A comment on my previous post about the mice reminded me of something which happened maybe seventeen or eighteen years ago. For some reason only known to himself Michael had bought me a hamster for Mother’s Day one year. We’d had a succession of hamsters years before when he was younger and I’d even had one since he left home; there was still a redundant hamster cage stored in the cupboard under the stairs so as he knew I like mice he maybe thought I might like the old cage to have a new occupant, hence the Mother’s Day present.
The hamster was a cute little thing, a brown and white male with a faint black mark on his back, and I called him Weeble. He lived happily in his cage here in the spare bedroom and he would often be running in his wheel while I was working on the pc in the evenings. Then one evening, when he’d been here for just about twelve months, I suddenly realised that he was being exceptionally quiet – maybe he was asleep in his little house, or worse still maybe he’d died. When I took the top off the house to check though I found he wasn’t in there, in fact he wasn’t in the cage at all – somehow he’d escaped, but as the door was still tightly fastened I couldn’t see how he’d got out. All was revealed however when I looked at the back of the cage more closely – two of the bars were bent as if they’d been forced apart by the Incredible Hulk, and the resulting gap was big enough for a determined hamster to get through. Heaven only knows how he’d managed to do that but he had, and I now had a hamster on the loose somewhere in the room.
I dreaded the thought of having to move everything to find him so I set a trap – some food in the bottom of a bucket and a ramp with a trail of food on it from the floor to the top. In theory Weeble should follow the trail up the ramp and fall into the bucket, from where he could be returned to his cage with the now-straightened bars, but in practise it didn’t work and he remained at large. Then one evening while watching tv in the living room with my partner I heard a pitter-patter sound above my head, a sound which seemed to move from one side of the room to the other – and we realised that the little devil had somehow got under the bedroom floor and was running up and down between two of the joists in the space between there and the downstairs ceiling. The question was, which two joists was he between? So Plan B came into force – with the landing carpet taken up my partner stayed upstairs and I armed myself with a broom handle and returned to the living room, then once I’d figured out exactly where above my head Weeble was I knocked on the ceiling, enabling my partner to determine which floorboards to take up.
As hamsters are nocturnal and sleep during the day I put Weeble’s house down between the joists and put some food round it – hopefully when daylight came he would go to sleep in there and he could safely be removed back to his cage. Unfortunately Plan B didn’t work and though I checked his house frequently over a couple of days he stayed on the loose – it was if he was determined he wasn’t going to be caught no matter what I did. Now while I could live with a couple of floorboards missing from the landing (after a while we got used to stepping over the gap) there was one major problem – we were going camping for five days at Easter and meeting up with friends, it had been arranged for ages and we didn’t want to cancel but I didn’t like the thought of going away and leaving Weeble where he was. Reluctantly however, that’s what I did, having put plenty of food down for him first – he had two chances so I just hoped that he would survive.
As soon as we got back from our Easter break I checked for any sign of Weeble; some of the food had gone but his house hadn’t been disturbed and even after another couple of days there was no patter of hamster feet above my head while I was in the living room so reluctantly I came to the sad conclusion that he had finally died. Although the thought of a hamster corpse somewhere under the upstairs floor didn’t exactly fill me with joy there was no way we could take up the whole floor to find it so the two floorboards that had been pulled up were put back, the carpet was relaid and life returned to normal. Then several nights later, while lying in bed, I heard some rustling noises coming from the narrow space between the side of the wardrobe and the wall; at first I thought I was hearing things but eventually I got up to investigate – and sitting among the rolls of Christmas wrapping paper which I kept there was Weeble.
He was too far back in the narrow space for me to just reach in and get him so I came up with the idea of using the small fishing net which I kept for the fish tank, but as I moved it closer to him he backed even further away until he was completely out of reach. Moving the wardrobe was out of the question so I went back to bed happy that Weeble was still alive and determined that come hell or high water he would be caught the next day. By the following morning he had transferred himself from the side of the wardrobe to the small space behind the chest of drawers and that proved to be his undoing. Armed with the small bedside waste bin my partner crouched at one end of the cabinet while I gingerly moved it a couple of inches away from the wall, then with the broom handle I gently poked and pushed Weeble along towards my partner and finally success – he scuttled into the bin and after almost a month on the loose he was well and truly caught.
Weeble lived for another eighteen months after his great escape and when he finally died of old age his cage was donated to a local animal charity. I haven’t had another hamster since then and to be honest I wouldn’t want one, but if I ever did get another one it would have to have an escape-proof cage – I certainly wouldn’t want to go through all that again!