain of your dog dying is akin to losing a member of the family.

A show springer spaniel puppy called Gemma was the next to occupy the dog basket space in the kitchen. She was liver and white too and a complete sweetie from the start. Again, she was totally reliable with the boys although she didn’t have a fraction of the working instinct of Scamp but she didn’t need quite the same amount of exercise either, which fitted in better with child-rearing. She was great fun and trainable and did that “biscuit balanced on the nose” thing to perfection, tossing it and catching it on command. She was content to lie on my feet for hours, keeping them warm and me company for the years I worked from home. She got ill and died, and the advice and treatment from the vet still makes me feel angry so I can’t go into all that but suffice to say that within four months, there was a new puppy in the house, Roly, a sturdy liver and white puppy from a winning show kennels whose first action in our back garden was to race around it in circuits tearing leaves off bushes and plants. Yup, good start. 

I’ve written a lot about Rolls in the past and it’s hard to sum him up in a few short sentences but he was utterly gorgeous and cuddly; a big dope really. stupid yet cunning, hopeless yet charming, enthusiastic yet clueless and incredibly greedy, which made him very trainable. He was also great company and generally knew how to behave with some notable exceptions, like burgling someone’s picnic in the Forest of Dean and relieving himself against mother-in-law’s new Cotswold stone fireplace.

When friends who have young working cocker spaniels tell me about their dogs  now, I can’t help remembering Rolls and the fun we had with training games at home – the way I’d leave him sitting in the kitchen by the back door, then go and hide one of his toys somewhere in the house and the way he’d be quivering with excited anticipation of the command “Go find!” when I got back to him before he rocketed off to investigate. His misguided sex drive was always a source of hilarity. He would try and hump his best pal – a mild and patient Chesapeake Bay retriever – side-on and she’d stand there, puzzled, for a minute or two then move away to do something more interesting, leaving Rolls in a kind of air-humping reverie.

But you don’t have to go down the dog-owning route to find a pet worthy of great love and respect. Hammy Houdini Hamster was a force to be reckoned with. Technically he belonged to no 2 son, who lost interest after about two weeks and was then considered a bit of a nuisance as he banged around the hallway encased in a ball (Hammy, not no2 son).

I’ll never forget son’s response when after being collected from the local Beaver pack one evening, I broke the news that cold, stiff Hammy had sadly joined the choir invisibule (I didn’t put it like that, obviously). “Oh. What’s for tea?”

I was actually quite upset. I would miss Hammy, with his big brown, bright eyes. Being a golden hamster of some considerable size he was tragically too big for his hamster wheel. Hammy was a true gentleman among hamsters. Granted he might poo in your hand if you held him for too long, but he didn’t bite.

It was amusing to give him long slivers of cheese and watch him store them in his pouches so they stuck out like wings. Because the hamster ball and the banging about seemed a bit cruel, we often let him loose in the hallway so he could do some general exploration and stair-climbing.

But all that free exercise sadly meant that he became violently dissatisfied with his cage. He broke out of the door one night and lived rough under various chairs and pieces of furniture in the living room until he was recaptured. We wired up the door.

He escaped through the plastic lid of his cage by lifting it up somehow, so we weighed it down with a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Then he escaped again. God knows how. Encyclopaedia still in place, albeit shifted slightly. Door wired. No Hammy. But he was still in the room because if you put the light off and pretended to leave, you could hear him scurrying acros the carpet.

We realised he was holed up in a Houdini-type cell behind the back of the room-height wall units. Capt Sensible pressed for an early resolution to the Hamster Crisis in case he was eating up the carpet back there. Even so, it took five days to get him back in custody using a pincer movement at midnight involving food and considerable stealth.

Every evening for weeks afterwards, Hammy staged silent protests of naked defiance. He’d cram as much food as possible into his pouches and sit bulgily regarding us through the bars as we watched TV.

Look at him. He’s all packed up with nowhere to go,” said Capt Sensible.

No he’s not. He’s waiting for us to go to bed and leave him in peace so he can work out put to prise TWO encyclopaedias off the top of his cage.”

RIP Hammy Houdini Hamster.


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Current Affairs, Dogs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Hammy Houdini and other pets

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Fabulous! Tears and laughter. Pets make a home, and you don’t have to worry about their GCSE results. Do put a link on my page. My cousin had a hamster that lived under the floorboards for years. As they had a pub, it is a good thing the health people didn’t know…

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Isobel. Couldn’t agree more with your “pets make a home.” This house was empty and souless after Rolls and before Leo and Lily. For instance, just now I can hear Lily’s just come in through the cat flap and announced her arrival with her usual “Owww” and Leo’s reclining luxuriously on the sofa with Capt Sensible watching junk TV. All is peaceful. 🙂

  2. Loved reading this! Husband’s godson had a hamster who lived under the kitchen floor/behind the units for quite a long time too. I don’t know how they got him back in the end. My No 1 son (we often refer to ours like that as well) LONGED for a rabbit and then a ferret at one stage, but with lurchers we were lucky the cats got away unscathed and I knew rabbits etc would have been a step too far – perceived by the dogs as being for sport only.
    However, ferret-less and bunny-less we may be, but dogs, cats, hens, sheep and donkeys have filled all the gaps. And yes I agree, animals do make a house a home, and when they die you HAVE lost a member of your family.

    Writing from the Edge


    (Having problems leaving comments at the moment. Have to use this method!

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Lorely, hamsters-gone-feral seems to be a common problem! 🙂 I *love* lurchers and have a friend who has had two, both really friendly elegant dogs. Her current lurcher, Dilwyn, is smooth-coated and terrifically handsome – he looks like he’s wearing eyeliner.
      I am, however, addicted to gundogs and if I wasn’t working full time, there would be a working cocker at my feet or a German shorthaired pointer… 😉 I woudn’t rule out a kune kune pig though and I hear Maran hens lay very nice eggs….

  3. valzone says:

    Oh Jan, super post, I’ve laughed out loud. As a family, we’ve always had dogs, we did house a hamster once, when my son was young. After losing their boxer dog a few months ago, my son said “thats it, no more dogs, its too heartbreaking”. My daughter-in-law and grandson have talked him round, and the new baby comes on Saturday, when he’ll be weened and old enough to leave his mum.. He’s another boxer. I do love dogs, they are so part of the family. You probably know Jan, I have a morbid dislike for cats, and there appears to be a sudden abundance of them near to me, When I say abundance, there are 4 actually, all new to the area, so they could belong to a new family. One followed me from the newsagent yesterday, and even had the cheek to attempt entry through my front door when I reached home. I spoke severely to it, and he got the message, but no before spraying on a plant pot, grrrrr, if he doesn’t watch out, he’ll get the hosepipe treatment.
    Thanks for the good blog, Jan

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Val! Yes I remember your cat thing but actually, as Isobel and I can testify, with the right sort of cat, it’s possible to be converted… 😉 Having said that,it looks like I’ll have to keep the back door closed all summer to prevent next-door’s big furry monster coming in and snaffling all the food! I’m glad your son has relented. He won’t regret it. Each dog is a character in their own right and with luck will be a lot of fun.

  4. This is so incredibly wonderful to read! Isobel told me about your post and I’m so glad I took time to visit and read. Just proves that any animal who has the smarts to worm his/her/it’s way into our home can easily leave it one day with a big piece of our heart. Lovely recollections of a perfectly delightful collection of pets of the past. Especially Hammy.

    Pam (and Sam)

  5. janh1 says:

    Wow Pam. I think you are my new best friend 😉

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