Atop a hill near Peebles, contemplating heading onto higher ground into snow, we paused to take stock. Note the dog. The dog with the amazing, finely-tuned nose. She is smelling the wind, delicately picking out each and every scent that it brings her. The wind smells of snow and heather, of sweat and goretex, of sheep and rabbits and, hang on, of guinea pigs?
But I’m racing ahead here. Let’s just stick with the dog for the moment. Her name is Cara, and we love her extravagantly, all the more so because she’s nine and we are also, probably in dog-years, close to nine too. In short, none of us are exactly in the first flower of youth. Anyhoo – I digress. This day had been pre-arranged, inked in diaries, put off and rescheduled but finally fixed upon for a long hill-walk, and we were packed and equipped for a good day out on the hills ; sandwiches, fruitcake, tea, oatcakes and if we peered through binoculars, we could just about see the splendid frontage of Peebles Hydro which, if we felt in need of rescue by way of tea and scones, we could try to walk the miles between us and it and hopefully get there before they stopped serving such delights.
However, the fates had something different in mind. A little curved ball for you? Or, how about two? An hour before this photograph was taken, we’d been getting our boots on in a car park about two miles from Peebles on a very B road. In fact, it was so B it was probably a C road. The car park was, regrettably, full of trash and dog shit, and we were mincing our way around it, tying laces and complaining about the fecklessness of gaiters and the gruesomeness of dog owners who don’t clean up when Cara ( the dog? remember?) dived off into the bushes and something black and white bolted out ahead of her. The men in our company gave chase and found that what Cara had uncovered was a very small and terrified guinea pig. What to do? As we debated what on earth to do with this squeaking, tiny creature, Cara lunged back into the bushes and flushed out another, larger, cinnamon and black guinea pig. AAAARGH. Just how many of them were in there?
Fortunately, only two. Faced with the prospect of pretending we hadn’t seen them and releasing them back into the wild ( no, too cruel) or calling off the hill walk and going home ( no, we’d taken three months to synchronise diaries to actually get to this car park, let alone up the hill) we decided to make a cave for them in the back of M’s car, leave them some of Cara’s dried food and a few oatcakes and a dish of water, and head up the hills anyway. At least the car was safe and warm.
The hill walk was glorious, but we did fret. There was much training of binoculars on the car park to check that nobody was standing over our car with an axe, full of self-righteous guinea pig liberating wrath ( there wasn’t) and we worried that they might find the car too warm after their time in the snow in the car park ( they didn’t appear to). M did also consider that by the time we returned to the car, he might find its wiring and electrics somewhat compromised, but we needn’t have worried. All was well when we returned. There was an unbelievable quantity of what guinea pig owners coyly term ‘magic beans’ released all over the boot of the car. Who knew they could produce quite such copious amounts of the stuff, but it’s an old car and M is a kind man. Much kinder than I, since I wouldn’t have been anything like as sanguine if it had been my car they’d used as a latrine.
So. What to do? Well, we took them home, of course. In a bag for life. Guinea pigs for life. *Sigh* But seriously, how could their previous people do that? Peebles was Baltic. The car park was full of Jack Russells when we got back to the car. It doesn’t bear thinking about…
Look – here they are, about to emigrate from Peebles to the Lothians, the poor wee mites.
Found is the black and white one and Lost is cinnamon and black. M took them to the vet and discovered that they’re both boys and they were very undernourished. They lived for a few days in an old steamer trunk and then we cracked and bought them a luxury condominium with two bedrooms, in which they enjoy hot and cold running straw, herbal forage, and copious amounts of spring greens and kale interspersed with a little chef’s salad of red peppers, cucumber and carrot.
Everyone who’s met Lost and Found says the same thing – oh, boy, those are two lucky guinea pigs. And yes, I suppose compared to what might have happened in that car park, yes they are. Sort of. But… many years ago, when we buried the last of the children’s tiny caged animals under a tree in the garden ( Ruff, the beloved hamster) we both swore that we’d never, ever, ever have a small creature in a cage as a pet again. It’s just too sad. I mean who the heck do we think we are, subjecting animals to that kind of half-life?
Plus, please don’t judge me, but part of me wants to stamp my feet and sob – we’ve only just released our last child into the wild. After forty years of parenting. ( She’s not forty, but we do have five children. ) Surely we could have a little time where we aren’t subject to the needs of small creatures? A little time in our lives where we could, at the drop of a credit card, decide to go away for a weekend up North. Unplanned. Oh, the heady freedom of it, thwarted by two little guinea pigs. And then I hear Found’s mellifluous fluting chirrup, or I see Lost lying on his side, so full of straw he’s in danger of being classed as a paliasse rather than a rodent, and I…er…um. Melt. Soften. Make some pretty rodent-like fluting sounds myself.
Just don’t, I beg you, don’t say – oooh, they’ll give you some good ideas for your next book. Because I’m there already. Thinking. Chewing. Nibbling in fact. I appear to be trying to turn straw into gold. Or magic beans. Or something…