Fiendish: a hamster. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
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I always let my children have hamsters because they didn’t live very long. But we never recovered from Spike

"He ran around, biting like the bastard he was."

Pets exist to teach children about love and death. Hence the succession of hamsters that have been part of my life. I’m not a natural animal person, as I am of the opinion that animals should live outside. As a child, I kept moth caterpillars and flies in jars of sugar as pets. When I was put in charge of the class newt it somehow escaped and was found all dried up.

But inevitably when my own children yearned for small furry things in cages I gave in. The best thing about most rodents is that they don’t live that long. I gave them good lives – and, what’s more, superb funerals.

I would wrap their little hamster bodies in clingfilm and arrange dried roses around them in a shoebox. We would talk of the great wheel of life and, though an atheist, I made an exception and created a kind of Hamster Heaven where all hamsters could nest for ever. The kids got so used to my extended eulogies for the souls of these sub-rats that they would soon be crying, “But when can we get another one?”

All except for Spike. Spike, whom they wanted to name Spunk, which I vetoed, was a vicious little bastard. Within two weeks of having him, he had bitten both my daughters and all their friends. The stream of little girls sobbing and bleeding meant the vampire rodent had to go.

I was moaning about this in the playground when an oversensitive couple who always seemed disapproving of my parental skills stepped in. Their child wanted a pet. A special one.

“You can have him, the cage, the food – the lot,” I said. “But he’s a total animal.”

“Perhaps he just needs some love and affection.”

“I’ll be round with all the gear later.”

“Do you think we should have some sort of ritual? You know, for the children to make this transition? It’s an emotional time . . .”

I live in Stoke Newington. I’m only surprised they didn’t suggest we all go to Relate.

A week later, they called to say that Spike had mutilated several more children and they were having doubts.

In their noddy therapist way, they decided that what Spike needed was “more space”.

I’d not given him enough love or freedom.

Two weeks later I saw them both, ashen and whispering, outside the school. They’d indeed given Spike more freedom and he ran around like the bastard he was, biting things until he bit through the TV cable, which started sparking. The telly had blown up and all the electrics in the street had gone down.

“Christ,” I said. “So I guess that’s the end of Spike.”

Now they would see how caring I was, with my rodent funerals. I wondered if his electrocuted body was charred.

“No, he was fine. We could hear him rustling in the dark,” they said mournfully. He was a special pet after all. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 20 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Still hanging

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad