The Bagnalls’ first pets

Lucinda and I have decided that three children makes our family complete.  I think if we had met when we were 21 rather than 31 and we had a bigger house we may not have stopped at three, however we didn’t and as we had both come from 3 children families it seemed a natural number to stop.  Therefore, if we are to expand the family then the obvious way is to introduce pets to Chez Bagnall.

As children my sisters and I had a plethora of pets: goldfish, mice, gerbils, hamsters, Siberian hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs so I am not stranger to sharing your house with our forms of life.  Lucinda, however, never had such pets, the Cathrall household did have dogs but no small mammals.

I am a big advocate of children having pets.  Having a pet teaches you many things.  It teaches you respect for other life forms; it teaches you empathy; it teaches you responsibility and it teaches you how to grieve.  These are all important life skills for our little ones to acquire.  Microbiologists will probably tell you that pets are good for your immune system.  Obviously there are those that are allergic to certain animals but for others the inevitable bacteria that will be passed from animal to child helps with the build up of the bodies defences and there is some evidence to suggest that children that grow up around pets have less risk for developing certain allergies.

A pet also helps bond a family together.  If you ask a child, or indeed their parents whether a pet is a part of the family, most people would be almost offended that you had the audacity to ask such a question. “Of course they are!”  It can be the focus of family activities.  Whether that is taking a dog for a walk; encouraging a cat to chase a felt mouse or simply watching a fish swim in its tank.  There is nothing as relaxing as just sitting down stroking the fur of a pet.  It has been proven that stroking a pet lowers blood pressure and slows the heartbeat reducing stress.  Something that can not be understated in our hectic modern lives.  Sometimes it is important to sit down and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it.  If this sitting down and doing nothing can be done as a family, so much the better – children can feel stressed too!

Despite their name guinea pigs are not pigs nor are they from Guinea.  Guinea pigs, cavies or more accurately domestic guinea pigs are short-tailed, rough-haired South American rodents (family Caviidae, genus Cavia).  They were first domesticated around 5000 B.C. from a closely related species of cavy but do not exist naturally in the wild.

Guinea pigs thrive in groups, indeed in Switzerland it is illegal to keep guinea pigs on their own.  Guinea pigs have been kept as pets in Western Europe since European traders brought them back from South America in the 16th century due to their easy going nature and hardiness.  Biological experimentation has been carried out on guinea pigs since at least the 17th century which is where our modern idiom ‘guinea pig’ originates, even though their use in medical experiments has largely been replaced with smaller rodents such as mice and rats since the 20th century.

A guinea pig was one of the first pets that I had as a child, so I have a soft spot for these friendly rodents.  Notwithstanding my affection for guinea pigs there are a number of reasons why I think that they make a great first pet:

  • Guinea pigs are easy to care for. They only require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of  guinea pig food, plus a vitamin C supplement each day – unlike other rodents guinea pigs can not produce their own vitamin C and thus require it from their food.   They need a secure cage lined with paper and a little sawdust.  A quick tidy daily and a thorough clean once a week and that is it.  If you want to keep them friendly, a daily cuddle is required and you have a happy and contented pet.
  • Guinea pigs are great pets for children. Not as big as rabbits and far more relaxed  than smaller rodents like hamsters and gerbils, however it is still important to supervise younger children and those who aren’t as familiar with animals.
  • Guinea pigs are hardy. When you adhere to the first point guinea pigs will generally stay healthy.  Diseases can be kept at bay with regular trips to the vets.
  • Guinea pigs live long lives. While most small rodents (such as mice, hamsters and gerbils only live for about two or three years, guinea pigs can live for five to seven years, this means that more of a bond can be formed without the extended commitment that comes with a dog or a cat.
  • Guinea pigs have personality. From my experience guinea pigs have different personalities, more so that the smaller rodents. They can be shy; while others can be bold and dominant and just because two guinea pigs look the same doesn’t mean will be the same.
  • Guinea pigs like people. People who haven’t kept guinea pigs often don’t believe this, but they really do recognise and respond to their owners. Many squeal with delight when they see their owners or try to climb up the sides of their cage to greet them.
  • Guinea pigs talk!  Guinea pigs are extremely vocal animals.  They squeak, squawk (indeed my second generation of guinea pigs were called squeak and squawk), and sometime purr like a cat.  They will also make a rumbling sound or chatter their teeth, especially when they are angry or aggressive.

