COUNTRY & GARDEN: Una Stubbs, your number's up

He was a foul-tempered ferret who wanted to be free. It was in his blood, says Harry Pearson

FERRETS WERE first brought into the home by the ancient Egyptians as a means of rodent control, their status as a household pet predating that of the cat. In Renaissance Europe the sharp-toothed little animal was regarded as something of a fashion accessory.

Leonardo Da Vinci painted Cecilia Gallerani fondling a white ferret, while a similar, if smaller, specimen is seen crawling up Elizabeth I's dress in the famous Ermine Portrait" which hangs in the Courtauld.

Later the ferret started to keep company that was rather more suited to its Latin name, "the little fur thief", turning up amongst the Wild Wooders in The Wind In The Willows, as companion to the archetypal "smelly Herbert" Compo in Last of the Summer Wine, and dangling by its incisors from the fingers of Richard Whiteley on a local TV news programme.

The only ferret I have ever known belonged firmly in this less reputable category. He was an albino male or hob (female ferrets are jills; the young, kits) owned by a schoolfriend of mine and known as Bites Yer Legs Norman. Bites Yer Legs was named in honour of Leeds United's robustly uncompromising defender, Norman Hunter, but in terms of pure psychotic violence far surpassed even the Yorkshire club's legendary number six.

Bites Yer Legs was enraged by many things. In fact, it is hard to think of anything that didn't test his patience to breaking point. Even a glimpse of Una Stubbs on Give Us A Clue was likely to end with him sinking his fangs into the nearest achilles tendon. What really got Norman's goat, though, was flapping material. During the mid-Seventies it seemed the ferret was the only creature on earth who was actively campaigning for the return of straight-leg jeans.

And then there was the smell. Ferrets secrete a pungent odour from their anal glands when they are frightened or aggressive. Since Norman spent nearly all his waking hours in a state of extreme belligerence, this meant he lived most of his life enveloped in a poisonous mist. In an enclosed space the stink was so palpable you instinctively swatted at it as at a cloud of midges.

It is said that Britain and the US are countries separated by a common language. It might also be said that the two nations are divided by a common animal, the ferret, or at least by their attitudes to the only domesticated member of the weasel family.

It is hard to imagine anybody in Britain looking upon a member of the same species as Bites Yer Legs Norman as cute or adorable, or feeling the overwhelming urge to pamper it with presents. But such is the case in the US, where ferrets are regarded as just the sweetest little things.

Shops such as The Ferret Store offer the transatlantic ferret-owner the opportunity to purchase all kinds of gifts, from a plush hammock known as The Marshall Designer Fleece Leisure Lounge, to an extensive range of deodorant sprays. There even exists a range of ferret-size hats, including a little straw stetson.

There is a darker side to the US ferret scene. Sadly, while their fellow American ferrets cavort around in a Sheppard & Greene Ferret Freeway ("Can this be the ferret toy of the century?"), others live as fugitives from justice. It is entirely illegal to own a ferret in the state of California. An organisation called Californians For Ferret Legalization (CFL) has been campaigning vigorously to have the ban lifted. According to CFL, there could be as many as 500,000 ferrets living underground, as it were, in the Sunshine State.

Twelve months ago another group of Californian ferret fans, Ferrets Anonymous, held a rally in San Diego. Fifty of them marched through a local park, defiantly displaying their pets. Sadly, the day ended in tragedy for one outlaw ferret, Rocky, who took exception to media intrusion and bit a cameraman. Rocky was immediately seized by law officers and terminated by lethal injection. "California Executes Freedom-March Ferret" read the headline on the Independent Ferret News Service website.

Some readers may find it ironic that, in a country where you can walk into a shop and buy a Smith & Wesson magnum, it is against the law to own a polecat. But then you never knew Bites Yer Legs Norman.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform