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Auf Wiedersehen, Pets

PUBLISHED: 15:42 28 October 2013 | UPDATED: 15:43 28 October 2013

As soon as I released it into the vivarium it became clear that this was no baby – this was the first male my toad girls had seen for years. It was a bit like releasing a rapist into a nunnery

As soon as I released it into the vivarium it became clear that this was no baby – this was the first male my toad girls had seen for years. It was a bit like releasing a rapist into a nunnery

Archant

Of course we nickname God’s creatures! It’s a fun thing to do on a rainy Sunday. My Jack Russell has more nicknames than Prince Charles has names

For some reason writers have often been attracted to weird pets. When Byron went to Cambridge, there was a rule against keeping dogs, so he installed a bear. He also kept (indoors) at various times a fox, four monkeys, an eagle, a crocodile, five peacocks, an Egyptian crane, a badger, and a goat with a broken leg – according to Wikipedia, so it must be true. Despite his fondness for birds, Byron’s most fervent passion was for big furry animals, most notably his half-sister Augusta.

The 18th century poet William Cowper acquired three pet hares, which danced on his Turkey carpet. He named them Puss, Tiney and Bess. It’s not recorded whether Puss had an identity crisis and went in for species re-assignment. “I feel, like, y’know, I’m a cat trapped in the body of a hare, right?”

Perhaps writers are attracted to odd pets because of the tendency to attribute human character traits to defenceless animals. “You nick-name God’s creatures!” Hamlet sneered in his misogynistic rant at Ophelia. What a pill that guy was. She was better off without him, although being at the bottom of a river may have taken the edge off her liberation.

Of course we nickname God’s creatures! It’s a fun thing to do on a rainy Sunday. My Jack Russell has more nicknames than Prince Charles has names: Poodle, Noodle, Pupser, His Nibs, Pooch Magrooch… (Patch’s nicknames, not Prince Charles’s.) (As far as I know, anyway.)

Patch has a very clear personality. It’s not my writer’s imagination. If I’d invented his character he’s be bold and sassy, witty and adventurous. Instead he’s sensitive, pessimistic, and suffers from hypochondria. Actually, I think he may take a little after me.

We never had pets when I was a child because both my parents went out to work. When they finally relented, it was a canary called Sunny. My blood runs cold with shame when I think how that bird’s best moments were spent flying in circles round a sitting room in a modern semi in Cheltenham not far from GCHQ. Hardly the rainforest of his dreams. My mother, who taught at Monkscroft (a now sadly discontinued school) took him into work with her every day and he was adored by 43 seven-year-olds. Not a bad destiny, I suppose, though I would run a mile to escape it.

Once I’d grown up, graduated and married, I began to feel there was something missing from my life. A baby, perhaps? No! Toads! We lived near the river, so I nipped out with a bucket and selected a couple.

Soon I had a big vivarium, with four huge toads installed, each with its own half-flowerpot: a bit like a housing estate. They didn’t do much, though if you put them in a yellow bucket they would obligingly turn yellow, and every so often they would shed their skins. I never managed to train them to beg for biscuits, though.

One day in the market I saw a man selling small toads (this was Before Legislation) and I thought it would be nice for my big toads to adopt a child toad, so I bought one and took it home. As soon as I released it into the vivarium it became clear that this was no baby – this was the first male my toad girls had seen for years. It was a bit like releasing a rapist into a nunnery.

I let them go back into the wild after that. There’s only so much amphibious hanky-panky one can tolerate before breakfast.

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This article is from the November 2013 issue of Cotswold Life

To keep up with writer Sue Limb, follow her on Twitter: @Sue_limb

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