Given their low-maintenance care, overall hardy nature, strong ability to bond with their owners and generally long lifespans, guinea pigs make fantastic first pets for families who want an animal that is loving and rewarding but would find a cat or a dog too much of a burden.

Auntie Liz bought two guinea pigs as class pets for her nursery group and as such had the responsibility for looking after them at weekends.  It soon became apparent that one of the guinea pigs was with pups.  (Male guinea pigs are called boars, female guinea pigs are called sows but that is where their porcine naming convention stops; baby guinea pigs are called pups).  The school didn’t want the responsibility (or cost) of extra mouths to feed so there was a decision to be made about the pups.  This was when Lucinda and I thought it was about time the Baguettes had a pet.

Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz had been down relatively regularly over the last few months and as this has been mainly at weekends, the guinea pigs have been regular visitors too.  The Baguettes loved them and regularly asked to hold them, even if it was for only a couple of minutes before they got too nervous.  It was also a good time for Lucinda to get used to holding them.  Lucinda had never had small rodents as pets as a child and so was also unfamiliar with handling them.  Since guinea pigs are relatively docile and not at all skittish she, and the children, quickly grew in confidence.  Therefore when the pups arrived it was a no brainer that we would take them on.  However, with the fireplace install on-going and thus a lot of dust in the air, not to mention the loud noises associated with building work, we decided to leave it until Christmas for their true adoption.

The pups had already been named by the children, for when they were born we asked them to think of names.  The list was relatively long and had some more unusual names on their (Eric, unfortunately did not make the final list) but eventually the names Toffee and Frazzle were chosen and thus they were christened.

The Baguettes had no idea that there were going to keep the guinea pigs, even though for about a month before we finally took them in we were trying to get the Baguettes used to the idea of having them as pets.  They were very excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz bought them down for Christmas; we expected them to be just as excited when Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz left leaving Toffee and Frazzle behind, however Amélie got herself all upset.  When Lucinda asked why she was upset she said that Nanny Fran should take them back.  Lucinda said that she thought that Amélie would like the guinea pigs as pets and she replied that she would but Nanny Fran would be too upset if she left them here.  Amélie is a sensitive little soul sometimes.  Nevertheless she managed to convince Amélie that although Nanny Fran would miss them, that Toffee and Frazzle would like to stay at our house and Amélie should help look after them.  This satisfied Amélie and thus it was the beginning of pet ownership in chez Bagnall.

Here are photos of the latest additions to the Bagnall household.  We will see how long they keep the attention of the Baguettes.

Peace and Love


Half-term round up

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the trees stand proud in their nudity. The Badger Moot usually fills the pages of this website with the adventures of the greater Badger clan in Dorset around this time of the year. Not this year. When Granddad’s diagnosis was deemed terminal in early September we decided that this year’s Badger Moot would be cancelled. Whatever the scenario a family gathering three hours away from home during the October half-time did not seem apt nor right.

This was the first time since the inaugural Badger Moot in 2004, which was about the same time that I met Lucinda, that there has been no Badger Moot. I, obviously, did not attend that year and Lucinda and I have not attended twice since, in 2008 and 2010 (I will leave you to guess the reason for that) but there has always been a Badger Moot.

I had already booked the time off work for the Badger Moot, so despite the lack of a trip to Dorset (or Devon – as it would have been this year) it was still half-term, there was Granddad’s funeral to arrange and it was the week after Éowyn’s birthday, I did not cancel it.

