When I bought this house, I had a boyfriend who loved nature and he was the first to spot the foxes and the first to spot the pair of hedgehogs in the garden. He was a study in contrasts – his job at the time was catching advance fee fraudsters and then he started working on serial murder and rape cases. He also liked nothing better than to potter about in the garden during his free time.
So when hedgehogs first came to dinner, he was enthralled. We used to feed the foxes at the end of the patio, under the first rose arch which enabled us to take excellent photos. After a while though, the hedgehogs I think got a bit annoyed with being fussed over and were much more reclusive.
It was long after his death that I heard hedgehogs again. They are not quiet animals and their crashing around the pampas grass, snuffling and snorting was immediately discernible. I realised that I had two and many happy hours were spent watching them feed from the foxes’ bowl (they do enjoy dog food). The female would sneak into the conservatory at silly o’clock and nick the stray cats’ biscuits too. She got very used to me picking her up and talking to her and didn’t mind a bit of attention. It was with a great deal of grief that I buried her, poisoned by my neighbour’s slug pellets, blue froth still around her mouth and her last movements in painful rictus still evident in her corpse.
Her mate continued to bumble about the garden. He never got used to being picked up, so I stopped. He was quite happy however, to precede me at fox feeding time, grumbling and mumbling the whole journey across the grass and then munching his way through several mouthfuls of foxfood before ambling around the grass and trees, still moaning. In the late Spring and Summer, he was a pretty constant companion and several parties were enlivened by his presence, crashing around the shrubs and crunching on snails still whinging away with his mouth full.
I longed for him to find a mate. Two years later, I gave up hope that there might be a lady out there for him. He seemed happy enough and I made sure he was well-fed before hibernation time.
Now, my garden is big for London. It consists of a patio with shrubs and pots all round it (and an old fridge but we won’t go into that here). There is a rose arch leading to the middle of the garden, with conifers and roses to the right (to stop a previous nosy neighbour from spying), shrubs on the other, a pear tree in the middle of the garden and then a second rose arch leads to the back, which is wild apart from the cherry tree. At the end of my garden are allotments which are, by and large, tended organically. So wildlife tends to thrive. But it does mean that my lighting goes so far before being blocked and at night, I can see as far as the patio only.
On Wednesday, I let the tribe out for a run. Typically for nearly-Spring, one of them came in with a mouse, very dead. I was Not Impressed and took it outside and put it in the foxes’ bowl (I bury animals I am attached to but don’t waste “prey” food). I looked across the garden and four of the cats were sitting next to a strange shape buried in the mud. I knew immediately what it was and went across as it looked so damned odd. It was Grumpy, half-buried in the mud and very flat. Moreover, in a pattern across his back, his spikes had been flattened.
My first impression was that he had been stamped on or that something had fallen on him. There was nothing near him that could have caused him to be so flat or so buried or cause the patterns on his back; moreover, there is no way that anyone could have come over the fence at that site and landed on him by mistake.
I had a look round just in case and there was nothing out of the ordinary. I tried to dig a hole but the ground was sodden. Clay-based, it is hell to dig up when wet or cold. Giving up, I called M who said she would talk to K, my brother-in-law, when he woke up. With few options and darkness falling, I covered him up with plastic and branches and hoped the foxes would not find him.
They didn’t and K came round the next day. The weather had been warm but damp, unfortunately ideal conditions for decomposition and when we tried to lift him out of the mud I had to revise my thought that he had only been out there for a day. I now assume he had been a lot flatter in the mud initially and had risen slightly over a day or so. That aside, he was only a few days dead.
Keith, who is eminently sensible and whilst quiet, not afraid to express a differing opinion (which is rare and very valuable), agreed with me that it looked like he had been stamped on. In addition to the broken spikes, there was one wound which looked as if a spike had gone deeper into his flesh.
Whilst it has been warmer and whilst hedgehogs are known to start foraging in early spring again, I had never seen or heard hedgehogs before April. So it was a surprise to know he had been out and devastating to know that he had come to grief in the very place he should have been safe. I had in the past half-stepped on him as we raced for the food bowl and there is one thing I can tell you – they are sturdy little animals, you certainly know when one is under your feet and it must have taken tremendous force to kill him like that. So I have to conclude that it was not an accident.
Keith and I buried him with as much dignity as you can give a decomposing hedgehog and I filled the hole. I then had a think and thought about all the times I had thought I had heard someone in the garden and put it down to the foxes or cats.
I sat up that night, unable to sleep and read a book, my back against the radiator in the bathroom. Just before 3am I heard a cough. A very unmistakable, male cough, muffled but near enough to be of concern. The security light was on (it goes on and off all the time, triggered by cats, foxes and other small animals) but I could not see anyone or anything. I stayed awake for an hour or so and kept watch but nothing else happened.
Nothing happened the next night either. The following morning I came downstairs and heard a window bang. One of the conservatory windows had been forced open, its latch bent and was blowing in the wind. The latches are quite cheap and cheerful and as I rarely open them, I keep them tied up on the inside to try to prevent exactly what had happened. The twine had been broken but there was no evidence that anyone had been inside. I repaired the latch, tied it all up again and made sure everything else was secure. It was.
It did give me pause for thought though – if someone truly wanted to break in, they could do. There is not a lot that prevents a determined person from getting into a normal residential property. This looks like someone is using my garden for something rather than a burglar trying to steal. There have been theft and damage problems on the allotments for ages and I think this might be a continuation of them. It is hard to get into my garden from the allotments (there is a fence, another fence and the shed to get over) but not so hard to get into my neighbour’s garden. Once in, at the back of her and my property it is easy to get from one to the next (something that has come in very handy for us when moving garden furniture etc). So I think this is a feasible way in. Either way, someone has come onto my land and been destructive. Gods help them if I catch them.
In the meantime, the “200 people” campaign has kicked off. I have found myself project managing it, something that is excellent practise for when I get back to work. But most importantly, it is something that can and will save some of the lives that our government seems determined to annihilate. You can read more about the effects of the changes to benefits here http://serialinsomniac.com/2011/01/15/one-month-before-heartbreak-who-cares/; read about the campaign here http://philgroom.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/5-quid-for-life-in-search-of-a-campaign-name/ and join our facebook campaign here http://www.facebook.com/#!/home.php?sk=group_137606702966904&ap=1.
One in four people in the UK will, at some stage, suffer from some form of mental illness. Not everyone is lucky enough to have family and friends give them financial and moral support. I am not political but the changes to benefits for those battling with mental illness will cost lives, some of which are precious to me and which deserve as much effort as the animals I live with and care for. I can’t stand by when what amounts to legalised genocide takes place in my country. Please join me in helping to save them.