One of my favourite daily routines, after returning from our run and eating my bowl of breakfast, is the morning ritual of making Jo comfortable for the day. Everyone loves Jo, for his sweet nature, enchanting heart-shaped face, extraordinarily charming fur coat and his tiny, perfect nose. At the drop of a hat we Dickens Dogs will rush upstairs and congregate in the Growlery where he lives, crowding in and hoping to see him come out, like the groundhog on that special day. And all this, despite the fact that he does very little to court our affection, confined as he is to his (albeit extensive) hamstery world of tunnels, nests and copious food supplies, Byzantine in the complexity of location and content. As I write I can see that a new pantry is developing along the connecting tube, weighing it down with peanuts, sunflower seeds and the various coloured biscuity shapes from proprietary hamster food which he actually likes (the rest being thrown to one side immediately his bowls are filled).
Every morning I alone am allowed to participate in the housekeeping routine. I sit patiently nearby as any remnants from his suppertime veg are retrieved, soiled wood shavings are cleared out and the surfaces cleaned; his red playroom and wheel are gently disinfected, his tiny poos removed and fresh litter scattered about. This daily labour keeps him fresh and spotless and takes a little over five minutes while saving Jo from the major upheaval of the usual massive clear-out which he finds really disconbobulating. During the procedure, Jo begins rustling about in his deep, warm nest and pokes out his pink nose, as soft as a raspberry. He stretches forth and emerges, ready to eat something extra from Kemo Sabe’s hand – some dried mealworms, perhaps, or pumpkin seeds – and if he is particularly in luck (as he was today), he’ll get another monkey nut to strip down and store, even though he’s already got loads blocking the tunnel. When it’s all over, I get a slice of dried banana, which I love, my bonus and a secret between Kemo Sabe and me.
Hammy Jo is one tiny insignificant little creature in a world of millions such, yet his life is dignified and his care and comfort are important, perhaps all the more so because he will not see many Christmases (Kemo Sabe’s first hamster was with her but a year and a day, as in a fairy tale). Hammy Jo’s routines, morning and night – when he gets his beloved salad leaves, plus grated carrot and something gorgeous, like fresh jewels of pomegranate – calm me wonderfully and make me ponder on grace abounding, as it does despite everything. In the simplest things.