We were blessed with unseasonably warm weather (as we quite often are on the Badger Moot), so what did we do? You have already read about the beginning of the half-term break in Éowyn’s Seventh Birthday write up: a trip to Legoland and an outing to Build-A-Bear Workshop. An important detail that I omitted in that write up was Éowyn’s delight in the queue for the first ride. Namely, when she stood against the height chart for the ride it indicated that she was a shade above 130cm, the minimum height required to go on the ride solo: a great present for her seventh birthday. Rides now take on a whole new element because she is classed as an adult when it comes to rollercoasters. It will also mean that all five of us can now go on the rides at Legoland.

This spurred us to measure the kids, as we try to do at least once a year. Indeed, on the wall in the playroom are pencil marks marking the progress of their growth. This year the results were thus: Éowyn: 131.5cm (4ft 4in); Amélie: 117cm (3ft 10in); Ezra: 97.5cm (3ft 2in). For those of you that are interested this translates on the Child Development Charts as the fact that all three of our children are sitting pretty on their respective 96th centile. We are going to have tall children; hardly surprising since Lucinda is 175cm (5ft 9in) and I am 190cm (6ft 3in)!

Half-term was the last week of October so there were plenty of Halloween activities advertised. The U.K. is increasingly absorbing the North American affection for Halloween and Trick or Treating – more of that later. We were not immune to the lure of Halloween.

Lucinda and I have National Trust passes, which allow us to take the baguettes into the attractions for free, so we decided to use them and look for a local National Trust property that were doing something Halloweeny (is that a word?) aimed at children. Claremont Landscape Gardens appears to fit the bill. A short drive away (very close to the hospice where Granddad died it turned out – very emotional driving passed that place) and they had Halloween crafts for the children. Wet underfoot but dry and relatively mild we decided a walk around Claremont was just what was needed.

The National Trust passes allowed free parking and free entry but we paid an extra surcharge for the girls (Ezra is a little too young) to complete a puzzle and win a prize. A sheet of paper with eight questions was given to the girls. The answers to these questions were hidden around the gardens on laminated spiders. A letter from each of these answers was highlighted and these, rearranged formed a ninth answer which when handed in, could be exchanged for a prize.

Some of the spiders had been very well hidden and I think we walked around Claremont twice before finding them all. Daddy, had guessed the answer with a number of the questions missing so the girls were always going to get their prizes but we were determined to find these spiders! We did learn one important thing: Tarantulas taste like peanut butter. So if you are ever found hungry in the Amazon jungle, don’t turn your nose up at a tarantula, with or without toast! Chocolate covered tarantula, even better.

In addition to the spider hunt, the Thatched Cottage hosted Halloween mask making. For a small fee the kids could use a kit (and decorate with a host of stickers) a suitable Halloween mask. Éowyn made a cat and Amélie a pumpkin, you can see the fruits of their labours in the photos below.

They all enjoyed their Halloween walk around Claremont. Although, perhaps because of the discussions around Granddad they became fascinated by the story of Charlotte of Wales, wife of Prince Leopold and Granddaughter of King George III and second in line to the throne, who lived at Claremont and tragically died in childbirth at the tender age of 21. It triggered many questions about death from the girls.

A trip to Claremont Landscape Gardens wasn’t the only Halloween activity. Last year, Éowyn was given a ‘grow your own’ pumpkin kit and indeed managed to grown one pumpkin to maturity. Not only did that Pumpkin feed us, it also yielded dozens of seeds before being carved into a Jack-O-Lantern. Out of those seeds we managed to grow 10 plants. My naivety in Pumpkin growing meant that we only managed to fruit 8 pumpkins and only 4 of them to maturity. Nevertheless this meant that the children had one each to carve. I hollowed all the pumpkins, kept the flesh for later and the seeds for next season, then, I handed them over the baguettes to design their Jack-O-Lanterns.

You can see the finished designs in the photos below. Éowyn’s design had to be toned down as it was a little complicated and I am not, yet, an expert pumpkin-carver, nevertheless she was very pleased with the final product. Amélie’s was simple but effective and Ezra needed a little help but all of them looked impressive with a tealight candle inside greeting the friendly neighbourhood trick or treaters.

