Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I have an ambiguous relationship with creatures, as much as with my own animality. I am definitely not a cooing, fawning type when it comes to anything small, wriggling and hairy - I merely allow for existence, and co-existence; but critters seem to like me, oh yes they do. If I could have a meat-topped pizza for the every time some doting pet owner has said me to me, of their cat/dog/rabbit/horse, once even of a pig, "Oooh, he/she likes you!" I would start a pizza chain and become very rich indeed.

I put it down to my being physically relaxed and relatively unscared, with a total lack of anthropomorphism, (also referred to as personification or prosopopoeia), plus the fact that my diet does not rely upon large regular portions of dead creature. I think they can tell I am not looking at their lovely, preened flanks with any degree of hunger in mind. But keep me away from the fishtank.

This ambiguity possibly stems from the great variety and number of animals, fish, birds and reptiles that were introduced into the childhood family residence, many of which required a lot of care but received the bare minimum, as is the way of the fickle whims of children desiring pets [now there's a novel guaranteed to sell on title alone]. I did my best to be honourable about my duties, being aware that these beings were essentially captive, but I cannot say that this astonishing moral awareness extended to the rest of the family. Even my mother's dog received all its training and the majority of exercise from yours truly, not because I had any special love for this demented canine, of which more later, but simply because if I didn't do it, nobody else would, and I couldn't live with that on my sprouting conscience.

I don't think reading My Family And Other Animals at a tender age helped - we weren't living in the unspoiled Greek island of Corfu, population 5,000, we were living in bombed-and-reconstructed Croydon, suburb of London, population 333,000. The long and the short of it was that, aside from my sister's requests for a pony, and a house ban on cats because of asthma, most of the animals we wanted, we got.

Then my younger brother decided he wanted a ferret. He got one, he put it in a cage in the garden, and fed it dead rats. Woody was his name, and he grew huge. He was mostly friendly, though with the teeth of a predator. Woody would run around jumping sideways making an excited barking noise - "Huff! Huff!" He would promptly explore anything resembling a rabbit hole - which included drainpipes, cardboard tubes, and of course, trouser legs. But the really remarkable thing about Woody, and ferrets in general, was his reek. Rank. Sharp. Strong. He stank, and so would you, living on a diet of rats.

Small Bro decided shortly thereafter that Woody needed company, so he built another cage, and along came Smokey. She was actually half Polecat, smaller, darker, and definitely wilder. Woody you could actually take out and onto the green in front of the house. Smokey would dart so swiftly towards anything resembling freedom, that she was very carefully kept back from the chance of escape, and spent the majority of her days in a very smelly, dirty cage, which was cleaned far too rarely and offended the neighbours on a warm day.

Smokey was a lithe, sultry animal who would bite your finger proffered or not with a vicious nip and hold on, taking part of you with her if you didn't shake her off immediately. The longer she held onto something with her jaws, her needle teeth claimed whatever morsel as her own, and she would be visibly pissed off by its removal, and require compensation with a dead rat.

She was wild, that woman. Woody thought so too. One day she gave birth to eleven baby ferrets. A few weeks later, Small Bro left to go camping, the rest of the family went somewhere else, and I was left a freezer full of dead rats and instructions on cleaning.

[End Part One}

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