Tom Hodgkinson: 'Our gerbil had some kind of death wish'

Share
Related Topics

The problem with pets is that they die. Many years ago in The Idler magazine, we ran a column called "Pet Deaths". We invited our readers to send in stories of childhood trauma related to their fluffy animals. The letters poured in and never failed to be funny and touching, somehow expressing a truth about the mingled joy, passion and sadness of childhood.

I remember vividly the grisly ends that met our pets when I was a child. The worst was perhaps the unfortunate demise of our rather pretentiously named tortoise, Shelley. It was hibernation time, and we dutifully followed the instructions in our tortoise book to pack Shelley and our other tortoise, Keats, in a tea chest, give them some slices of banana, put them in the attic, and let them be. About two months later, I crawled up into the attic to get something, and was overpowered by the most appalling stench. I inspected the tea chests. Keats seemed to be dozing contentedly, but all that was left of Shelley was indeed a shell, out of which a brackish goo oozed. Her name had been a prophecy.

Then there was our hamster Toby, who developed wart-like growths over his body before expiring, and young Claude the gerbil, who lived behind the kitchen units and was killed unwittingly by my father, who trod on him. My father claimed that fate had been at work, and attributed psychic powers to the gerbil: Claude, he said, had had some kind of death wish, somehow knowing that we were about to go on holiday. I do remember my dad shedding a tear at the time, and I've heard it said that even the most stoic fathers will weep when the family dog, for example, dies.

Now I'm the dad and I've had to cope with a stream of dead animals. The first real tragedy was Rosie Blossom Brownpatch, our bunny. The rabbit was living in the yard, and my wife ran over her in the car. Her leg was broken (the rabbit's, not the wife's). The vet said he might be able to save the leg, but the surgery was complicated and would cost £800. Since the rabbit's purchase price was a mere £20, this course of action did not appeal to the thrifty householder in me. Was there a cheaper option? Well, they could do a bodge job that would cost £400. Or just have the rabbit put down, which would set us back a mere £150. I'm afraid we opted for option three.

To this day, five years on, our daughter has not forgiven her mother for running over the rabbit. If she is arguing with her, she will sometimes bring out the irrelevant but killer blow: "You killed Rosie Blossom Brownpatch."

More recently, I sent my eldest son to go and feed our new rabbit, Timothy. We'd had Timothy for a few months and he seemed a happy bunny. He'd sometimes join us for tea, and recline on the kitchen table, nibbling a piece of pear while we ate our pasta. Well, the rest of us were sitting round the kitchen table when my son Arthur came back in. His face was covered with tears as he wailed: "Timothy's dead!" At once a hysterical wailing went up from the other two children. I went out and found a dead bunny on the floor of the hutch. One of his eyes was missing, and I concluded that the poor thing had been killed by rats. I shed a tear and the following day buried him in the vegetable patch.

As well as these deaths, we've lost many chickens to foxes over the years. This is always a horrible feeling, as it is often due to one's own carelessness: perhaps you forgot to lock them in at night. Then there was the dead puppy, Slinky, who was buried with great ceremony in the front garden. Our favourite ferret, Twister, escaped, and was found asleep in a bucket on a farm two miles away. But then he escaped again for good. Last winter we lost two beehives full of bees to disease. And there are the countless little robins, bluetits and shrews which are brought into the house by the cats.

Death is all around us. Bereavement is a fact of life. In fact, for this among other reasons, I think that the whole of idea of "happiness" is flawed. There are countless books on happiness and countless courses, conferences and improving CDs which peddle the goal of being happy. For one thing, happiness is a kind of bribe for slavery. In 1936 Aldous Huxley said "the problem of happiness" is the same as the "problem of making people love their servitude". And for another, constant happiness is just not possible, because just when things are going well, you run over the dog.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...