Hammy Jo’s first Christmas

IMG_2351One 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).

IMG_2356Every 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.

IMG_2353Hammy 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.

In come the Pardiggles

Hammy Jo 11.5.14 009There has been much merriment and excitement lately with many unexpected moments of surprise and joy, mostly arising from the increasing number of creatures now under our care (if not directly under the roof). Whenever I can get into the Growlery – where his byzantine set-up lurks – I hunker down and stare at the Boy Named Jo, this perfect charmer. As I write I can hear him, in his little nest all fluffy with clouds of pink and blue padding, at the bottom of one of his homes (which are cleverly connected, like a labyrinth), tucking into a monkey nut which, along with fresh broccoli are his favourite foods. Silence soon follows, which means that sleep has once again overtaken him fully; our own little dormouse. When his food bowl is topped up, he rushes to it straight away, pushing up his sleeves and diving in with gusto, jettisoning this, that and the other in order to locate a particular nibble which he will then either eat or secret in his pouch for later. He has a number of food hordes, one in a length of tunnel, over which he climbs effortlessly on his many perambulations around his considerable territory. One morning Kemo Sabe and I found that he had placed carefully all the shelled peanuts and pumpkin seeds on the inside of his smaller wheel (he has two), but by the next morning, they had been redeployed and rearranged within one of his tiny plastic houses. What is in his mind, I wonder? Does he ponder as I do? He greets us, certainly, and will not nip. He knows when it is time for vegetables and does not mind the vacuum cleaner in the least, stout fellow that he is. I have high hopes for him as he grows in stature.

Our Mantalinis continue to visit and to feed: we wonder where the nest may be and when we will be introduced to the ducklings. The weather has been dismal and wet over the last few days, interrupting their routine waddlings-about, but their insistent announcement of arrival indicates they know us and expect us to know and care for them.

IMG00382-20140503-0747And then we have new arrivals: the Pardiggles. What we suspect to have been Mrs Pardiggle amazed us a couple of mornings ago twitching a bit of weed in a brackish pool on the rocks beneath the sand dunes, in the dawn sunshine before the rains came down. This morning we found a far less interesting little puddle – without so much as a pebble to commend it – full of the punctuation marks which are new-born tadpoles, some of which we brought home and offered to the pond, our wild-life haven, where there is food a-plenty. We hope they prosper and like it here.

On Friday the BBC broadcast the very last episode of Tweet of the Day, which has been running for a year. The final programmes were about the dawn chorus, that natural wonder, of which we never tire. Every location has its own unique lyric ingredients, contributed by the various species whose habitat it is and the BBC made several versions – on salt flats in Suffolk, and a moor in Northumberland. The final broadcast was recorded especially in Whitechapel, to the east of the City of London, where the robin sprung into action in the dead of night under an orange security light, and eventually was joined by the blackbird and then the tits and sparrows.  As light itself encroached, the alarms of ambulances and police cars joined in, as London – which is a sense never knows a dawn – grew busier again. It was incredibly evocative, and reminded us of Stepney City Farm, which we visited recently. We love this tiny two-minute daily jewel of a programme and will miss it terribly. Over the course of the year we have been taken in our imaginations far and wide, up hill and down dale, as we have attended to these creatures, their calls and their ways. Some we will never see; some like the curlew, which are rare to others, are our constant companions. Some of them see places of which we can only dream. Some we hope one day to glimpse. This week it is time to go out to the islands again and see the puffins, returned from their winter in the Atlantic. We will all say welcome back, and mean it.

If you are interested in Tweet of the Day, which has now won awards, you can find more about it here: