Tag Archives: bereavement

Wild Paddy

8 Aug

Paddy, the patriarch of our seven guinea pigs, once lived in the woods with a cockerel. Their many wives roamed around the cottage garden in the Highlands where Bunty’s mother lives. Paddy and the cockerel spent part of the day with their wives, and then the two would cross the burn, climb the hill, pass under the fence or fly over it (depending), and return to their batchelor pad among the Scots pines.

The cockerel

Three pregnant wives

Paddy’s wives would nurture and wean Paddy’s pups in special enclosures where they would be safe from cats and owls. When they were old enough, Bunty’s mother would take them to Pets at Home and sell them. One summer, when Paddy’s wives had eleven pups on the go, Bunty’s mother decided to retire him from stud duties. Eleven was quite enough to be getting on with. Thus Paddy arrived at our home as a new member of our family. His arrival was unexpected and we had nowhere to put him, so we ensconced him  in a spare aquarium for his first few days of settling in. It was a far cry from his batchelor pad in the woods.

Not long after this, Pets at Home revised their policies such that they would only buy from a list of specific dealers – not casual hobbyists. Bunty’s mother was left with more guinea pigs than she could provide for. Paddy’s six sons came to live with us. We bought and customised a big hutch, with permanent access to our garden. Paddy had a new batchelor pad.

Paddy at bottom left

As they got older, the guinea pigs paired off, separating  into territorial areas of the garden. Paddy and his smallest son, Orkney, made their home on a patch of lawn edged by flowerbeds and a birch tree. Orkney spent all summer patrolling the edges of their territory against the other guinea pigs. Paddy had no inclination to follow suit: all his sons already accepted him as Top Pig.

In Wintertime, Paddy and Orkney shared the penthouse apartment in the guinea-pig tower block I had built for them all. The pigs like their tower well enough, but nothing beats the sight of them running and jumping unhindered through the grasses and Summer foliage. This year, the elderly Paddy began to take breaks from all the  running and jumping, to sit under a plank propped against the fence and watch the world go slowly by.

Paddy and Orkney in May (favourite plank in background)

Today dawned glorious and warm. As the sun was burning away the morning mist across the fields, Bunty fed Paddy some vegetable off-cuts. Paddy, feral creature that he is, scurried away to eat them in private. This afternoon, he was lying in the shade under his plank again, his boot-button eyes gazing into the buttercups. He had shuffled off his mortal coil, at the grand old age of five and a half.

I usually go to pieces when a pet dies, but this time it was different. He died quickly and quietly, in his old age, in his own territory – an expansive place full of grass to graze on and secret passageways that he had made among the bedding plants and beneath the tree. He died in freedom, with his favourite son close by. We buried him in his special place under the plank.

His last photo

Rest in peace, wild Paddy.


Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

1 Mar

In the UK, if your first words on the first day of a month are “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit”, you will have good luck for the rest of the month. The first day of March is especially rabbity for me, because it is Harvey the Rabbit’s birthday. That is to say, when we adopted his playful self from the unwanted pets place, nobody could tell us his real birthday, and so I chose today to be it.

I picked Saint David’s Day for him because he liked Daffodils. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, where I was born, and it is celebrated by the wearing of a daffodil on one’s lapel.

Now daffodils are pushing up through the soil on Harvey’s grave, and I am spending today thinking about his enormous personality. A friend once called him a “bounder”, and that’s exactly what he was: the most opinionated pet I ever had. One day he threw a tantrum because I had put his litter tray back the wrong way round. He liked to chase balls, and he loved to chase cats. He slept with me on the bed at night, until one night he took umbrage at the fact that Bunty was taking up too much room, and so peed on his head. He took great delight in climbing impossible things, and bouncing on the inflatable airbed. He ate daffodils.

This whole blog is dedicated to Harvey. I began it a few weeks after he was run over on the road outside our cottage.  It was a way to remind myself of the many great things in my life, and of how breathtaking is the place where I have made my home. I no longer need reminding of these things, but thanks to my love for Harvey, I have come to enjoy this excuse to look around at my world and feel awed.

Summer view from our front door

He Was Feeling Blissful

18 Mar

Last month, my uncle discovered that he had cancer, and he went in for an operation which he was told had a 20% survival rate. Being very fit and healthy, he was confident about the outcome. He woke from the operation and told the nurses he felt “blissful”. But by the time the family and I arrived at his hospital in Leeds, he was in a coma.

He was allowed two visitors at a time, so I mostly accompanied my grandmother, his mother, to sit at his bedside. It seemed to us that, though he was lying still with his eyes closed, there was a difference in his face between one time and another; as though sometimes he was asleep and dreaming, and sometimes he was listening and aware.

I therefore made a point of speaking to him. I greeted him when we arrived, told him who we were and who was waiting for him in the waiting room. I told him what tests the doctors were doing on him and why, and when we left him I said goodbye and told him when we would be back. His other visitors spoke to him too. His mother held his hand and stroked it gently, telling him she loved him and would visit him every day.

I brought in my book to read to him during these daily visits. It was the biography of the naturalist Gerald Durrell, my childhood hero and role model. I have no idea what my uncle thought of him, but I hoped that the colourful images of Gerald’s childhood in India, and of his experiences with exotic animals, might be pleasant for someone stuck in a hospital bed. I felt it must be dull to be lying there hour after hour, day after day.

The doctors and nurses working in the ward began to find reasons to carry out tasks near my uncle’s bed when I visited. After a while, they began asking me when the next chapter would be read out. I liked this: having so many specialists close by meant they would immediately notice changes in my uncle’s health. Reading to him made him safe.

But in the end, safety was not enough to see him through. My uncle was not one of the 20% who survive the Whipple operation. He died with a head full of happy plans, blissful emotions, and perhaps some images of a small boy in India who had pet bears.

Gerald and me