After decades or rushing around, I am slowly reaching the time in my life when all I want to do, most of the time anyway, is very little. To get up at leisure, pace myself with hourly cappuccinos and idle the day away with nothing much to show for it in the evening, except perhaps a few hundred words of therapeutic writing and a couple of artistic close-ups of my cats, is my idea of heaven. No, really, I really do want to do just that. With a couple of non-demanding BBC One drama series on iPlayer thrown in too. Possibly. If they are really good with an upbeat message read out by Vanessa Redgrave at the end.
This week all of this had been brutally denied to me. The commute alone was long enough and tiring enough for me to contemplate a host of options, which would result in removing myself from gainful employment scene permanently and irrevocably. Social sensitivities being what they are, I am not allowed to joke about anything to do with so-called protected categories, so let’s leave it at that. Suffice to say that by the time I arrived home in the evenings, all I wanted was to be fed, watered and left well alone. Last night, that was not to be.
No sooner had I skilfully selected Categories – Drama & Soaps – Holby City – Your Next Episode than my son Matt poked his confused head in;
– Where is Charlie?
– What do you mean where is Charlie?
– I mean, where is Charlie, he is not in his thing, so where is he?
As he was saying it, he started looking around my study skittishly, not unlike Charlie himself when he is trying to sniff things out. Charlie is our youngest family member, of an African pygmy hedgehog variety. For Charlie to be missing was impossible.
– He is not there. I am not joking.
Except, the idea was so absurd that I knew he was joking, what’s more that he was setting a trap for me to walk straight into. I played it cool.
– I am sure he is there, where else can he be. He cannot get out.
– Mama, come down and see for yourself, Charlie is not in his thing (years of expensive education have clearly paid off in my son’s case, his eloquence is enviable).
As soon as he said that, I was even more convinced he was tricking me, it was all a ploy to get me downstairs for some reason, and he knew there were not many things that would have achieved this at that moment. I sighed and went downstairs, straight to Charlie’s thing. I mean his vivarium, viv for short. I patted his blankets inch by inch waiting for the familiar grumpy hiss. Nothing. Charlie wasn’t there.
– Ok, Charlie is not there, where is he?, I said, reluctantly, really not in the mood for the game I was being dragged into.
– That’s what I was trying to tell you, he is not there.
– Did you ask Amelia?
Officially Charlie belongs to Amelia. All our pets officially belong to Amelia, in recognition for her tireless campaigning to add ever more four legged members to our household.
– Amelia knows. She is having a breakdown in her room.
Up I went again.
– Amelia, where is Charlie?
– I don’t know, she whispered, her voice as soft as Charlie’s belly, her face as white as, well, to keep things simple, let’s say her face was also like Charlie’s belly. Which is very white.
I went down again. My husband had not looked up from his cooking, fully immersed in his quiche-making mission. Matt was now on all fours trying to locate Charlie under pieces of furniture. It was roughly at that moment that I decided that it might not have been a joke after all and that we were having a situation. Charlie really was missing. I stared at his viv. The viv had two overlapping sliding glass panes and three ventilation holes near the top. Hedgehogs are incapable of moving glass panes to let themselves out, neither are they able to jump up 40 cm, unless they have been placed on a trampoline in a John Lewis Christmas advert.
Matt had moved the coffee table, the armchair, the sofa, the…
– Oh, hello, here you are!
And sure enough, there he was, perfectly curled blob on top of a sheepskin behind the sofa.
Matt checked him over, he seemed ok.
– Amelia, please come down!
A while later, still apprehensive, Amelia joined us.
– We found him, Matt found him, he is fine.
All this suddenly proved too much for Charlie’s official keeper, and floodgates opened.
Amelia does not get emotional very often, so that finally made Rowan tear himself away from his cooking. He walked up to us, spatula in hand.
-What’s going on with Squirrel?
For no particular reason, my husband insists on calling Charlie Squirrel.
We told him Charlie had gone AWOL, but was now found; safe and sound.
Over the years my dear husband had managed to carve out his own little planet within the precincts of our family, where, by and large, he resides and which he leaves under duress, mainly to serve us dinner, or to drive us somewhere on a Sunday. This time the combination of seeing his beloved tough girl daughter welling up and his (almost) equally beloved Squirrel going walkies made him re-join Earth’s atmosphere, if only tentatively.
– I think it is very good for Squirrel’s mental health that he’d got out of his cage and gone exploring. He needs to expand his horizons.
– That’s great, but I am more worried about his physical health than his mental wellbeing right now, daddy, said Amelia, cuddling Charlie and checking his four-toed feet for cuts.
The enigma remained as to how Charlie got himself behind the sofa.
One other person was still missing from the scene. Alexia was on the bus home from her weekly dancing practice. By the time she got home, Charlie was happily crunching his mealworm.
When we brought her up to speed on recent developments, she remembered that the previous night, as she was being introduced into the arcane world of chicken basting by her father, the said father asked her where Charlie was as the door to his thing was open.
After that the mystery was soon solved. Charlie’s official viv attendant must have forgotten to slide the glass pane shut after cleaning his cage.
This latest twist meant that Houdini Hedgehog story had to be scrapped, which is a shame, it would have been so much better than this one.