We had lots of pets in our house although we hadn’t originally intended to have quite so many guinea pigs..
When I was around ten years of age I was already earning my own money by selling programmes at Headingley at rugby matches, yes, in our house you had to start early, yes, it probably wasn’t legal, but as my employer was my Uncle Ralph then the question of “How old is he again ?” probably never arose.
So with my own money I accompanied my mother into Leeds one Saturday afternoon on her weekly ritual of “doing the shopping in Leeds” which consisted of her getting off the bus outside Lewis’s at the top of the Headrow and then over the next four hours making her way through every single shop in Leeds until she got to the Edwardian Market Hall, Leeds City Markets, we’re famous for it, even now they run bus trips from Newcastle 100 miles away just to come to our huge Edwardian market hall, and in those days, before the fire in the 1970s that destroyed half of it, it was, well, twice as big.
And the very last thing that you came to in the indoor market hall, just before you came to the outdoor market and then the bus station, was the Pets Row, a sort of 100 foot long covered passageway in which traders would set up stalls and sell animals, for pets, I assume they were all for pets anyway, although it has to be said that Pets Row was just at the bottom of Butchers Row, but lets leave that thought there, I’ve never knowingly eaten hamster.
So this particular afternoon I’d accompanied my mother through the drudge of her weekly shopping trip into Leeds and eventually found ourselves at the bottom of the indoor market just about to go for the bus, “Hang on mother” I declared, “for I have to go into Pets Row for something”, she tutted from inside a huge fur collared coat, she was always rather ostentatious was my mother, it was like going shopping with the old Queen Mary, her old fur coat looked very regal but in reality it was artificial fur as we found one bonfire night when she set fire to herself at the cricket field, anyway…
I bought a guinea pig.
I haven’t a clue why, but I had my own money in my pocket and so I bought a guinea pig while my mother wasn’t looking and by the time she realised what had happened it was too late, money had exchanged hands, the guinea pig was in a cardboard box and I was heading for the bus station yelling over my shoulder, “Come along mother, don’t dilly-dally, we have to get this guinea pig home for there are no air holes in this box”
I sat with it on my knee on the bus and my mother never spoke to me during the whole half hour journey except once when we got off the bus, “What are you going to tell your father ?” she asked.
Now here was the tricky bit, I had been thinking about this, I would have to play this very carefully for not only did I have to break the news to my father that I’d bought a guinea pig, but I had to ask him to build a cage for it, like, right now, because I was pretty sure that if I just left it in the garden overnight then it might not be there in the morning.
“Now look here father”, I ran the words through in my ten year old mind when walking home from the bus, “I’d be rather grateful if you could see your way to building a cage for this here guinea pig which I have agreed to adopt in order to prevent it going into a pie” it was a pretty good speech, should appeal to his sense of justice and all and he wouldn’t ask me the awkward question that he usually asked you at times like these, “How much was that then ?” if he thought I’d actually rescued it from the butchers chopping block.
“Erm, if I happened to buy a guinea pig, would you be able to build a cage for it ?” I asked him while hiding the box behind my back
“Don’t be bloody stupid, why would you buy a guinea pig ?” he asked, this was not going well
And then he looked at me and he saw that I was hiding something behind my back, “How much was that then ?”, fairly predictable I suppose.
“Bloody hell” is all he said as he put down the Green Final and stomped out to the garage to see what he could make a cage out of, life must have been hilarious being our dad.
A wooden packing case became a guinea pig cage after an hour or so of swearing and it was about two days later that I discovered that I’d been sold a dud one, this guinea pig only had three legs and sort of shuffled around instead of running because on its one front leg it didn’t have any toes either, a thalidomide guinea pig is what I had.
And then about four weeks later I opened the cage door, or the packing case door, and I could swear that I could see two guinea pigs in there, I closed the door again and stood there for a minute, puzzled, and when I opened the door again there were three guinea pigs in there. It was like a magic trick, I’d turned into Tommy Cooper, I opened the door again and there were four guinea pigs, my disabled guinea pig was birthing before my very eyes.
She (I thought it had been a he, Ron is not a very good name for a female guinea pig after all), stopped birthing at four and I rushed inside to give my dad the good news.
“Oh bloody hell” is all he said and looked a bit annoyed, then I told him that I could sell the baby guinea pigs for five shillings each at school, “Oh” is all he said and I could tell that he was trying to think of a way to cut himself in on this deal, “Well don’t forget who built the cage” is what he said, there was going to be a levy coming my way for the cage, anytime soon.
And so I did sell the guinea pigs to four friends at school and a few days later three of them came back to ask me how many legs a guinea pig should have, “Three?” is what I replied and because they were particularly stupid friends they all looked satisfied and just said “Oh I didn’t know that” so I added, “Yes, its always that way, and you’ll notice that the one front leg doesn’t have any toes either” and they were happy again.
But that’s not all, my guinea pig died about three weeks later and all of its babies perished too within the month, hey what can I say, I bought the mother at the back of the market without the right compliment of legs, I didn’t exactly get a vets certificate with it, and my friends asked for their money back but I told them mine had died too and that was the life span of a guinea pig, about four weeks, and they all looked a little surprised and said “Oh I didn’t know that”, and so I didn’t have to give them their money back but I told my dad that I did so I never got his bill for the cage either.
With the profit I bought a tortoise, a more pointless pet a boy could never own…