There's a new hamster in the family. Let's hope Miso doesn't come to a sticky end - Gaby Soutar
When they bought a Rotastak mansion at a jumble sale, I knew it was a fait accompli. There would be a hamster joining the family. Indeed, this has come to pass, and a six-week-old puffball has arrived. He is the colour of a Rich Tea biscuit, with a white belt round his middle and ears shaped like cockles.
“He looks like a mouse because his face is so small, but maybe he’ll grow into it,” said my sister.
My niece, who got him for her 10th birthday, insists on keeping him in her bedroom. Now she can’t sleep, as he does all the crepuscular rummaging that hamsters do.
It’ll take a while until the four-legged great nephew works out what the running wheel is for. Until, then, the contraption gathers dust in a corner, like a neglected Peloton bike.
His name is Miso Soup Soutar, or Miso for short.
There were a few other options mooted. Peaches was a strong choice, and he does have the fuzzy round buttocks that would merit that title.
I liked the idea of an escapologist’s name, since that’s where hamsters’ talents lie. David Blaine is too pedestrian. However, as a child, I loved the book “I, Houdini” by Lynne Reid Banks. Sadly, that was quickly vetoed.
Einstein was one of my niece’s favourites too, though she might be saving that for the future dog that she’s attempting to work her way up to.
As hamsters originate from Syria, the Arabic name, Abbass, which means lion, might’ve suited.
Anyway, Miso it is, simply because his owner loves Japanese food. (If everyone was named using that convention, my parents would’ve called me Cadbury’s Whole Nut.)
It has become a rite of passage for children to own one of these animals. They’ve been domesticated since the 18th century, but became common pets in the UK from the 1940s.
I’m glad that Miso remains oblivious to the Soutars’ track record with small creatures. Back in the Eighties, my sister and I worked our way through a few varieties. We’d get hugely excited at any promised arrival, before becoming quickly disinterested when it came to cleaning out hutches, tanks or bowls.
I found the responsibility a bit intense, and still have the occasional nightmare about forgetting to feed or water a pet, and finding their corpse under a mound of sawdust.
We do not talk of the tadpoles, rabbits or stick insects, though there were also guinea pigs.
I don’t remember feeling much of an affinity with those guys. Sadly, in the end, Pickles was killed by a local cat and Patch choked to death on a thistle.
My mum was the most upset about that. She did most of the care-taking, and liked their excited peeping sounds at feeding time.
However, a few years after their demise, she went on holiday to Machu Picchu and ate a guinea pig, so she may have over exaggerated her attachment.
The gerbils hung around longer, but didn’t fare much better.
We thought they were two males, but one definitely wasn’t. They swiftly started firing out pink babies, which we’d find huddled in their tank, with sawdust sticking to their squirming naked bodies.
Mum would return each fresh batch to the pet shop. I hope the junior gerbils thrived and found excellent new homes, though I suspect that they probably fed them to the resident snakes downstairs. For some reason, nobody suggested separating the parents, so this wouldn’t happen again. Maybe they thought the usual birds and bees rule didn’t apply to rodents.
Eventually, after many failed attempts, our thrawn cat managed to get into the linen cupboard, where the happy family lived, and munched the lot. I imagine the pups were like chunks of Hubba Bubba.
My dad came home from work and stumbled upon the crime scene. The perpetrator was reclining on a shelf, proudly purring and waiting for praise, thinking that he’d done an honourable job.
Apart from the spoiled cat, who was soon forgiven, that was pretty much the end of our pet ownership phase.
It was only in my early twenties that I got my first hamster, by mistake.
A friend at college was moving into a new flat and wasn’t allowed to take her furry friend, so I volunteered to adopt. She was already called Squeaky, but I changed her name to the more dignified Esther.
I got pretty attached. She was triple the size of the average hamster, resembled a little bear, and would enthusiastically ricochet in her ball around the lounge of wherever I was living in at the time.
I was surprised by how vocal a hamster could be. The gerbils never had opinions.
Esther would screech with impatience when I was decanting her dinner too slowly.
There was one Houdini-esque escape attempt. I spent a few hours anxiously hunting for her, then she ran at me, out of a cupboard and across the bedroom, and sat at my feet, waiting to be picked up (while screeching). I suppose freedom isn’t always all that. You imagine limitless snacks. Instead, it’s more like being a character in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Amazingly, she lived to four and a half years old, which in human years is probably 120.
Since she loved the hamster-specific chocolate drops so much, I gave her a whole segment of Terry’s Chocolate Orange on her deathbed. She crossed over the sawdust-strewn rainbow bridge, while lying on her back with food smeared across her face. That’s exactly how I plan to go.
Let’s hope Miso can make it that far.
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