OVER the years, as our four children were growing up, we endured all kinds of ups and downs with a long line of family pets.

It started with Pickles, a dead butterfly, followed by an ant farm, and then we got really adventurous with Emma, Arrow and Bow – three goldfish, none of which lasted five minutes.

Emma and Arrow ended up having tearful funerals in the back garden, but there was no such dignified send-off for poor Bow.

He was laid out in a matchbox coffin, and placed on the garden table, ready for a decent burial, but then got forgotten amid some distraction or other.

By the time we remembered him the next day, he’d vanished. Judging by the terrible wailing noise coming from the house next door, we suspect the neighbour’s cat suffered terrible food poisoning from a fish supper that had gone rancid in the midday sun.

The ill-fated goldfish were succeeded by Elvis, a mad hamster that made a racket in the early hours by running endlessly round his wheel.

Once Elvis had left the building, the rabbits  started moving in – Jasmine, Jasmine The Second, Aladdin, and, finally, Tallulah.

Long-term readers might recall that Tallulah was a particularly fat rabbit who found fame when it was emerged that she’d had a tummy tuck operation shortly before she came to live with us.

She made the telly and national papers for being the first rabbit known to have had cosmetic surgery.

Inevitably, Tallulah and the others pegged it before they reached old age. There’s no need to go into too much detail but suffice to say that – one by one, and in a variety of tragic circumstances – they all went off to the great cornfield in the sky, leaving broken hearts behind them.

Well, we thought we’d left all that pressure behind us, but life is about to turn full circle again…because we are being burdened with the responsibility of looking after our little grand-daughter’s beloved new guinea pigs, Millie and Rosie.

Chloe had been begging her Mummy and Daddy to let her have a pet for the past year or so, and – in their wisdom – they finally gave in just before they’re due to go off on a camping holiday.

The grown-ups left it to their four-year-old to break the news to us about what's in store: “Ganma, I’m going away on holiday, so I want you to look after Millie and Rosie. It's important to give them lots of cuddles,” she declared, in her most serious voice.

Then she turned to me and added: "Gandalf, it's your job to clean out all the poos."

I know my place.


OUR kids were always desperate for a kitten, but we couldn't have one because I’m allergic to cat fur.

This was always a bone of contention, and they made their feelings plain during a trip to Center Parcs.

We’d hired bikes for a ride through the forest. Naturally, my wife had a bike to herself, while I had a bike with one of those carriages attached, so the kids could sit back and enjoy the ride.

Mums wouldn’t appreciate this, but it’s not easy riding a bike while pulling a carriage full of kids behind you, and there was one particularly steep hill that went on for ever.

I was sweating profusely, and having a puff of my asthma inhaler, as I made one last effort to get to the top.

That's when I heard a little voice behind me say: “Hannah, do you realise? If Daddy dies now, we’ll be able to get a cat!"