22.04.2005 15:47 - Hamster Horror
It doesn't matter how cute you find them, Hamsters are basically a rat with a PR-Makeover. A small rat with a stunted tail and the ability to stuff it's cheeks like Marlon Brando. (Yes, I know Brando got an oscar for it. Her Maj is the resident Brando expert. We've even sat through "Last Tango In Paris", and my advice is, don't bother. "One-eyed Jacks" is much better).
My Nan, for some strange reason, was always irrationally afraid of mice, yet found Hamsters quite cute. Why, I don't know. You can argue the case for guinea pigs, mice, squirrels, gerbils and other members of family Rodentae, but basically, they're all the same thing as far as I'm concerned. Even rabbits.
However, this little story concerns a jolly little family of hamsters that lived in Mrs. Balance's classroom at Churchfield Junior School, and their nearby neighbours, the gerbils. The hamsters were, of course, universally popular, due to the aforementioned PR success. I was particularly enamoured of Hammy and his Missus, as I was the lucky boy who sat next to their orange cage for two terms. I was originally stuck on a four-block desk in the middle of the room, but that was reserved for the class troublemakers, who Mrs. Balance kept her eye on, and so I was moved to the six-block desk on the right-hand-side of the room, right next to Hammy and the Gerbils. Oh what a lucky little boy I am, I thought, the day that I was moved next to the rodents. They were definitely higher on the evolutionary scale than my previous neighbour.
Mrs. Balance also had a number of other animals in the room, such as several stick-insects. She also owned a Boa Constrictor, which she once brought to school to show us all, and which she draped on one of the braver kids. Fortunately, the weather was somewhat cold, and so the Boa was somewhat sleepy, although James Field swore that he'd felt it giving him an experimental squeeze. Nowadays, I find it vaguely worrying that a woman who owned so many little fluffy creatures also owned a great big snake, although I never took it into my head to enquire as to the dietary requirements of the Boa at the time.
I was, due to extreme swottery as well as proximity, appointed rodent monitor, and helped clean out and feed the gerbils and the hamsters. The gerbils were kept in what had formerly been a big fishtank, mainly because they were stinky little things, but also because they were escape-artists par excellence. They were also quite probably well-in with the local rodent underworld, and dealt in smuggled contraband sneaked out of the school kitchens. I don't think many people liked the gerbils.
Big surprise number 1 came when, one break time, I checked on the three gerbils and found, to my utter 7-year-old horror, that there were only two and one-upper-half gerbils. According to Mrs. Balance, after calming me down, the other one had probably been ill and died, and the other two ate him. Of course, she was just smoothing it over. Let's face it, it's not a very sensible thing to do to eat a colleague who's just passed on from an illness, especially if you don't know what did for him in the first place. He'd probably been caught cheating on the deal with the local mouse mafia and had paid the ultimate price.
Big surprise number 2 came a bit later. Mrs. Hamster had been pregnant for a while, and every one was looking forward to the birth of the little hamsters. Guess who discovered they'd been born? Guess how I discovered it? I discovered it by the eldritch shriek that emitted from the hamster cage. How unlike little Hammy to emit such a sound!? Inspection showed that the shriek was due to Mr. and Mrs. Hamster going at each other's throats with their impressive incisors, as Mrs. H attempted to defend her recently-born brood from their father, who could think of nothing better than tucking into them, gerbil-style. Yes, good old loveable Hammy had a skeleton in the cupboard that no amount of soulful-eyed stuffed-cheek PR photos could conceal. He was a cannibal, the furry little bastard. Fortunately the shriek had come in time, and Mrs. Balance managed to separate the battling hamsters. Mrs. Hammy was moved to a safe-house, where she brought up her brood in peace, whilst Hammy stayed in his orange cage, feverishly running, running, running on his little wheel, trying to escape from the terrible memories that plagued him thereafter, causing him to wake up squeaking in the middle of the day. His offspring were eventually sold off to schoolkids (except for me, my parents wouldn't let me have one).
I'm not sure if the Hamsters got back together or not. I was moved to the back of the class, away from the rodents, to a desk that was next to the stick insects. I presume Mrs. Balance thought I'd had enough rodent-related horror in my life, and that stick-insects would have a calming influence.