Who refuses an eight-year-old a birthday puppy? My parents, that’s who. Admittedly, I’d killed enough goldfish to stock Lake Windermere, suffocated the school frogs stolen and secreted in my pants, not to mention scores of stick insects lost in gladiatorial bouts against Dee’s praying mantis, and, to my shame, this list is not exhaustive. In mitigation, these deaths were more through neglect than malice, well apart from the twiglets, but try explaining that to the ‘worst mum and dad in the universe’.
Thankfully, after a mere ten weeks of my pitch-perfect Violet-Elizabeth Bott impression, a compromise was reached. A tortoise. It couldn’t run away, but was hard to injure when captured. I was elated… until it arrived.
It did nothing. A pet rock would’ve been more rewarding. I could have hurled that through the window of the shop that had the audacity to sell an inanimate object as a pet.
Was he unhappy being called Pooh? My entreaties he was named after a bear, rather than a number two, fell on deaf ears. Well appeared to, it was hard to tell. Was it his accommodation. A chicken-wire prison, designed to stop him running away according to my father. It even had a roof! Did he fear Pooh would leap the fence on a diminutive motorbike? But what was really galling was that after months of imitating Rip Van Winkle he escaped.
How could this happen! He had all the lettuce he could eat and a box of straw. Something was amiss. The tunnel, replete with claw marks, was too perfect, an obvious false flag. Had he been kidnapped to teach me the lesson my mother harped on about?
Unlikely, our lifestyle hardly gave the Gettys a run for their money. It’s doubtful they considered mushrooms a luxury, or were watching black and white television during the eighties. The latter ostensibly due to my father’s concern for our eyesight, although this could have been another example of erroneous evidence evinced to avoid extravagant expenditure, like the causal link between Airfix models and heroin addiction.
Direct action was required, but my parents refused. A reporter for the ‘Young Observer’ (card-carrying, but unpublished), I concurred the nationals would be more interested in the Battle of Saltley Gate than my loss, however, I vociferously disagreed with my father that posters were useless as all tortoises looked alike. I’d have recognised him anywhere, even at amongst the chelonian crowds at the Leipzig Festival of Lettuce.
How ironic, my parents were worried I’d hurt a pet, yet I was the one in turmoil. The sleepless nights, gazing out the window, praying he’d be found. Some solace was found in the name on his back, however, as it didn’t mention our address, other than help a lover remember his name, it was unlikely to be useful.
My prayers went unanswered and hope died a few days later, when a neighbour bisected him digging up a breakfast radish. I would never love again. Well not until three hours later, when we bought Fred. Guilt and grief is a powerful combination. I didn’t even need to threaten to thcream and thcream ‘till I was thick. This escapade proved many things: tortoises escaped; alerting neighbours the correct course of action (assuming they listened), and all tortoises look alike. Father had been correct, positing the question what else had he been right about? Hopefully not Santa Claus, as that would necessitated an immediate paradigm shift in behaviour if Christmas wasn’t going to be as disappointing as my birthday. Perhaps I’d get a puppy, if only someone would rid me of this troublesome tortoise…
Words: Monsieur Le Quoi