Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wifey 1: Stoats 0

The guinea pig eater turned out to be a stoat - 16 inches long in a furry tan colour with a urine-yellow belly and a dark tip to the tail. It didn't look happy, but then I couldn't blame it - it was dead. I wouldn't be happy if I was dead. I like animals. I just don't like animals that eat my animals. I felt a little bit guilty gazing at its still and skinny body bearing in mind the stoat was only acting according to it's feral nature, but mostly I felt pleased it couldn't eat anything I have a naming ceremony for in future. The gamekeeper came back yesterday to check the traps in case the stoat had a stoat friend but I'm hoping that's it. He has promised to build me a super-secure run and turn the hutch into the guineapig equivalent of a maximum security holding facility in the Arizona desert. Nothing's getting out and nothing's getting in. Unless the next stoat's got wire-cutters, and a helicopter, and a friend on the inside of course.

Meanwhile, talking of weasels and pest control, I am beginning to feel sorry for Julie Kirkbride. Alright, she pushed the expenses a bit. A lot of bit. Well, her and virtually every other MP out there. And alright, she's patently got terrible what-does-she-see-in-him taste in men. She's done that classic female politician thing of ending up with a very embarrassing husband. But why out of all these blaggards and rogues is there a "Julie Must Go" head of steam building? There's national outrage over the expenses debacle as revealed by the Daily Telegraph - we should have a general election, and start again. But there's always that extra frisson of pleasure when a woman is punished for her misdemeanours isn't there, and she's pretty - even better. When I was reporting on politics, I once arranged lunch with her and there was a mix-up in the bookings. She turned up at the National Portrait Gallery restaurant and I waited at the National Gallery restaurant. Forty minutes and several phone calls later, we managed to meet up. She took it with good grace - many of her self-important colleagues wouldn't. Or, maybe she was hoping for two lunches, one in each restaurant - who knows? But I don't think so. She cocked up on the expenses - along with many others. I imagine she's going to end up having to announce that she's standing down at the next election. If she doesn't, she seems certain to lose the seat anyway. I wonder what would happen if she took a deep breath and gave a proper apology. Not an explanation. A real heartfelt apology - and not one of these Hazel Blears "I understand why everybody feels so angry" apologies for an apology either. One of the things that is making people most angry is the idea that our politicians "just don't get it". People can hear the difference between "I understand why you're upset" and "I'm really, really sorry - I've done something entirely wrong. I admit it. I don't know what I was thinking. Please. Forgive me." Some of our politicians think they are the same thing. They are not. Julie might say sorry, she might think about filling up with tears and even spending one or two on camera. She might mean it - it might work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weasels 4: Guinea pigs 0

Something really bad happened - and I'm not talking about the collapse of faith in our British parliamentary system.

After Holly and Daisy disappeared, I did that thing that mothers do and attempted to buy my way out of hysteria. We got new guinea pigs. They weren't pretty balls of fur like Holly and Daisy. In fact, truth to tell, Fernando and Jake were ugly. They were the only guinea pigs left in the garden centre - for a reason. One was grey and white and one was tan and white. One had really red eyes and one had quite red eyes. The words "scraggy rat" jumped to mind when you saw them, but hey, they were guinea pigs and hey, my three-year-old daughter wasn't crying any more. We bought them on Tuesday and put them in Holly and Daisy's hutch. We started to love them. "Looks aren't everything," I told the children. Yesterday morning, I dropped the kids at school and when I got home went out to feed them. At first I thought they were asleep, lying on their sides. With their little red eyes open. No such luck.

