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Thursday, 19 March 2009


My mother phoned. Death was in her voice. Such sorrow could mean only one of two passings: dog or hamster.

The dog is a 14 stone (guessing here) Newfoundland, whose tail sends tellies rocking and who is currently keeping the vet in Porsches; the hamster’s a ping pong ball of fur. In Pixar or Disney, these two would be great chums off saving the world and learning heart-warming things about friendship. In reality, one hogs the raft of dreams (a dog bed bigger than most people’s sofas), but still retains superior rights to the sofa, kicking into touch those of peripherals like daughter and grandchildren; while the other scurries around with a feather duster keeping his glass palace spruce. The hamster’s pad could happily feature in Country Life sporting its keep fit area, lounging/relaxing zone and intellectual gym.

I held my breath.
The hamster it was who died.
I felt sad, not as sad as my mother, whose sorrow was painful, but sad still that this little scrap that could mean so much in its life was meaning so very much more in the losing of it.

For those who are new to the hamster, I’m going to insert at this point, a blog I did when my mother bought the thing which was 2 years or so ago:

my mother, her hamster and me

My mother confounded me by phoning to announce that she had just bought a hamster. If I had had to write a list of several thousand things which she might say to me, having bought a hamster would not be on it.
“Why?” I asked.
“He was very cheap,” she said.
“How cheap?” (visions of my inheritance were being sucked into a hamster cage and getting messed up with straw)
“£2.50.” (it still seemed a possible, crashing waste of money). “And very sweet.” (this last was said with feeling).

Luckily I had nothing else to do that hour, for I was all but having phone sex with the hamster come the end.
No slouch that hamster.
Very bright, but how could I have expected anything less?
Russian. I should have guessed. Nothing prosaic for my Ma. She wanted Russian names from me: Otto? Pushkin? Blini?

Since then, our conversations have been slightly more hamster-led than I would necessarily have chosen, but Ma is immersing herself fully in her new project. Every book on the subject has been bought and read. She will have written to the authors suggesting changes for the next edition, the print run of which she will oversee. She’s that sort, the last time she wrote to the Telegraph, someone contacted her, inviting her to go and stay in their castle in Scotland.

So she joined the Hamster Society.
“’Association,’” I said firmly, bringing her down a necessary peg. “Or ‘Club’. Hamsters don’t have Societies.”
The silence on the other end of the phone suggested that they might. In the near future.

Meanwhile, my father has wisely insisted that all her Hamster Literature be kept well away, in her study. That’s her various membership papers, rules of association, dates of hamster shows, entry forms and a ‘handsome’ (her term) turquoise and gold hamster badge.
“All this for a tenner,” she says proudly.

We saw the hamster.

It was very small, and I would question whether she got her full money’s worth. As a little girl, I wasn’t allowed a hamster – something about foxes getting them although, on reflection, memory tells me that few foxes trotted through our kitchen.
It means that I have been confusing hamsters and guinea pigs all my life. We only had a budgerigar, and that was merely for an afternoon, too. My mother returned it to the shop, lying, saying that it frightened me. I think it was a certain clattery quality, thrashing about in grit, something clearly quite absent in a hamster, that king of beasts.

The king of beasts was sweet enough, I suppose. But the betrayal incipient in that phrase makes me quiver with disloyalty. I will have to re-phrase: “astoundingly sweet, of a sweetness altering the dawns of days to come, to knock the world from its staid old path, to make laureates ditch young girls as muses and take up hamsters instead… That sort of sweetness.”

Possibly bright. I’ll have to take her word for it, as with so much.

Plans for its future? As gloves, perhaps, for a mouse. Something I quietly imagined, through to the patenting process on a pair of baby gloves fashioned from a hamster, while Ma waxed proudly about its bedding-dragging prowess.
I could do that, I squeaked internally, I could hang by a paw and hide in a corner, and flop on my back looking exhausted. But she was still admiring hamster-face and I rather think I was blocking the light.

Then she e-mailed yet more guff about hamsters. Really, I have come to dread the ping of the in-box and the trill of the phone.
My father had freaked her out by saying that if she died, she’d have to make arrangements for a next of kin for the hamster, since it wasn’t his bag. (if my genes are his genes then all is not lost.) I feared that future correspondence would inform me of my reluctant new status in her will as Hamster’s Sister, but when I mentioned this to her, she looked embarrassed and said that she had a little list of suitable friends lined up. Indeed, when they went on holiday one of these insane creatures was charged with looking after the thing and, get this, e-mailed photos to my mother on a daily basis. Truly.

It transpires, in further leakage of my inheritance, that she has bought a new home for Hammy, which she calls The Glass Palace, and which has the added advantage of being approved by that august body, The National Hamster Council. Or Club. She filled me in, as if she were an estate agent and I were interested. Seems it has a log cabin, which she calls his weekend cottage, a balcony and 3 platforms. All this, in pursuit of feeling like a Professional Hamster Owner. Which, it seems is necessary to the confused. I mean, my mother.

