It’s about pets, natch.
I’ve rarely been without a pet. I’m not exactly what I’d consider to be an animal lover but I have, by turns, become close to some of them, my first (and only) dog, the cat before last, but otherwise, meh. I can’t imagine though, being without a cat.
So. Another list.
My one and only dog. A short legged Border Collie/Jack Russell cross that resembled a sheep with a dog’s head. His dad, the Jack Russell, was obviously punching well above his weight to sire this funny little mongrel. I’m glad he did. Beano was a lovely natured dog who never as much as growled at me despite my messing him about on a regular basis, including riding his broad back as a toddler and dressing him in my jumpers when I was a lad.
My dad bought him from Tommy Belcher, a well known local character who assured him the dog was a pedigree. He decidedly wasn’t. Beano was bought as I had once showed fear of a dog in the street and my parents used this as an excuse to get the dog neither of them had owned as a child. I was two when Beano joined our household. I quickly became very close to the docile creature and, when I was a bit older, spent hours involving him in ball games and training him to retrieve a stick. He was eager but hopeless and I gave up after a while.
My father also formed a strong bond with the little black and white tripehound, taking on the responsibility of the evening walk as it gave an opportunity to indulge his two favourite pastimes, smoking and star gazing. He also took on the task of disciplining the dog after he began chasing cars when they entered our street. Beano made the grave error of chasing my dad’s van as he came home from work one day. He screeched to a halt, leaped out and kicked the dog into a parabolic arc of yelping pain and confusion. He would undoubtedly have been run over at some time and the short lived embarrassment did the trick. Shortly afterwards we started tying him up on a long piece of rope around the side of the house after an operation to remove a chicken bone that had lodged in his gut.
I used to tease the poor bugger by starting a run alongside him at the top of the path. He would invariably chase after me only to be pulled up short in a Tom & Jerry-esque lurch as he reached the end of his tether. It never failed to amuse me that he never learned.
Beano increasingly became the brother I longed for as a lonely, only child and I spent hours talking to him and playing with him in the garden. He had a long and happy life and I was devastated when he died suddenly under the dinner table when I was fifteen. We buried him under a cherry tree alongside my father’s greenhouse.
Bit, (or was it Bot?)
A fairground goldfish who defied all odds and lasted longer than Easter. Bit was a prize won by my father’s prowess with an air rifle at the funfair that came to our village. I chose the goldfish over a coconut as I couldn’t see any future in what appeared to be a hairy rock. The little fish was suspended in a small, clear plastic bag and glittered seductively in the fairground lights.
I can’t remember where the fish food and the tiny round goldfish bowl came from but I have a vague recollection of a pet shop and equestrian supplies store in Lower Brynamman next to the chip shop. The doomed creature swam in ever exactly the same diameter circles for a few weeks before dying, probably of boredom but possibly from overfeeding by my eager little fingers.
The School Gerbil
I was over the moon to win the lucky dip at the end of the school year that meant I could take home the class Gerbil for the summer holidays. My mother was less thrilled with the smelly little rodent, realising that feeding and cleaning it would soon become an onerous task I would tire of and pass on to her.
I was more than a little surprised when I woke a few days later to find the Gerbil was now an ex-Gerbil, having terminally pined for the Fjords. My mother was aghast. My father rang around to see if we could find a replacement before school started back but to no avail, there having been a run on the little creatures following an appearance on Blue Peter.
Come September I had to bite the bullet and fess up to the crime of having the class’s beloved pet die in my care. Taking its empty but sparkling cage (you could have eaten dinner off it) back to the classroom brought howls of derision from my fickle friends and it took a while before they forgave me. Bastards.
My father offered to pay for a new one and was a little taken aback when he was turned down, the teacher saying it had been quite an elderly Gerbil that he’d brought to school when his daughter had tired of it!
When I set off on my first ever trip to Swansea on the bus with school friends, the last thing my mother would have been expecting was that I would return home with a mouse. My friend had gone with the prior intention of heading straight to Jock’s Pet Shop off Mansel Street to buy a hamster and this seemed like a sterling idea to me. I wasn’t keen on any of the somnolent hamsters in the crowded little shop but a sleek black mouse caught my eye immediately. Besides, he was a couple of quid cheaper too. I had the dubious foresight to buy the cheapest cage they had and this would prove to be the cause of my new little friend’s rapid downfall.
I got him home to face my mother’s disdain and forceful affirmation that she would not be seen dead cleaning or feeding the dirty little bugger. I didn’t mind as I was delighted with the newly christened Alfie.
Unfortunately Alfie proved to be the mouse world’s Steve McQueen and escaped repeatedly from his crappy cage to my mother’s less than obvious delight. It was not long before I found myself one Saturday morning with my arm down a hole in the floor trying to coax Alfie out with some toasted cheese. My dad loomed menacingly over me with the claw hammer he’d used on the floorboard while my mother ran in circles of despair downstairs cursing the day she brought me home. Little Afie wasn’t interested in the cheese as he was already stuffed full of Jock’s finest mixed seeds and grains and we eventually had to give up and nail the board back down.
I like to think that Alfie’s great great grandchildren are somehow still there.
It took me a while to convince my mother to let me have another rodent in the house but this time I promised that it would be a less lively hamster and that I would buy a proper cage. I had been saving my money for the Hilton of hamster homes, a Rotastack pod system. It was a nicely designed piece of kit with little plastic bogroll sized tubes interconnecting cylindrical play areas, sleeping quarters and a deep basement burrow (toilet) you had to fill with sawdust. The play area featured a red wheel for the fruitless exercise hamsters seemed to love.
