Saturday, 19 June 2021

Notes from a semi bohemian suburban childhood #3

I MUST get blogging again.  I must!  I must!  At last I've given myself a whole week completely away from work and routine to allow myself a recharge, and d'you know what? I think the writing cogs are just about starting to whirr again.  It may take me a while to get back to more frequent posting but I could try by revisiting some of the many mini-series I've had on the go here at one time or another.  At least that way there are old themes I can work with,  e.g. this one....

So yes, it’s on days like this that a certain "semi bohemian suburban childhood" memory comes to the fore.  Summer rain is pouring down as I type, distant thunder reverberates, and I suddenly find myself thinking about tortoises…

We were a family with animals.  As well as two tortoises we had cats, goldfish in the bathroom, a pond full of frogs and newts, a bat (albeit a dead one, but pickled in a jar following an unfortunate window incident) and a tankful of African aquatic toads (alive and well on a diet of earthworms) in my sister’s bedroom.  Let's not forget the guinea pigs nor, in the dark recesses of the larder, a house spider called Fred.  Of course Fred was not so much a pet as a squatter, perhaps several different squatters, but welcome anyway.  Occasionally we looked after the odd stray cat, and once fostered ducklings in an old metal bathtub.

But the tortoises… well, Twinkle and Toby roamed free in our long, hillside garden during the Summer months.  They were natural weedkillers, munching their way through the dandelions, and making the most of the shade cast by my mum’s small stone sculptures when the sun beat down on a clover and daisy-studded lawn.  And this is where I recall the rain and the storms, on humid holiday afternoons, when I rushed out to rescue the tortoises from the downpours and…   well, it was never as easy as it sounds.

I’d search everywhere.  I’d call their names.  Toby knew his (honestly!) and would often come when he heard it, suddenly appearing from within a flower bed with more haste than you might think possible, knowing that his reward would be a lovely sticky banana… and who doesn’t like a lovely sticky banana?   But on rainy, stormy days they were nowhere to be seen. 

The bedraggled cats would come into the kitchen and get pampered with a towel dry.  The guinea pigs would be safe in their hutch and the frogs and newts no doubt enjoyed the jacuzzi-like qualities of their rain-splashed pool.  But where on earth had the tortoises gone?

I would go on a desperate mission to find them.  Sift through the compost heap, check behind the stones in the rockery, peer through the screen of bamboo shoots… Then came the lengthy process of inspecting every single plant and flower – and there were a lot -  until finally I would be relieved to glimpse the back-end of a hard, shiny shell concealed in the undergrowth.   The tortoises had always burrowed face-first into the earth beneath something with thick stems and tight leaves, beautifully camouflaged like pebbles in the bedding.  Safe, asleep, oblivious to the weather and, unlike me, completely dry - of course.

So, the rain pours down and what am I doing, thinking back to around 50 years ago?  The only things with shells in my much smaller, flatter garden are the snails, and I rather miss having tortoises - but it’s funny how vivid the memories can be, prompted merely by the weather.  Time for a banana.

The Vagrants: Sunny Summer Rain


22 comments:

  1. Good to see you back
    My sister-in-law has a tortoise called Albert. They have since discovered that it is in fact female but they have stuck with Albert rather than Alberta!

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    1. Thanks CC, hoping I can get back into the blogging groove, I've missed it but just haven't been able to break the block up until now.
      I like the sound of Albert, clearly a thoroughly modern female tortoise!

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    1. Thanks SA. Hadn't realised quite how worn down I was getting until taking a breather.

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  3. Lovely to have you back and what a wonderful nostalgic story. Are you sure you are C though, as I feel you should be G, little Gerry Durrell. Such a menagerie of animals.

    I also feel dry bound to ask what became of the tortoises as they live to a ripe old age don’t they? There is a house nearby with two in the front garden and a public path that runs past. I love stopping to watch them.

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    1. Thanks Alyson, lovely to be back, hope I can maintain the urge to write/post again!
      Yes I guess it does sound a bit My Family and Other Animals, and that book was on our shelves. I would've liked more - a sheep, a pony, a goat perhaps...
      Tortoises are so lovely but ours didn't live for too many years, sadly. We had three in all, two died during hibernation and poor Toby had a sudden heart attack in the middle of a hot afternoon (I was the one to find him... an early lesson in death!)
      Great that you can watch your neighbours' tortoises, hope they have long and happy lives!

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  4. I can only empathise with the searching - I’ve given up with my two and they now shower contentedly in the summer rain. They do love a banana tho.

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    1. Hello Bel Mondo! What a lovely surprise to see you here again. I'm beginning to envy the life of a tortoise; sounds like yours have a great time!

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  5. Welcome back, C, very happy to see you blogging again :)

    Did you paint the tortoise's initial on the back of its shell, like my childhood next-door neighbours did with theirs?

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    1. Thanks Martin, now just need to keep it going...
      We didn't do that paint thing, but I remember seeing it. And didn't some people drill holes in the shells (awful)? Ours lived a pretty a free-range life but got the occasional 'polish' (a smear of margarine to bring up the shine. Hope they didn't mind...)

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    2. Hot buttered tortoise... :)

      I guess drilling into a shell wouldn't hurt them? Maybe like a horse's hooves being trimmed and having nails hit in for shoes, without hurting the horse...? By the way, I should add that this is an uneducated guess, I have no specialist knowledge!

      The painting initials on thing, I think (though this may be a false memory) that the initial was painted in different colours for different gender tortoises - one was red and one was white, though I don't recall which was which.

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    3. I think a tortoise has nerves and blood vessels under the shell, which is more like 'skin' in connection with the rest of its body inside, so it's different from animals with hooves, claws, etc. Pretty sure there are laws against it now so hopefully not a scenario many would have to endure!
      Slightly at a tangent but I'm reminded of an experiment where garden snails had a differentiating mark painted on their shells to see if they could find their way back once moved - and the resounding result was that they do. Homing snails!

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    4. In which case, drilling holes in shells - horrific!

      I like the idea of homing snails. Now all we need to do is perfect slugs that go to other homes, so they don't keep eating all the veggies and plants in my garden...

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  6. What became of Twinkle & Toby? I have it on good authority that tortoises can live up to 150 years. Hope yours had a long life.

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    1. I love the thought of 150-year-old tortoises. How about this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_(tortoise)#:~:text=Jonathan%20(hatched%20c.,oldest%20known%20living%20land%20animal.
      Unfortunately ours were not so lucky. Twinkle (as well as Timmy, her predecessor) didn't wake from hibernation. Toby had an apparent heart attack, a distressing shock for me at the time as I was the one to find him :-(

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  7. Lovely memories, C. We recently discovered that our next door neighbour has a tortoise. I didn't think people were allowed to keep them as pets anymore. And I will also never forget the giant tortoise we saw once at a nature reserve. He'd been rescued from the wild where he lost his two back legs, so they'd fitted him with wheels instead and he could get around fine.

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    1. Thanks Rol, had to break my blogger's block somehow, it seems memories are often the easiest place to start!
      I believe there is more legislation and care involved in importing and selling pet tortoises now. I remember the horror stories from the '70s when they were really badly treated in transportation, etc. so thankfully something had to change.
      Ah, I'm picturing the giant tortoise with his back wheels - heartwarming stuff!

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  8. Back from nearly two weeks away to receive the gift of a C sighting. Fantastic!

    Having animals around is really good for kids for a myriad of reasons, and the memories of your full house are a big smile. I wish that was true in our home.

    My oldest son is disabled, and he has an off-the-chart fear of all animals and even common insects. Size and demeanor of the animals have nothing to do with it. It's too bad because there are some great therapies out there involving animals that are beneficial to those on the spectrum, such as horse therapy, but it hasn't been helpful in our case. Everyone has a dog these days, and it has had quite an impact on our daily lives, as you can imagine. Dogs are allowed just about everywhere now, and even a trip to the grocery store can be quite an ordeal without a carefully thought out escape plan.

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    1. Ah, thanks Brian, I was just glad to find that the urge to write something combined with opportunity, it's not been happening a lot lately! Hope you had a fab time away too.

      I'm so sorry to hear about your son's fear of animals - something I hadn't ever considered (other than just in terms of particular individual species) so it really made me think. Animal/pet therapy does seem to be a very positive thing but such a shame that, understandably, it's not viable in your case. I can only imagine how hard it must be to deal with the constant possibility of encountering dogs, etc. in daily life. Can only hope that, over time, the situation may get easier for you all.

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  9. Apologies I forgot my login details. Lovely to have you back C in one of my favourite corners of t’internet!
    My tortoise was marked with my mother’s red nail varnish. Perhaps one of reasons he spent his life hiding.

    Ben

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    1. Ah thank you, and hello again, good to be back. And another tortoise owner! At least (I hope!) it was just his shell that had the nail varnish painted on, and not his claws...

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