19 JUNE 1953, Page 12

Wild Animal Farm

By WOLF MANKOWITZ WHAT happened was that the lady bought the hamsters for her niece; also a small book telling you how to keep hamsters. The niece left the hamsters but she took the book because the pictures didn't bite. That's how my son—the Texas Ranger—got the hamsters, and why we didn't know about how to keep them.

They weren't too much trouble though. They slept a good deal, and stored crusts in their large jowls, and made a nest, and slept, and looked like big fat dormice, and slept. But only in the day. At night they scratched, chewed at their cage and rattled the glass. At night they were very busy and never slept. Neither did 1. One night I got up four times because of the burglars. The hamsters looked guilty when I, turned a flash-light on them. They were sitting up gnawing crusts which, they held delicately in their fore-paws. They looked very charming, but, to tell you the truth, I am no animal-lover at three in the morning. At least, I said, they may kill one another in frustrated battle once the mating season starts.

Life with the hamsters was quiet until my younger son— the confectioner's assistant—discovered they could be kept awake in the day. He was quiet the whole morning, and every- one thought he had been adopted, but the truth came out when the Texas Ranger, returning from school, galloped to the nursery to get his Colt. He came straight back, crying bitterly at the injustice of it all. The more active hamster had bitten him neatly on the index finger. The confectioner's assistant went on banging the cage door with the kindly smile of an hon. sec. of Our Dumb Friends League. We put the hamsters on a shelf near the ceiling and padlocked the garden ladder because all confectioner's assistants can climb. The Texas Ranger rode out after the yellow rustler, who got him.

All this time the active hamster was nothing but active. He operated in the corner behind the nest; we discovered too late he wasn't building a food store. I came home from work to find the place humming with search parties. The Texas Ranger searched the toolshed at pistol point. A teddy bear, a small rubber pig and the confectioner's assistant were tread- ing on the wallflowers. Carmen was on her hands and knees cooing in husky Spanish round the kitchen floor. My wife searched the sleeping quarters because she thought it was unhealthy to actually sleep with a hamster. I did what I could, but stupidly wandered too near the garden shed and was captured immediately. Apparently there was a price of three- pence on my head.

Dinner was a little delayed, but by midnight everything was almost normal again, except that we still hadn't found the active hamster. I made a few suggestions, such as, let the other one loose to find him. They ignored me, and I went off hoping that a slow bath would stimulate my memory of the habits of rodents. I looked into the bath first to make sure there were no booby traps, and discovered the hamster. It was so active I should have worn gloves to pick it up. They bite very quickly and carefully, making an extremely neat incision.

A couple of weeks ran by. Except for the scratching at night, you would have thought us a normal hamster-less family. The lady had tried her niece with four goldfish, which were now gaping in the sitting-room; a posse was busy collecting rocks to make them feel at home. The Texas Ranger had qualified as a lorry-driver. He hitched a push-chair to a tricycle, and delivered a ton of granite he mined at the rockery into the aquarium.

Those four fish would have died of thirst if I hadn't acted quickly. I spontaneously addressed the entire cabal on the proper care of pets. I must have been pretty good, because when I finished the Texas Ranger saluted smartly, the con- fectioner's assistant threw his lollipop at me, and Carmen croaked " Old." My wife said that since I understood animals so well, she would give me the hamsters. I countered at once by asking if anyone had fed them recently. My accusing finger pointed them out each in turn. Blanched faces told the truth. There was a stampede towards the hamster's cage; relief parties brought lettuces and rice and half-loaves and buckets of water. I wondered if this made me eligible for some kind of animals' defence medal. You either understand animals or you don't. It's a kind of sixth sense—an instinctive thing, very close to that of certain primitive tribes.

From the stricken area of the hamsters there came confused screams and cheers. I hurried forward, my sympathy for wild animal life bristling like the back hair of some simple savage. I knew the hamsters. They needed me. They were my little brothers. Or at least one of them was. The other one was my little sister. Anyone with my kind of deep understanding of animals may apply at once for a pair of beautiful baby golden hamsters. They are easy to raise—harmless—fond of children. Or will exchange one Texas Ranger armed and one assistant in the confectionery trade for warranted rodent exterminator.