Saturday was Halloween itself and I was at work. Our neighbours were having a little Halloween party for the kids and then afterwards they went Trick or Treating (or tickle treating as Ezra called it). Halloween falling on a Saturday certainly made ‘Trick or Treating’ popular and there were quite a few groups of ‘Trick or Treaters’ wandering the neighbourhood. Indeed, some of the neighbours were overwhelmed when, for a short time, the groups coalesced into a supergroup of two dozen – that’s a lot of sweets to find. It was at this point that Ezra got a little spooked. There were a lot of older kids, that he didn’t know, in quite scary costumes which freaked him out. Fortunately, I had returned home and so he stayed in with Daddy and his haul of confectionary.

The next day Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz (and the guinea pigs) came down. This is becoming a regular occurrence recently. This time it was to look after the baguettes while Lucinda and I celebrated the life of Granddad, along with the rest of the family and his friends, at his funeral and wake.  We thought that the girls and Ezra, especially were a little too young to come to Granddad’s funeral, so we didn ‘t even give them the option.  It is always feels strange to say that it was a ‘good funeral’ but Granddad’s memorial was a very moving and fitting tribute to a well-loved man.

Granddad’s death is obviously still raw for the family, but how are our little ones coping? Éowyn is seemingly handling it very well. She is very matter-of-fact about it and although upset that her Granddad has died is at peace with what it means. Ezra, obviously is too young to understand and that leaves Amélie. Amélie is a sensitive soul and has taken Granddad’s passing very hard. She has been sobbing on more than one occasion. We all think about how we will miss those that have passed and for Amélie and Granddad that tends to revolve around food. She has said she will miss Granddad for his fudge, biscuits, pancakes and ice-cream. Also, she has said that she will miss him because he fixes her toys when she breaks them.

Lucinda found her sobbing the other day and let her talk while giving her a cuddle. I came in and we all hugged while Amélie reasoned her loss. It was all very upsetting not only because Amélie was crying but because we will miss him too, for our own reasons. However, our mood was slightly lightened when Amélie came out with something that can only spring from the logic of a child. Between sobs she said, ‘I wish Granddad was a tortoise.’ Slightly sideswiped by this we asked her what she meant. ‘Tortoises can live for over a hundred years, so if Granddad was a tortoise he would still be alive.’ You cannot deny the logic.

Granddad’s funeral happened to fall on the same day as another big event in Éowyn’s life: her first day at Brownies. Éowyn had been on the waiting list for Rainbows since she was five, but unfortunately our local Rainbows pack was so oversubscribed that she never managed to get a place. To join Brownies you have to have celebrated your 7th birthday. The first Brownie meeting that she could attend was a week or so later than her birthday due to the half-term break. We didn’t want her to miss this first meeting so in stepped Auntie Liz who walked her to and collected from the meeting.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the best of meetings for our eldest to attend for her first taste of Brownies. The activity for the evening was cake making. Now, if it was a real cake and involved flour, eggs, butter, etc. then I think that Éowyn would have enjoyed it. No, this cake was a fabric cake that required sewing. Éowyn isn’t a girlie girl who would enjoy sewing and so it was. She said that she didn’t enjoy it and didn’t want to go back. However, we have asked her to go a few more times before she gives it up before she has even started. Fortunately, this week, it was games night. Éowyn thoroughly enjoyed this and is now looking forward to going again. We will see how this plays out and you, my dear readers, will read it here first.

Before I leave you, I will leave you with a funny from Ezra. Ezra’s vocabulary is increasing daily but his favourite word is one we are trying to discourage him from using and you will soon see why.  Ezra’s current favourite word is ‘Boobies’. We are trying not to react when he uses it but sometimes it is quite hard. I was serving dinner the other day and trying to engage the baguettes in the choices I was asking them to put their hands up for the various choices. ‘Hands up, who likes carrots?’ They put their hands up and I would dish the carrots out. ‘Hands up, who likes peas?’ They put their hands up and I dished the peas out.

Then Ezra joined in: ‘Hands up, who likes boobies?’ Judging by the raised hands, just you and me, son. Just you and me!

Peace and Love


PS: As you can see from the geeky stats section in the sidebar, I have now clocked up over a quarter of a million words on this website.  Thank you for reading!