Saturday, 27 October 2012

In praise of guinea pigs

Many years ago—when the boys were little—we had a herd of guinea pigs.  They were our lawn mowers.  Our garden is completely surrounded by a low wall and they just lived there freely.  We had various hutches dotted around the garden that they could go into whenever they wanted to be sheltered, snug or safe.  We still had our old dog at that time and she looked after them as well.

Guinea pigs are surprisingly intelligent and have quite strong personalities.  One of our first guinea pigs—whom the boys named Gellert—was quite a character.  He always liked to be involved with what was going on.  One time when we were picking plums, he happily sat in the basket below the plum tree helping himself.

When it was obvious that a female was pregnant, we would gather them up and keep them in a hutch with a run until the babies were big enough to let them join the herd.  Guinea pig babies are so delightful – like tiny round furry tribbles.  When the herd reached 16 guinea pigs we had to keep the females separate.  It was suggested to us that they eat guinea pigs in South America . . . but no one seemed keen on that idea, so we had to control their breeding.

One time a female escaped into our neighbour’s garden.  Their garden is even bigger than ours and we wondered how we were going to catch her.  We could hear her calling to the herd.  We took one of the smaller hutches round to our neighbour’s garden and put it on the lawn with the door open.  To our amazement, she immediately ran out of the undergrowth and straight into the hutch.  She was obviously keen to get back to her family.

Sadly, when our old dog died, the garden became available territory for the local cats and we lost quite a few guinea pigs before we realised what was happening.  This marked the end of their free rein of the garden and we had to keep them in hutches and runs from then on.  Eventually we were down to the last guinea pig and when he died, that episode of our life came to an end – and I had to start using a lawn mower more regularly again!

Why am I telling you about guinea pigs?  Yesterday I was preparing sprouts for dinner.  This always produces a pang of guinea pig memories.  I so used to enjoy taking the sprout peelings—their favourite—out to the garden to be greeted by squeaking guinea pigs delighted to be receiving a treat.  I miss that.  Putting them in the compost bin does not have quite the same quality to it, even though I know they will be enjoyed by the worms.  There will be no more guinea pigs in my life—that period is past—but I enjoy the bittersweet sensation of both wanting, and yet not wanting, them in my life.  

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