Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting having tea in a garden centre near St Albans – not my natural habitat.
My eternally-un-named friend had gone off to the Information Desk to ask about buying a hedgehog.
It is a long back story.
I have mentioned it in my blog before.
She is waging a war of attrition against slugs in my back garden.
“What did they say at the Information Desk?” I asked her on her return.
“There was this oldish guy there,” she said, “and I asked him Can you tell me where I can get hedgehogs? and he started looking at me slightly frowning.
“He said: Do you mean ornamental ones or real ones? and he was sort of frowning a bit more.
“Real ones, I said.
“And he told me: There’s a place you can get them in Notcutts, but we can’t get them – and he’s still looking a bit oddly at me. They’re wild animals, you know, he says. You might be able to get them in Notcutts in Smallford. They have animals there. But I don’t think they’ll have them, because they do pets and a hedgehog is a wild animal.
“By this point, he was scowling even more at me, as if I’m a bad person who wants to buy a wild animal and you’re not allowed to. But, I said, you’re selling hedgehog homes, so I thought people must be able to buy hedgehogs.
“Oh yes,” he said, “that’s to encourage any hedgehogs you already have to stay there. And all this time, he’s looking at me as if I’m a bit…”
“That you want to bake and cook hedgehogs?” I suggested.
“No,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I think he thought it was like when you tie up a swan in your back garden.”
“They sell hedgehog homes?” I asked.
“Yes,” said my eternally-un-named friend. So we went over to look at them.
There was one with a slate roof for £29.99, and one made wholly of wood for £44.99
“The other thing I’m thinking,” my eternally-un-named friend told me, “is that you have a massive ant problem in your garden.
“They’re all around. Scurrying. You can see them as you come up the road from Elstree station. They’re rife.”
“What happened to the ladybirds?” I asked. “You said you’d found a ready supply of ladybirds to kill the aphids.”
“I can’t get the ladybirds to kill the aphids until I’ve killed the ants,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “because the ants would kill the ladybirds.”
“How are you going to kill the ants?” I asked.
“I’ve got a load of white powder,” she explained, “and I’ve got sprays and I’ve been pouring boiling water on the ant nests. One day when you were away in Edinburgh I went out into the garden to pull out the dandelions – at least they’re not actually going round killing other things – and there were ant nests everywhere.
“The aphids are out the front on one of the plants. And every other day, I would take off the branches that had the aphids on and bin them, because the aphids sap the plant and there was always a little ant walking up the stalk trying to do something to an aphid.
“Those millions of invisible bugs that I put in the ground to kill the ants… Unfortunately they have to be kept wet and we had that dry patch for some time. They cost £11. I know that’s cheap per million, but they didn’t seem to be pulling their weight, so I put down the £3 white powder as well.”
“What if the hedgehog eats the white powder?” I asked. “It will die.”
“I have no idea,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “I’m dealing with ants at the moment. I haven’t found a hedgehog. Who else eats ants?”
“The French,” I suggested.
My eternally-un-named friend thought for a moment and then said, perking up: “We could get an anteater! It might be easier in the long run just to get an anteater. The problem is there are the ants AND there are the slugs. There’s a double enemy situation.”
“Or we could just get a Frenchman,” I persisted. “They’ll eat anything.”
“When you break open these ant nests,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “you see half of them have got wings, half of them are eggs about to develop and the other half are the ones running around doing things to aphids. That’s the problem. We have 150% of ants trotting backwards and forwards everywhere. it really is hell.”
“You see?” I told her, “Nature is a nightmare. That’s why I try to have nothing to do with it. Anything green is a nightmare. New cheese, old meat, anything with leaves or stalks. Nightmare. I try to have nothing to do with anything green. If everything in the world were made of edible plastic, you wouldn’t have these problems. It must be possible in the 21st century. Natural things are bad things.”
“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “if part of Nature and wildlife is that hedgehogs eat slugs, it’s certainly not happening round Elstree and Borehamwood and I don’t see how hedgehogs are going to come to your rescue when you have main roads.”
“Tunnels,” I suggested. “We will have to build hedgehog tunnels.”
“I got a reply from Bob Slayer,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
A few days ago, she asked comedian Bob Slayer where she could get a hedgehog, on the basis he was brought up in the West Country and would know about such Nature-related things. Yesterday, he replied:
“The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is based in Clee Hill near Ludlow where I grew up. I went to a local pony club with the daughter of the man who set it up in 1982 – Major Adrian Harcourt Coles. I thought he was dead, but I have checked and he is not.
“I remember he raised a load of money to put ramps in all the cattle grids on Clee Hill so that, if hedgehogs fell in, they could climb out. Then someone proved that hedgehogs don’t live over a certain height above sea level and that there are no hedgehogs on Clee Hill.
“In 1981, Hedgehog Foods Ltd decided, as a joke, to produce hedgehog flavoured crisps. To everyone’s surprise, the crisps were a huge success. But they were actually flavoured with pork fat and no hedgehogs were used in the manufacturing process.
“As a result, the Office of Fair Trading took them to court (in 1982) on a charge of false advertising. A settlement was finally reached when Mr Lewis of Hedgehog Foods interviewed gypsies – who actually did eat baked hedgehogs – to ascertain the flavour of hedgehogs. He then commissioned a flavourings firm to duplicate the flavour as closely as possible and changed the labels from ‘hedgehog flavoured’ to ‘hedgehog flavour’ and the Office of Fair Trading was satisfied.”
My eternally-un-named friend showed me Bob Slayer’s e-mail, then suggested: “If a hedgehog did get to your garden, it could have the run of the area. Your garden and other people’s gardens. There’s probably a good living for a hedgehog there.”
“And, if it ran out of slugs to eat, it could drink milk,” I suggested.
“No,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “They can’t drink milk. There’s an advert on television that says they’re lactose-intolerant. It’s an advert for lactose-free milk and they’re telling hedgehogs Yes, it’s OK to have this milk. I’m sure a hedgehog would like to live in your garden, although there is that fox around.”
“I saw it last night by the garages when I was parking the car,” I said. “We may have to set up a fox hunt. Where can we get horses and hounds? Can they be rented or do you have to set up a permanent hunt?”
“I think we should just get an anteater,” said my eternally-un-named friend.
“Or a Frenchman,” I said.
The debate continues.