lifestyle

The funniest thing you will read this Friday.

Let’s just say this story involves a visit to the pet shop.

By ALLISON RUSHBY

When we get to Copenhagen, the owners of the apartment we will be renting for the week  are lovely. We are shown around before they leave.

The kids are enraptured with their kids’ toy room. And with something else in the toy room as well – their hamster: Alexander.

Cue ominous music: dum, dum, duuuuum.

Yes, I’m sure you can see where this is going already. It’s a pity I didn’t.

The mother says she isn’t sure what to do about Alexander. She was thinking of dropping   him off at a friend’s for the week, but had then realised our kids might like to keep him. ‘It’s very easy. He only needs a little water and food every so often and a pat now and again!’ she told me in her perfect English.

‘Of course!’ I stupidly reply back. ‘They’d love that!’

In hindsight, what I really should have said was, ‘Lady, get that filthy rodent the #$%* out of here’. But, of course, I did not, despite a warning bell somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my mind that was dinging, ‘He’ll die! He’ll surely die!’. Anyway, I made the call and decided it would be fine to keep Alexander for the week because, of course, he wouldn’t really die, would he?

Oh, how you laugh at my expense.

This isn’t Alexander (RIP). Or Alexander II. But we imagine this is what they’d look like.

As soon as the family left, of course our kids began ransacking the toy room from top to bottom.

Before long, they were involved in a complicated version of playing ‘school’ that involved lining up a variety of stuffed toys, and Alexander in his cage, in front of a blackboard.

Every so often, my husband and I would look in upstairs on the toy room and check that Alexander was okay (I was, of course, more concerned about Alexander than my own children).

One time, I even picked Alexander up to give him a pat, as I had been instructed to do, in case he was feeling unloved. Whereupon, he bit my finger and I resolved never to touch the little toad again. But he was obviously okay, so I left the kids to it.

In the toy room, the game of school continued.

Later that night, when I tucked Miss 8 into her bed, Alexander’s cage at her side, Mr 5 pointed out that

Alexander was asleep, too, in his food bowl.

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And so he was. How cute.

It isn’t until around 10am the next morning, when Mr 5 points out that Alexander is still asleep in his food bowl, that I begin to twig that he might have pulled a fat Elvis on me.

A run up the stairs. Fast.

I peer inside the cage with trepidation.

And, oh God, it is true. Alexander has turned completely rock star on me.  My daughter has killed another little girl’s hamster…with education.

Panic immediately sets in.

I grab my husband to see if any emergency hamster CPR can be carried out. He doesn’t think so, considering rigor mortis has already set in. Having recently been involved with a medical trial that involved killing a whole lot of mice, my husband somehow decides now is a good time to kick back, dead hamster in hand and begin to relate the extensive protocols he’d had to go through in order that the mice were not ‘stressed’ during his experiment (you know, right up until the point where one of the scientists wrenched their tails, severing their spine and killing them). ‘They don’t do stress well,’ he tells me, sagely.

‘WHY THE #$&* DIDN’T YOU THINK TO TELL ME THIS YESTERDAY?’ is  my measured response.

Allison Rushby

Immediately, as anyone involved in hamster slaughter probably does, my husband and I begin to collude. How can we dispose of the evidence? How can we get away with our dastardly Danish crime?

It only takes a few minutes to decide the best option is to find an Alexander lookalike. And fast…

The problem is, we are in Denmark. Do you know the Danish for ‘hamster’? How about ‘pet shop’? No, neither do I. Plus, it is a Sunday. Most shops are closed. Especially, it seems, ones of the pet shop variety.

Frantically, we Google. We Facebook. We Tweet. We search for Danish speaking friends of friends. Finally, completely desperate, my husband joins a Danish rodent forum and asks a very obvious question about where one might find a small white hamster in Denmark. On a Sunday. Like, right now (I am sure he will get flamed for this).

It is like the Amazing Race. The parents version.

Even though they are all shut, we spend the day trekking between three pet stores and looking forlornly in the windows.

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Meanwhile, on Facebook and Twitter we are practically going viral, everyone is having such a laugh at our expense. ‘Are you mad?’ one of my friends tells me. ‘Hamsters are like light bulbs. Don’t worry about replacing it!’

But I am worried about it. I’m not going to make some little blonde pigtailed Danish girl cry. I’m sure people who do such things go straight to hell, or, somewhere, fairies heads turn green and rotate, or something like that.

The following morning, we are found rapping on the door of pet shop number one approximately 30 seconds before opening time. Inside we find several grey and white hamsters. Somehow I don’t think anyone will believe little white Alexander has suddenly aged into an octogenarian hamster within the space of a week. Gulp. On to pet shop number two…where one white hamster is in attendance! As fast as we can, we have him popped in a little box, pay for him at the till, and make our way back to the apartment.

Well, what a shame we forgot to bring Alexander I for the ride. Because when we get Alexander II home, we realise he is, ahem, a little bit of a larger boy than Alexander I. As in, in the kind of way that he looks like he might have eaten something the size of Alexander I.

A memoir by Allison Rushby

When we line him up beside the cage, we realise Alexander II is huge. He is the king of the hamsters. How could we not have noticed his butterball proportions in the pet shop?

We pop him inside the cage and, as if to answer our question, he goes straight for the food. ‘No way, buddy,’ my husband tells him, lifting the food up onto one of the ramps within the cage – one of the ramps Alexander I had had no trouble reaching. ‘You’re on a diet.  You’ve got to work for that food.

To give him his dues, Alexander II is a really nice hamster. He isn’t a biter and he is, I have to admit it, completely adorable. Still, 24 hours later, there is no getting around it. Every time we glance at Alexander II, all we can think is, ‘OMG, he’s gigantic‘.

Cowards that we are, we leave it until 48 hours before leaving to ‘fess up. We hear from the lovely Danish family a number of days after returning to England. ‘We finally found your email,’ they tell us. ‘Which was good, because Alexander looked really weird to us.’

Allison Rushby is the Australian author of nine published novels. She can generally be found writing furiously on her laptop (read: making procrastinatory purchases on etsy, or tweeting about nothing at @allison_rushby). Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite is the tale of her family’s move from Australia to Cambridgeshire, UK, for a year. During their time abroad, Allison struggled (understatement) to embrace change and make the most of a new and different life a long way from my family, friends and school gate tribe.

Have you ever lost (or killed!) something that belonged to a friend or neighbour?