Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sloooooow Memories

In the Olden Days of the nineteen-sixties, there was eternal sunshine, there was great music, there were fantastic ice-creams and nobody minded about the E-numbers in them, and there was a general feeling of bouncy optimism. And there were tortoises.

Yes, in those far-off days almost every child seemed to have a tortoise as a pet. Like poodles, they were Iconic Sixties Animals.

I had a tortoise and a poodle, and lots of other creatures too, because I wanted to be a vet, and our house and garden were filled with as many animals as I could get away with.

In those days, tortoises were caught in the wild and imported from abroad in crates, piled one on top of the other. It was very cruel and many of them died.

But we didn't know this. We just saw them for sale in the pet shop, and wanted one.

Some people painted initials on their backs, or the numbers of the house, in case they escaped. Some people drilled through their shells, tied a knot through the hole and kept them on a piece of string. I wasn't a fan of either of these practices and I'm still not.

No, our tortoise lived a good life in a specially-built outdoor run with a little wooden house at one end. The Communist was good at creations involving wood and chicken wire.

I would move the run round on the lawn and the tortoise would eat his way through any dandelions. I would also bring him lots of other things to eat and this is why, to this very day, should anybody request it I can do an excellent impersonation of A Tortoise Eating a Strawberry.

Of course, the long, hot summers (for, of course, they were always both long and hot) were devoted to making sure that the tortoise put on enough weight to survive his winter hibernation. Of course, tortoises shouldn't be hibernating in the first place - they should be living in a hot country where they don't need to. But in Britain, that was what we did with them, and what's more Val, John and Pete on the television programme Blue Peter would show you how to do it, every year, and how to get them up again in the Spring.

One year one of my tortoises died during hibernation and my Grandma - my mother's mother, who lived with us - brought it in and waved it under the Communist's nose whilst he was having breakfast.

"Look, it's dead!" she said cheerily.

The Communist didn't appreciate this whilst he was trying to eat his Weetabix and for ever after he would say "and the time that Lottie brought me that dead tortoise for breakfast".

One time the tortoise escaped, I'm not sure how. I mourned its loss and thought I'd never see it again - but it turned up three days later, walking up the path towards the back door.

I'm not generally keen on looking after reptiles. It's hard to tell whether you're doing it properly. But I still like tortoises. In this country now, they are very expensive and people who keep them as pets generally do so indoors, and that's far better for the tortoises.

But when I was revising for exams, trotting off down the garden and hand-feeding the tortoise a slice or two of cucumber made for a lovely peaceful break. Like many other pleasant times, it's one that won't come again.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, happy days!

7:47 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Oh, do it, do it! Get Silverback to make a little video of you doing your excellent impersonation (if that is the proper term) of A Tortoise Eating a Strawberry, then imbed it in a post, with his help if necessary, and then we can all see it!

My verification word is "bultyqeg" which, if memory serves, is what a specially-built outdoor tortoise run with a little wooden house at one end is called in the Low Countries.

8:19 pm  
Anonymous The Hare said...

If I hadn't been so complacent, I could have been your beloved pet instead of that bloody tortoise!

12:44 am  
Anonymous Daphne2 said...

Oh dear, we get more and more alike. We too had a tortoise, Rocky, for about 10 years in the sixties - for all I know he is still alive as my parents gave him to friends when they moved to a flat in Yorkshire (I grew up in the South)We were always so pleased when he woke up after another succesful hibernation. He too had a run but we let him out to potter in the garden too and he would regularly escape and end up further up the road, but was always found or came back of his own accord - he would hiss when we caught him! As pets go he was far better thabn fish - loved to be hand fed lettuce or dandelion leaves and stroked under his chin. Now I have cats and dogs, including a poodle, and tropical fish but my sister and I still talk about Rocky sometimes.

8:22 am  

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