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.