This is the thing that Liz Hurley failed to mention in her recent steamy ravings about life in the country - it can be bloody. A weasel killed the new guinea pigs. Which can only mean that a weasel killed Holly and Daisy, somehow managing to drag their little bodies through the bars of the hutch. Fernando and Jake were bigger so their neck-nipped bodies were left, a testament to nature. I'm saying weasel - conceivably it could have been a stoat but we saw it a few minutes later as it tried to come back to get the bodies again - a streak of brownish fur with a long tail. I'd have shot it if I'd had a gun. We're like that in the country.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guinea pigs keep low profile

Our guinea pigs had two homes. They had their hutch on the concrete terrace and their run on the grass. Holly used to go between the two on her motorbike - often Daisy would ride pillion. Occasionally Daisy would use her chauffeur driven car. It was difficult to keep track of which home was their primary home what with the furniture vans arriving all the time and unloading chandeliers and top range chew toys. But I sort of expected them to keep their own accounts and not take things too far on the expenses front. Admittedly when Daisy mentioned a moat in the last submission and started pushing for a swimming pool, I wondered whether they had forgotten what real life was like for ordinary rodents. We talked but they kept blaming the "system" - explained they were a special case. I felt responsible for them. They were our pets. We'd put them into power, and they were always going to eat hay while the sun was shining. And now something's happened, I think the publicity got too much. I went out this morning and they'd done a runner. I checked out the hutch and their home in the country and apart from the poo pellets and the Sky camera crew, there's no sign. The motorbike's gone too. I'm presuming they've done the decent thing and disappeared into the undergrowth. Maybe they're heading for Southampton. I'm upset obviously. Gutted really. And God knows what I'm going to tell the children. I thought we were good together. Turns out they were in it for themselves after all.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

This little piggy

We bought two guinea pigs. They are tiny - babies really - with swirly fur. One of them has motley caramel and black and white sworls and we have called her Daisy. The other one is ginger and white. I would have called her Hazel but frankly I expect some loyalty from my guinea pigs so we settled on Holly. I am trying to bond with them but ever since my husband took a good look at their twitching whiskers and said: "They really are rodents aren't they?" I've struggled.

I told my friend we were getting them and she offered us a hutch. This is the friend with the world's most fabulous house complete with "box" room (full of boxes ready to send gifts to godchildren) and dead tigers on the floor. She said: "Really it's a hen house, but there's nesting boxes in there they could use." I agreed and she said she would bring it round on Saturday night. We waited and waited. No sign of a hen house so my husband rang her. It turns out that our "guinea pig hutch" was 10 feet by 4 feet and they couldn't get it into their horse trailer. These eight-week old guinea pigs are the length of my palm, I can only think that when I said: "We're getting guinea pigs", my friend heard the words "We're getting Afghan hounds."

We borrowed a cat box for their first night and resolved to revisit the garden centre the next day to buy a real guinea pig hutch. It was just as well because a variety of guinea pig fanciers up for bank holiday weekend had convinced us that "Daisy" was suffering from gender misidentification. "Daisy-or-maybe-it's-Donald" went back in her box and back to the garden centre. I'm no expert on guinea pig genitalia, but "Daisy-it-could-be-Donald" did not look like "Hazel-You-Tube-If-You-Want-To-Holly". The assistant who sold us the guinea pigs had already said breezily as she ladled them into their cardboard boxes: "We can't be sure but we think they're both girls". "We can't be sure but we don't think you'll get pregnant" - it's not a marketeer's dream for condoms is it?

There was a different girl in the pet section this time and she was ready for us. She took a look and shook her head. Daisy was definitely Daisy. Perhaps I seemed sceptical because she asked: "Do you want to see what a boy guinea pig looks like?" I don't know what I expected - perhaps I thought she might say "Do you see, they've got longer tails" or "You can always tell a boy guinea pig by the shape of its ears." Instead, she scooped one up, flipped him on to his back and splayed him as if she was cracking the spine of a paperback. There, in all its glory, was a guinea pig penis popping out to say hello. It was tiny but I have not been able to shift the image from my head since. I may have been permanently damaged. Perhaps this girl thought I had never seen a penis - I have no idea how she explained the three children with me. I said something like "Right. OK. Well that's definitely a penis then" just to reassure her I could recognise one. After that, we went home.