I rang her up.
“About this glass palace.”
“Yes, much more suitable. The other one” (slightly irritably, as if I had purchased it in the first place, not she) “was very small, far too small. Not enough for him. This one’s 36 foot.”
“Wow! That’s enormous.”
“Oh yes,” (airily, still the edge of irritation with me and my substandard Hamster Home ideas). “He needs it.”
“But that really is very big, where are you keeping it?”
“Where the old one was, on the drinks trolley.”
D’oh! “You mean 36 inches, Ma.”
“That’s what I said, you’re thinking of metres now, being that bit younger.”
“You might have meant 36 inches, you said 36 foot.” How swiftly a phone call can degenerate, but sometimes a point just has to be pursued.
“Of course I didn’t, darling.”
Darling is a word which is open to abuse. From my mother’s mouth it can chill the soul. Unless you’re a hamster when it’s said with love.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I think you’re mad.”

Yes, well, we all have our opinion on who should be in charge of that particular sentence.

And now he is dead. I’m really rather sad. Only don't tell Lolly. She'll get ideas above her station.
RIP Rudi.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written - but I do feel sad for your mother as well. So much to vest in so little.

I had hamsters as a child. I remember one going AWOL and being found inside an apple pie. It was a long haired hamster. Sticky.

Expat mum said...

But you know she's goingt to run straight out and buy another one. In this recession they'll be about 50p. You can't let a glass palace go to waste. On the other hand she could upgrade to an iguana!

Dumdad said...

My daughter had two tiny, skittish Siberian hamsters that died recently. She's now got a thumping big hamster Gribouille who is a lot more fun (photos on my blog if you're that hamster obsessed!).

It's always sad when pets die. We become so very attached to them.

Anonymous said...

I heard on Radio 1 years ago about someone who used to put his sister's hamster into the cockpit of his remote control airplane and send the creature on flights. One day the plane crashed and the hamster got away. Have you thought about tying Tortsky the hamster to a couple of helium filled balloons and letting them go? it may be a fitting end.

Welsh Girl said...

How is Rudi a russian name? surely Olga Polga or Glasnost would have been better. I shall have shot of vodka and throw the glass over my shoulder in his honour all the same.

Will there be inheritance tax on the Hamster Mansion do you think?

LittleBrownDog said...

What a lovely - and truly fitting - tribute to such a much loved pet. Have to say, I've never really understood the attraction of hamsters. In my experience, they nip, they only seem to come out at night and when they do they get behind radiators, and they don't live for more than a couple of years.

Glad to hear Lolly seems to have fully recovered from her episode with the stick.

Preseli Mags said...

Poor hammy. Sympathy to all concerned.

Hamsters are convenient pets for heartless children with short attention spans as they shuffle off this mortal coil after such short little lives, but sad for grown-ups with more devotion.

PS: Eeek! to Mud in the City's comment. In an apple pie? How? Yuk.

ChrisH said...

Nooo! Well, that's a state funeral then at the very least! I remember all the fuss about the palace the first time - at least Rudi (works for me - sounds like he should have owned a football club or two) had a proper oligarchic sort of life.

elizabethm said...

Oh no! I remember the hamster coming into your mother's life and now it has gone out again. Surely she must get another one, can't let the palace go to waste.

Pipany said...

I remember that blog too Milla. So funny to read though no doubt not to live through. Will expect news of a nw hamster any day now then?

Phidelm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suffolkmum said...

I remember that first hamster blog with much fondness. Poor ole Rudi. Still, it sounds like he had a Roman Abramovich sort of a life. We had what was practically a state funeral last year for our rather more prosaically named Snowy.

Edward said...

Lovely blog - great to read it again. Phone sex with a hamster indeed.

Arcadian Advocate said...

So sorry to hear about Rudi, but oh far too funny too, since I am new to the original hamster post..

Better not let my mother read it, she might get ideas.

Cait O'Connor said...

I remember that blog Milla.
Hamsters don't live long do they?

Maddie Grigg said...

I have read somewhere that hamsters can go into such a convincing hibernation, they appear to be dead. Don't like to say this, but has your mother checked with a mirror up against its mouth? I buried one once and had to exhume it very quickly.

Fennie said...

Absolutely wonderful writing. Quite worthy of your Mother's feelings towards her hamster. But did she keep them up, these feelings? Or did they expire, like the beast. I suppose the test is will she be getting another - Rudi Two ('s day) as it were. Or maybe even two and breeding them, in which case she might call them appropriately, but with a lack of imagination, Momma and Papa.

Pondside said...

You may be in for it now. Your mother may, at this very moment, be considering a gerbil or (horrors!) a ferret as replacement. Will there be a burial? Will you do the lunch?

Exmoorjane said...

Sorry about Rudi, poor dear Rudi. truly am. A large very fat ferret walked past my window the other night - maybe I could trap and send?

Calico Kate said...

A 36 foot house for a two inch 'mouse' would be a palace indeed. Sorry she is upset it has died, will she be getting another one, or two perhaps??
Dog sound marvellous though, obviously a woman of taste even if it goes awry at times!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I'm so sorry.....but your original post is hilarious.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Lovely blog. You might be interested in my hamster blog 26th March.


Superb! I LOVE your conversations with your mother. Quietly menacing!

Anonymous said...