The inspiration for this blog came to me this weekend when I was quietly Twittering and found I was being followed by @ErnieHedgehog. As I Tweeted at the time, I do occasionally talk to @EliotTheBad who is a cat, I don't think I'm talking to many other animals, possibly a couple of dogs, I'm pretty sure I see a Great Dane lurking in my time line sometimes. We've got a dog, she's never really shown any interest in Twitter though, she is getting on a bit and prefers sleeping. So anyway, chatted to the hedgehog for a while, followed back to be polite, and then thought it may be a good time to turn off the computer and get some sleep.
Sleep is one of the things I have found gets, more difficult as you get older, like running for the bus, carrying your shopping uphill, seeing much at all without your glasses on, kneeling, I could go on but I will just get depressed. While struggling to get to sleep I had hedgehogs on my mind and the more I thought about hedgehogs the more hedgehogs I remembered. The first were fictional, one was a milkman in a 'Little Grey Squirrel' story, then there was Mrs Tiggywinkle, who did the washing and ironing in Beatrix Potter's peculiar world. Through all my childhood, I have no recollection of seeing one in the flesh, or prickle, in my south west London suburb. I'm sure there must have been some around but our paths never crossed.
So amazingly, I didn't see a real live hedgehog up close until I was living in Kensal Rise in North London. I was living with one of the loves of my life in a bedsitter above the only Asian corner store in an almost completely West Indian community. It was the big room directly above the shop with windows on two walls, It would have been quite nice if the roof hadn't leaked, the cooker had worked and the fireplace had been usable. I am unable to dredge any memory up of the bathroom, so I guess it was so awful I've blocked it out completely! I do seem to remember a lot of mice there though, and a very active cat called Simba. When she wasn't catching mice she slept on the sacks of chapatti flour, lentils and rice just inside the shop door. It was 1971, Health and Safety hadn't been invented back then. At night the streets belonged to the hedgehogs. There were not so many cars back then and nobody drove around those streets fast because regardless of weather conditions everyone was hanging out of the windows to chat with other drivers or pedestrians, and the cars were so old most couldn't get up to much more than a brisk walking speed.. it was a very laid back area. Usually on a Thursday evening a good reggae groove would start up in a house nearby, and keep going through to Tuesday morning, there was a tendency to park the cars in such a way as to make it difficult for the Old Bill to get close with their squad cars and Black Maria's to break up the party, as I say... a very laid back community. The hedgehogs were safe, you would see them scurrying about all over the place. Found out there was a lady a couple of streets away who took them in and nursed any that were injured or unwell, everyone new that if you found a hedgehog in distress, you just took round there and popped it through the hedge into her garden. A happy area for hedgehogs and hippies alike, unlike Richmond in South London where I moved to after leaving Kensal Rise.
Richmond on Thames, very nice. We lived by Richmond Hill, and just down a bit from Richmond Park. It didn't take long to realize that it was all fur coats and no knickers. That is, it all looked very smart and affluent, but it was all show, there was little of substance and not a lot of soul. Loads of hedgehogs though, big gardens, a royal park, ideal really except the folks here tended to drive their BMWs and Mercedes with the windows up and air conditioning on and little regard for anything or anyone besides themselves. Hedgehogs did not fare well in the streets on the slopes of Richmond Hill. I'm almost ashamed to say I did alright there for a while, but that is a different story.
Ten years on finds me with a different love of my life in the Forest of Dean, a little place called Ruspidge. Oh boy did we have hedgehogs there! Along with sheep, ducks, chickens, foxes, badgers and a Siamese cat. None of these beasts belonged to us, they were just regularly in our garden, and sometimes our house. The Hedgehogs lived under a shed quite close to the kitchen door. There was a step down into our kitchen, an odd arrangement which caught a lot of our more urban visitors out, mainly because the light switch was on the opposite wall and there were no street lights, I don't need to go on do I? The most alarming part for the unwary entering the house in the dark, was the hedgehog community which liked to gather by the kitchen door, if you didn't know they were there, opened the door and stepped in, the unsettling feeling you had around your feet as you struggled with the lock would just fall in with you and scatter around the kitchen like an assortment of balls.
Hedgehogs are not the first thing that come to mind when you are face down in the dark on the kitchen floor, conscious of the presence of other life forms and probably with a couple of drinks inside you. Trying to stand up avoiding contact with unknown invisible balls is impossible, that is the point at which you become aware of the prickly nature of the beast, and how wonderfully warm they are to the touch and that they make a funny little noise that I cannot describe. Fourteen in one night was the record. Fortunately their defense mechanism makes them fairly simple to evict.
Another ten or more years on finds us in South Wales and by now we've go two kids and a dog. The dogs name was Dodger, and he was a Lurcher. In his case that means mum's a border collie and dad's a greyhound, there is a very old photo of him in his favourite place which was most of the sofa because he was definitely a long dog, at the top of this hedgehog reminiscence ramble!
He didn't much like hedgehogs, they wouldn't play, they just rolled up in a ball and pricked his paws when he tried to move them, he was a bit uncomfortable for days after he tried to pick one up in his mouth, so whenever he encountered a hedgehog, usually on the front lawn, he stood over it and barked at it, big deep mournful woooffffs. The only other time he used this voice was at a sunflower. We thought he had lost the doggy plot but on investigation it was a bunch of wasps up to no good on the stem. A wasp had stung his mouth a couple of years earlier when he had snapped at it, so this must have been his 'you hurt my mouth' mantra. I like to think of him racing around in some doggy Valhalla chasing rabbits and not being bothered by spiky spiny or stingy beasts.
But I could now do with a bit of hedgehog input, Dodger passed away a good few years ago, and Toffee is getting a bit too old to too much damage in the garden, so we are growing vegetables. Trouble is, we are fighting a pitched battle with slugs, possibly every known variety of slug inhabits out garden, we use nematodes, slug traps sharp sticks, eggshells, you name it, we've tried it. We've got some mighty big frogs and they are doing their bit but we do not have any hedgehogs, we see them coming down the lane beside our garden but they don't come in, I've even seen a couple by the back gate, the simplest place to enter the garden from, but they do not come in.
My guess is that the huge great lump of a hedgehog that Dodger would not leave alone on our front door step was one very important hedgehog and never got over the indignity caused by the need to shut the dog up as it was 1.00am and bedroom lights were going on. Youngest daughter was about 10 or 11 and had to be called up to assist as the dog was being stubborn. Yes I know she should have been in bed at that hour, bad parenting and all that, but she has just graduated from university so it didn't do her too much harm. Anyway, protected with heavy duty gardening gloves it was decided that I should pick up the hedgehog and relocate it while Hannah distracts dog and gets him in the house with doggy treats. The excitement and glee on Dodgers face as I picked up the hedgehog took us by surprise, and all four of us ended up inside the house. I've no idea what the dog or the daughter thought I was going to do with the hedgehog indoors, but now Dodger is walking to heel as he had never done before, or ever again, and curiosity was getting the better of Hannah and me, and Sarah was getting involved. So us humans all had a good look at the hedgehog ball, and said encouraging things to it, thanked it for it's patience and noted that the dog had lost interest and taken up residence on the sofa, so I took it out and placed him or her under a hedge and wished it all the luck in the world. If hedgehogs have a collective consciousness or memory, I suspect the Cwmbach hedgehog community have learned to pass our house with caution and a good turn of speed.
So I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to the whole of hedgehog kind for any inconvenience or distress I may have caused or been a party to over the years, and assure you a warm welcome to our garden, where the head gardener is making positive noises about hedgehog houses and I can promise you all the slugs you can consume. We really would appreciate your company...