Thursday, August 18, 2005

Nine Hang On For Fun

Part two of a two-part story - please read "Ferrets" first.

It was summer 1977, a turning point in the island's history, the moment punk banged the final nail into progressive rock's coffin, the year of the Queen's silver jubilee and Kerry Packer's Great Cricket Rebellion.

For me, this was the last period of needing to study so hard that I sweated blood, and I was not particularly relishing the experience. I was nine short months away from making the transition from compulsory to elective education and graduating to the sixth form, where we boys could discard certain of the more humiliating parts of the uniform, and share a common room, a library, and crucially, bodily fluids with girls our own age.

In anticipation of this, I ignored the temptations of CYTO (Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation, or as it was popularly known among the male attendees in typical teenage slang, Cream Your Tight Orifice) and I stayed home studying Maths, in which I had been apallingly educated up until then, and needed to catch up and pass the exam or else I would not get to college. Aside from schoolwork, I read science fiction, sunbathed in the garden, watched TV, and drank beer, when I could get it, which was not often. I chiefly remember being incredibly sexually frustrated, and being the cause of inflated phone bills, which were blamed upon my older brother, who had a girlfriend.

I didn't know it at the time but these were the final moments of my bizarrely disordered, disjointed, disassociated childhood.

After years of my stubborn resistance, the family had long given up trying to include me in outings and family holidays, which was a great relief to me, as during these periods the scant personal space I possessed shrank into total non-existence. So, being left alone in the usually overcrowded family residence for two weeks was akin to being given the keys to a luxurious mansion, except that it was my responsibility to take care of one dog, two tortoises, two ponds of goldfish, and eleven ferrets in a two foul-smelling cages.

It was hot, I was wearing shorts, sandals, and a tshirt. I donned leather gardening gloves, and, frozen rat in hand, attempted to open the cage door enough to get the rat in. The ferret babies were no longer babies, they were hungry, sharp-toothed and very fast. As soon as I came near the front of the cage, nine smaller animals and Smokey their mother appeared in a furry riot of manic anticipation, arrow-shaped heads pushing to get at the food, and before I could prevent them, like a living flood of wriggling fanged muscle, they were through the opening and plopping one by one onto the ground. Fuck! I shut the door and ran around grabbing bewildered and highly excited ferrets before they started to explore nether regions and eat the neighbours.

It took me ten minutes of holding, shoving, and pushing to return them to their cage without releasing the rest of them, picking up a couple of bites in the process. Meanwhile, the rat was defrosting and the smell of food was making them even madder and more likely to escape. This wasn't going to work. How was I going to feed these fuckers? I retired to the kitchen to clean the bites and considered my options.

Wearing a long-sleeved parka which made me instantly gush with sweat, I returned to the cage with the tall kitchen swing bin, empty of rubbish sack, and angled it so that as soon as I opened the door, the ferrets' dash for freedom lead them one way, down a long, blue plastic aeroplane emergency chute, where their sharp nails clattered and their warm bodies thumped, as they hit the bottom. The bin was too tall for them. Perfect. Leaning a couple of stout garden chairs against the bin so that their attempts to escape would not topple it, I started the entirely revolting business of cleaning the cage, attempting not to gag, and keeping my mouth firmly shut so that the many fat bluebottles buzzing around didn't climb into it. Small Bro had clearly been in dereliction of his duties, and my resentment knew no bounds, as I scraped weeks-old detritus from the first of the stinking two-level cages, which may have been suitable for one ferret, but was clearly not meant for ten.

Cage cleaned, new straw in place, I made a dias for the dead rat in the lower chamber and considered how on earth I was going to get the ferrets out of the bin and back into the cage. I reached my gloved hand down, and watched as hungry mouths jumped up like little vicious fish. That would be a fight worth seeing, ferret vs. pirhana, I amused myself with the thought, teasing the ferrets with my gloves, until one of them caught a proffered finger and hung on. I lifted my hand, and the teeth were so strong, that he stayed. Astonishing, I thought, what a grip. The others below became even more frantic, seeing their brother rising up from amongst them, clinging to the Hand of God, so I lowered a hand down, and watched as they jumped and bit, until every one of my five gloved fingers had a ferret upon it, hanging grimly on by it's teeth, determined to get first bite at the rat, and two of the ferrets had ferrets hanging from them, until I felt the glove start to slip off with their combined weight.

I shook them off, but realised that this was the best way to return them to the cage. One by one, they jumped and bit and I lifted them back into their newly-laundered palace of stink, finally and very carefully returning Smokey, who cast a baleful eye upon proceedings all along, but refused to be drawn into the antics of her juniors, who went crazy over the rat, committing a frenzied demolition and devouring of the carcass in 3 minutes flat, then spent 30 minutes more running around the cage at full pelt playing a hilarious joyful game of "chase the ferret with the tail".

I managed to keep my side of the deal and attended to their ferrety needs for the two weeks necessary, even growing fond of the manic creatures who seemed as permanently hungry as they were foul smelling. I constructed them a run on the lawn one sunny afternoon, hid various dead treats along the passageways and crannies, and delighted in their instinctual hunting abilities. It took my mind off equations, french vocabulary, the double circulation of blood.

Small Bro on his return was adamant that he had cleaned them properly prior to his expedition, but one look underneath his bed at the old tea cups and dinner plates growing fungus would tell you that he had little idea of cleanliness being next to godliness, or even basic hygene, and he was broadly disbelieved, much to his annoyance. Homes were found for the ferrets as promptly as was possible, and the pet population returned to manageable levels. Woody and Smokey never again consummated ther ferret love, and thank fuck for that we all breathed inwardly, and also outwardly, now that our noses could handle the garden once again.


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