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Toussaints - Hammy

We had a hamster, did I mention that? Along with the cats and the dog, yes we had an absurdly indulged and grossly overweight miniature rodent who, when he wasn’t running about the dolls’ house, lived in a large cage beside it.

He arrived two years ago as a birthday present, rather against my wishes if I’m to be honest. I could just foresee who was going to have to clean his cage out, pick his dandelions and pay for his hay. But not only that, I just couldn’t see the point of keeping an animal in a cage. I mean he wasn’t going to bark at strangers, or curl up on my lap and purr, was he? So just how was he going to earn his keep?

Needless to say these objections were firmly ignored by all the other residents of the house, and in spite of anything I said, Hammy was installed behind a cat proof barricade.

He was sweet. Gray with a darker gray streak down his spine, he had white feet and a little white throat where you could see his precious little pulse throbbing. Shiny black eyes, a silver fountain of whiskers, a little pink wiggly nose... he was absolutely enchanting.

He used to climb up the bars of his cage and swing across the roof like Tarzan, and then get bored half way across and drop into his sawdust bed like a sandbag. He used to sit up and wash his whiskers, and you could almost see him humming to himself as he did behind his ears.

He liked his wheel, too, and spent many an energetic evening racing round and round, changing direction every three circuits.

He was the most industrious creature, spending all night organising his cage, shifting his bed around, chewing up yards of kitchen towel, digging his bed up, and dragging hay around all night long, only retiring to bed when the cats came in for breakfast.

What was also extraordinary was that he had definite tastes. I mean I didn’t expect such a tiny organism to have character, personality and preferences but he did have very specific likes and dislikes: green beans, dandelion leaves, melons and strawberries were favourites, but there was no point in putting apple or cabbage or carrot in his cage: he didn’t like them.

He didn’t like the autumn fruit flavoured hanging sticks either, only the spring honey and nut ones. He was quite keen on the hamster cakes though and munched away at them very happily, which is more than could be said for the vitamin-enriched hamster cookies, which he studiously spurned.

No, it wasn’t me, actually. Would I buy all that nonsense for a hamster? No, I would not. Well, I might have... but actually it was the junior members of the household who bought all this stuff, along with the special hamster duvet (€5 a packet), the hamster mirror, the runway, the tunnel, the second holiday cage (I know, don’t even ask), the hamster swing, and the ball for Hammy to use when he wanted to explore the terrace.

I have to admit that I never once had to clean Hammy’s cage out myself, and that I only fed him on days when the juniors were at school. They kept their end of the bargain.

They even kept it when Hammy didn’t get out of bed last week. No tears, no hysterics, no frantic demands to call a vet. Just a sudden disappearance when I brought the silent, still, little cage into the kitchen so I could see if Hammy was all right.

Of course, we all knew he wasn’t all right. Dwarf hamsters don’t live much more than two years, and why else would Hammy refuse to get out of bed.

“Just walking the dog, Mum!”
“Just off to the bottle bank!”
“Back in a minute!”

“Gotta posta letter!”

It had to be done. I gently opened up Hammy’s nesting box, lifted the top layer of hamster duvet and there he was; perfectly stiff, all curled up, asleep forever.

And ridiculous as this undoubtedly is, the sight of him reduced me to tears. Poor little Hammy. No-one else cried. They’re all far too sensible. (And they were fully occupied making a Jack O Lantern.)

But secretly, I rather miss Hammy.

Next column will be uploaded around 15 November.

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