Many tears were shed in the Swift Household yesterday as Katie and Eleanor mourned the passing of Curly Wurly, their last-but-one guinea pig. They say that having pets helps youngsters understand the processes of birth
and death - but when a much-loved animal dies, be it a cat or a guinea pig, well, it hurts.
Katie and Eleanor are Animal Lovers with a capital A and L. Allowed
their heads, they would probably have set up their very own Hotel for Dogs (along the lines of that film, you know, the one that made me cry.) Every time they came to stay with us when they were ever-so-little and I asked them what they wanted to do
their first suggestion was always: “Can we go and visit Clarissa?” Which was not because Clarissa is a lovely person (though she is, of course) but because Clarissa is a dog-owner and was always more than willing (bless her!) to allow the girls
to spend a happy afternoon dog-walking.
Sadly dogs were out of the question for a dozen sensible reasons so the girls had to be content with guinea pigs. Though
their father did insist that they did their research on the whole Bringing Up Guinea Pigs business - and gave them a test to make sure they’d done their homework – before the first two guinea pigs came to stay. Within days it became clear that
one of the “boys” wasn’t a boy at all and, moreover, was pregnant. Soon there was a veritable Gang of Guinea Pigs to look after.
confuse matters further, all the guinea pigs were named after chocolate bars or sweets of one kind or another. I have to confess I never quite managed to tell Toffee from Twirl. However, while I may have struggled to distinguish one from t’other, the
girls knew everything about them – from the curl of a paw, to the twitch of a nose - and were at pains to enlighten me. It always amazed me how well they knew each one’s habits, who was the greediest, the noisiest, the cuddliest. “Watch
this, Nanna!” they would say, as we unlocked the door to the summer house where the guinea pigs lived in style and splendour.
When visiting I was always
called upon to assist with the general care of the guinea pigs. Many is the time I have cut up their broccoli (or other delicacies of the Vegetable Variety), filled their drinking bottles, or swept out their bedding. Not to mention the day when we thought
there might be a mouse about and I fearlessly attacked a sack of straw with the broomstick. I like to think I went up in the girls’ estimation that day, despite the fact that the “mouse” turned out to be a figment of our over-active imaginations.
Guinea pigs don’t live for very many years so sadly there have been other passings, each one as painful as the last. One Christmas Day the girls went to feed
the guinea pigs and returned in floods of tears. The Paternal Grandparents looked at Mr B and me. We looked at the Paternal Grandparents. The same thought crossed all our minds at the same time: one of the guinea pigs must have died! And on Christmas Day too!
How could that happen? It turned out that the girls’ parents had left their main Christmas present – a Wii – on top of one of the guinea pigs’ hutches as a surprise. The tears were tears of joy. Christmas was Saved.
But yesterday was the real thing. And all I can say to my girls as they mourn poor Curly Wurly, the most distinctive of all the guinea pigs, is this: that there was
never a luckier guinea pig. Never one who was better fed (all that broccoli!), more sincerely loved, more faithfully looked after.
It was a short life but
– as surely befits an animal called Curly Wurly – a very, very sweet one.