The little creature that would occupy this show home was secondary in my thoughts to be honest but I named him Brian after Brian Johnston the cricket commentator. I can’t remember why. Brian lasted a while and I even took him on the bus to Ammanford to visit my friend who was by now an experienced hamster wrangler with hopes of starting a stud farm so he could sell them at school.
The day came when I found my little charge stiff as a poker in the play area. I replaced him with another, the name escapes me. They are unchallenging pets that require an inverse amount of care to the enjoyment they give and despite the five star cage I didn’t bother to get another one when Brian 2 snuffed it.
I’d been a while without a pet before I met my wife. I’m not suggesting that she became my pet, (although she was outrageously cute) rather that she already had a cat when I met her. Bonnie was the surviving sibling of two cats she’d owned, Clyde having died in mysterious circumstances a couple of years earlier (we suspected the FBI). When we got together the cat came too and I quickly became fond of both of them. Bonnie was a curiously distracted black and white short hair. She once walked purposefully into our bedroom one sunny morning and banged her head on the side of the bed. What cat does that?
After my dad died we moved in with my mother for a short time before going travelling and the cat moved with us. My mother surprisingly found a friend and adopted the cat instantly. The cat settled but was moved back in with us again when my mother died a couple of years later. She stayed with us for a while but when our son was born we decided to give her to my wife’s charges at a group home she was running for a Down’s syndrome couple. David and Carol loved her and she lived out her days with them.
It only took a couple of evenings listening to a rat gnawing at the porch door frame to convince us to get a new cat. Evan was three by then and Megan still a baby but we thought a cat would be better than a rat about the house.
Evan was a bit of a whizz at making up names for his extensive collection of animals (stuffed or plastic) and we turned to him for the cat’s moniker. He had a little think, wrinkling his nose as he closely observed the kitten we’d chosen before pronouncing him Bobiddy. It fitted perfectly and every male cat we’ve had since has had the same name.
The first one didn’t last long having been separated from its mother too soon by someone who was eager to get rid of it. We got another from a more reliable source and this one stuck around long enough to act as a stylish stole for our second son when he was a toddler. Gareth used to sling the poor cat around his neck and the creature would go limp with fright at the confident little dummy sucker.
We lost this Bobbidy 2 after a couple of years and replaced him with a very solid citizen (Bobiddy 3) who stayed with us despite Sarah running over his tail in the drive once. He also moved with us when we bought our current home and made the transition happily for a couple of years. Then one morning he disappeared.
We got a phone call some three weeks later telling us that the cat had gone back to our old house a couple of miles away. I went and got him back but a few weeks later he went again.
This time he really didn’t want to come back with me and convinced me of such by biting straight through my thumb in what appeared to be slow motion. I took the hint and found later that he’d been adopted by some people nearby who had rechristened him Bryn, coincidentally our youngest’s name.
Concurrent to Bobiddy 3 we became a multi species household with the purchase of a flop eared rabbit named, unimaginatively, Flop. I’d converted a redundant bomb shelter in our garden into what the kids called the Chumbly House and it was here that Flop lived for a couple of ears. When we moved Flop came too, but was downgraded to a Pets at Home hutch. We felt sorry for her and used to let her roam around in the garden by day but this proved to be a mistake. One evening we all forgot to put her back in the hutch. The next day, despite an extensive search I could only find a small patch of bloody white fur in our neighbours’ garden.
The kids have owned many bedroom pets between them, but apart from one of the hamsters owning a lime green car it used to drive around the living room they made little impression on me. Most of Megan’s many fish came and went quickly. The one that survived longest became known as Lumpy due to an unsightly growth on its fin that we thought would surely soon kill it. It proved to be a tough little bugger though and when Meg moved away it came to live in a nicely lit aquarium at the back of our living room.
It lasted ten years before finding Davy Jones’ locker. I converted the empty aquarium into a terrarium and we commemorated the little fish by calling it Lumpy’s Memorial Garden.
Bonnie(s) 2,3 and 4
With the final disappearance of Bobiddy 3 we took another route to find our next cat. Llys Nini is an RSPCA shelter that re-homes less fortunate creatures. I thought it would be straightforward but the dedicated staff take these things seriously and insist on vetting the prospective homes. A little lady came to see us and pronounced us suitable — as long as all the family would come to see the new cat beforehand.
The first cat we homed was a little long haired grey whose death a couple of months after was reported to us by a jogger who had seen her crushed little body on the road outside our house. The second was a black tortoiseshell who fared better lasting nearly a year before getting squashed.
I buried both in the front garden.
The last Bonnie we had came again from the RSPCA, who by now must have been having their doubts. This one was a two year old tabby with the most wonderful temperament and became my favourite cat of all. I could go on about the lovely Bonnie for ages but it still hurts that we lost her last year after ten years of silent mews and gentle purring. We were properly soul mates and I miss her every day.
With the last Bonnie we decided to retire the name as no cat could fill her seven league boots. We found Gwen in a different cat’s home and I fell for her as she looked almost exactly like Bonnie but with longer fur. As an older cat who has been institutionalised a couple of times it has taken her a while to settle in and for us to get used to her very different ways.
She drives us nuts with her insistent meows and her begging but usually redeems herself with some random act of cuteness. The jury is still out on her position in the hierarchy of past pets but there are signs of hope.