It was a morning much as any other, a couple of years ago. I’d spent a largely sleepless night, and after my first cup of tea, I went outside for the first cigarette of the day. I stuck the cigarette in my mouth and applied the lighter to the tip and as it burst into devilish light, I drew the smoke into my lungs, feeling instantly better and enlivened enough to have a look round the garden.
I meandered past the sweet peas, pondered upon the honeysuckle and stopped to look at a rose bush that seemed a little off-colour. I glanced to my right and saw a hedgehog in the pond. I rewound my mental tape and thought: “Yes, there is a hedgehog in the pond. I wonder what it’s doing in there. Perhaps it was thirsty…” I finished my assessment of the rosebush and looked towards the pond again. Yep, it was still there. I should have been a little quicker on the uptake really…
“OH MY GOD! THE HEDGEHOG!” My early morning brain sharpened instantly as I realised of course a hedgehog had no business being in the pond and I needed to rescue it at once. Not stopping to think about the practicalities, I rushed towards the pond, intent upon saving the poor little creature.
Arriving at the side of the pond, I looked down at the hedgehog. It was huddled miserably on a rock near the water feature my partner had lovingly installed to create some interest for his precious fish. It looked up at me. I was enchanted by the little dog-like snout and wet black nose, its little beady brown eyes that were glaring up at me in a positively threatening manner.
“You wait. Just you wait. Gonna have the authorities on you. Just you wait and see.”
I reached out to pick it up and at once, in as far as it was able, given it was a rather large hedgehog on a rock about the size of a paperback book, rolled itself up in a distinctly unapproachable way.
“Ohh…I’d forgotten that they could do that…”
I’m not at my best in the mornings until I’ve had at least two cups of tea. I couldn’t help but admire the colouring of this mini porcupine, quills banded with dark yellow, brown and black; but I retreated to the house for gloves and a thick tea towel, and a receptacle to place the angry animal in once I’d hopefully rescued it.
Armed with these items, I returned to the pond, where the hedgehog had unrolled itself and was glowering resentfully around its surroundings. Obviously it had been drawn by the sound of running water and had fancied a drink.. not a bath…I folded my tea towel in half and carefully draped it over the hedgehog. It was a large creature, about the size of a hedgehog shaped rugby ball and I was completely unprepared for how heavy it was…or how strong.
It gripped the sides of the rock with the ferocity of a bear, dextrous fingers and toes curled under the edges with grim determination. It hissed, then grunted angrily at me. I was surprised, then somewhat affronted…I was trying to help it, there was absolutely no need to be quite so uncooperative and rude! I wrapped the tea towel more firmly around the hedgehog, increased my grip on its sides, braced myself and heaved… It let go of the rock and as I swung it over to the container, I caught a glimpse of a grey, furry tummy, crossly waving paws equipped with long dark claws and a little tail.
I placed it carefully in the box. It looked up at me. I looked back. If I’d been expecting some acknowledgement, perhaps a few words of thanks, I was sadly mistaken. It sneered at me and set to stomping and scuffling around the box. I offered it some ham and a small dish of water-both of these were met with complete and utter disdain:
“Woman, really! Don’t you think I’ve had enough of water and I don’t like honey roast ham…”
I desperately wanted my son to see the hedgehog. Having ascertained it was uninjured if somewhat bad tempered, I rushed upstairs to wake him:
“Quick! Quick, come and see the hedgehog! It was in the pond but I got it out!”
Obviously, my early morning enthusiasm was a little too much for my son, but he is used to being awoken for strange reasons. (“There’s a beetle on the toilet roll! I want to blow my nose!”) He looked up at me from his cosy bed, a little resignedly, and said:
“Are you sure? Have you had your painkillers yet?”
Brushing his disbelief aside, I made him come downstairs to look at the hedgehog.
By now, feeling that the box was preferable to the pond, it had made itself comfortable. There was a large turd in one corner, and obviously feeling better, it had curled up and gone to sleep on the towel. I just knew my son, with his keen interest in Nature, would be enthralled to see this wonderful little creature from the Beatrix Potter tales…
I pointed enthusiastically at the hedgehog. Disturbed by my voice, it opened an eye, and seeing it had gained another visitor, grunted bad temperedly and re-rolled itself even tighter, spines sticking out at threatening angles… like a natural version of a sputnik.
However, having had my son see it and photograph it, I decided I really ought to liberate it from the box and send it on its way. We carried it carefully to the bottom of the garden, where there’s a little overgrown patch. Tipping it gently onto the floor, we gathered round expectantly. A little eye appeared, just visible amongst the spines, shortly followed by the rest of its face. We held our breath…would it perhaps snuffle in gratitude, whip a lace cap out of its pocket and put it on its head…No. It shot off with undignified haste, actually, elbowing its way past overgrown brambles and dock leaves to disappear in the dank shadows under a tree.
I often see it at twilight now, shuffling along in search of worms and slugs. Funnily enough, there was an item on the local news about how hedgehogs are becoming increasingly rarer… perhaps that was why it was so bad tempered!