THE first pet we had was Timothy a small dog which looked like an Alsatian puppy.
Granny Annie told people it was a House Agent. We didn’t have any more pets till much later.
When I kept grass snakes in a tea chest, to amuse myself I’d walk round the neighbourhood with one in my hair.
This distressed one local young mother so much if she saw me she would walk up the middle of the road even if she was pushing a pram.
I had a lot of trouble feeding the snakes. I had to walk to Sunny Bunce’s at Hove Edge to collect live baby frogs which they swallowed head first. Such is nature.
When my snakes slithered off this mortal coil, I cut the tea chest down and made it into a miniature garden with a small pond. It made a wonderful home for my new friend Fred Ponsonby Titlark, a very small Mediterranean terrapin.
I would wink at him and he would wink back. If I put him on the widow sill he loved to climb the lace curtains. He could go up, but not down.
I had to be careful with him because when ever he came to an edge he’d jump off assuming he’d hit water. Silly sod.
No edges in our yard so I left him there for a stroll. Never again. Later I had to rescue him he was surrounded by a ring of baffled sparrows.
His little pond was too small for a really good swim so for a treat I’d pop him in with Mam’s goldfish.
He didn’t like the goldfish. When the fish swam past him he’d pull his legs in on that side. He didn’t know goldfish don’t eat terrapins.
I didn’t have another pet for many years until Di got a Dalmatian called Rosebud. I preferred to call it Freckles.
It was the daftest deaf Dalmatian you could wish to meet.
At the time I’d been given a baby owl to look after. I don’t know if he was a he but I called him Napoleon. He didn’t have a cage so he stood on a small log on top of the telly wearing his little paper Napoleon hat.
He stood so still that he looked as though he was stuffed. When visitors called we didn’t introduce him so they thought he was stuffed until he moved. The shock made some of them scream. He was unconcerned.
When he wasn’t on the log if Rosebud was lying down he liked to stand on her. He’d dig his claws in. I got the impression that if he’d been big enough he’d have flown off with the dog.
One day I was watching the telly, leaning on the back of an armchair. Napoleon was on my shoulder when suddenly he walked down my arm to the armchair back and stared me in the face with a strained look in his eyes.
Then I watched him walk back to my shoulder. Looking back to the telly, I realised he’d pooed all down the back of the girl’s head sitting in the armchair. He knew you didn’t poo on the chap that feeds you.
Sometimes I’d put Napoleon on my shoulder like a parrot and take him and Rosebud for a walk.
The only thing was he would not face forward, he always faced back. So from the front it looked like I had a pile of feathers on my left shoulder.
Dog owners will know if you go walking with a daft pedigree dog total strangers will stop you to talk about the dog. When this happened they would pat the dog at the same time sneaking glances at the pile of feathers.
I had lots of conversations about the dog but no one mentioned Napoleon. I got up one morning and poor Napoleon had swallowed my tie – just the end was sticking out. The vet could do nothing for him. I buried him with the tie.
REMEMBER the ‘I Spy’ books? Why not try the same idea and see how many poodle cross breeds you can spot. Here’s a few to be going on with; Labradoodle, Peke-a-poo, Shihpoo, Whoodle, Pompoo, Cockerpoo, Schnoodle, Eskiepoo, and Pompoo. Watch out for the fake Shampoo.
I HAVE always had a deep-seated dislike of birds, particularly hens.
I don’t mind ducks. My uncle Bob kept hens. I had an unpleasant experience cleaning out one of his huts.
It was what was called the ‘deep litter system’ which involved letting the hens relieve themselves on the floor, building up a very deep layer of poo.
Ultimately you had to judge when to clear it out. The lazy farmer I assume left it until the fowl hit their heads on the ceiling. Sadly Uncle Bob died – he was accidentally electrocuted.
When I told Kath Evans she said: “Did he keep battery hens ?”.
I once had to film a sequence to prove that hens were so stupid that if you drew a line on the floor and put the hen’s beak on it the hen would stay there thinking they were tied to the line.
Embarrassingly, they refused to do what was expected in front of the cameras. I now always refuse to work with hens as they are unreliable.
Our neighbour in Brighouse, Mrs Bass kept a minah bird which she was trying to teach to talk.
Unfortunately it only imitated my dad who, being deaf, only uttered sounds like ‘Ergogut’ which the bird heard when dad was calling the dog in.
Many years later I spoke to the neighbour on the other side of Mrs Bass, Susan Wood, and she said Mrs Bass had despaired and eventually resorted to elocution lessons for the bird.
I would never dream of keeping a caged bird. Wentworth where we once lived had been a kindergarten. The main room was glazed with Vita glass. This glass had be invented for snake houses originally. It let more light though than ordinary glass and it was actually said it was the only glass you could suntan through.
We were asked to look after two canaries when the owners emigrated to Canada.
I hated seeing these two prisoner birds, Heathcliffe and Kathy, so I always left the door open. They were so institutionalised they wouldn’t come out for quite a while. The room was the nearest thing to the wild we could do. They could fly round freely. Unfortunately Kathy decided she’d had enough of Heathcliffe and she wouldn’t let him back in the cage to eat or have a bath. He had to go and live on top of the curtains.
Kathy died and Heathcliffe was left free to go back in the cage, but he didn’t bother.
Anyway he developed some sort of knobbly leg arthritis so he couldn’t stand on the perch.
He could fly, but he had trouble landing. We started calling him Chernobyl. Not a play on French and English – Chere/ Darling and Nobyl/ Knobbly one – but the nuclear reactor in Russia. At the time we were all worried about fallout. ‘The Sage of Cold Aga Farm’ was wiping the feet of his dog when he came in.
The canary would hobble about the floor and always come to where I was in the room.
I thought at first he was fond of me until I realised he only wanted to be near because I was the warmest thing in the room.
He felt the cold. One day he jumped into Kath’s large cup of tea to warm up.
Remembering the success of the venture, he tried the same thing with a bucket of wallpaper paste. Liz rescued him just in time. Shortly afterwards he went to the great perch in the sky or on the top of the curtains if they have them there.
ROBERT CARTER who used to be my accountant lived in Fixby and his house had mice.
Mice in Fixby, oh dear!
He thought that if he bought a mouse trap the neighbours would get to know he had mice.
He decided instead to buy a python to catch the mice. It was a small python.
The thing was the python flatly refused to catch the mice so Robert had to buy mice to feed it.
The python was now redundant so he gave it to me. He pointed out it wasn’t poisonous, it crushed its victims but was too small to crush me. It wouldn’t even crush a mouse.
What he didn’t tell me was although not poisonous it still bit with its razor-sharp teeth. So to protect the family I gave it to Jack Woolgar. He had a lot of mice, he bred them.
Jack believed that you had to teach kids about life and one of the things he did was to breed mice to show how they could be skinned and cured.
He was making an overcoat by stitching the skins to together.
When he showed me how far he’d got it was a stitched piece about a foot square.
He must have despaired of the python so he gave it to Steve Beresford who went to wrestle in Mexico.
I think Steve is no longer with us and I have no idea what happened to the snake. I don’t know if Jack finished the coat
I often wonder what happened to the strange stuffed bear Jack Woolgar had.
He bet me I couldn’t guess what type it was.
It looked like any normal bear – very small, strangely coloured with the normal pointed bear snout. I gave up.
It turned out that the skin had been sent to a taxidermist who used his knowledge to force the skin into the shape of a regular pointed snout bear because he’d never seen a Koala bear .