Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Requies-hamster In Pace
Location: The reception area of a vet's.
Characters: Vet, Receptionist, M.
M: I'd like someone to look at a hamster. (SHE SHOVES A SHOEBOX AT THE RECEPTIONIST WHO RECOILS.)
Receptionist: It, um, doesn't look very well ...
M: Which is why I'm here.
Receptionist: I'll call the vet.
(SHE COMES BACK WITH A YOUNG WOMAN IN A WHITE COAT.)
Vet: So, a poorly hamster?
Vet: Let's have a look then. (SHE PEERS INTO THE BOX.) I'm afraid this hamster is already dead.
M (PEERING INTO BOX): No, look, he's still breathing.
Vet (PEERING INTO BOX AGAIN): Is he?
M: Yes, see there - his chest is moving.
Vet (NARROWING HER EYES): Only just. Right I'll put him in a tent. (SHE PICKS UP THE BOX AND RUSHES THROUGH A DOOR.)
M: A tent?
Receptionist: An oxygen tent.
M: An oxygen tent? For a hamster?
Receptionist (TAPPING ON A KEYBOARD): Name?
Receptionist: Not you, the hamster.
M: Oh. Buster.
M: He's a hamster. He doesn't have a surname.
Receptionist (SIGHING): Your surname?
M: Oh, Smith.
Receptionist (HANDING OVER A PIECE OF PAPER): Phone at lunch time and we'll tell you how Buster Smith is getting on.
M: Buster Smith?
Receptionist: Your hamster.
M: Oh, yes, of course.
Now, before I go any further with this story I have to make it clear that I do not tie fireworks to cats' tails, nor do I kick elderly retrievers when they stray into my path. And I've never put paracetamol into a goldfish bowl because 'Chips' was looking peaky. I am nice to animals. Truly, I am. I donated money to a donkey sanctuary only last week.
I mention this because the previous time I told this story I got hate mail. Don't send me hate mail.
Lunch time later that day. A telephone conversation.
M: I'm phoning to ask how Buster - Buster Smith - is doing. He's a hamster.
Receptionist: Yes, I've got a note here from the Vet. Buster's responded to the oxygen and is now off the drip -
Receptionist: Antibiotics. He's rallied and has nibbled a sunflower seed.
M: Is that good?
Receptionist: Considering he was virtually dead this morning, I'd say it was very good.
M: Is he allowed visitors?
Receptionist: Come after school. 4 o'clock.
I was relieved. Buster was a much-loved hamster - though not much-loved by me. He was enormously rat-like, with long, shaggy grey fur, had poor toilet hygiene and generally smelled dreadful. He escaped from his cage on a regular basis and was awfully difficult to recapture. But Small Boy loved him and since the dwarf rabbits were stolen from the back garden the previous Christmas Eve (hopefully as a gift and not for the pot) he had pinned all his affections on Buster. Small Boy was sitting SATs that week and had trouble remembering his own name (by his own admission) so a seriously ill hamster was likely to send him seriously off course ...
4 o'clock, back at the Vet's
M: Hello again. We've come to visit Buster Smith.
Receptionist (GRAVE-FACED): I'll just get the Vet.
Small Boy: Can I see Buster?
M: In a minute.
Vet ( EVEN MORE GRAVE-FACED): I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.
A WOMAN WITH A CAT BASKET STARTS TO SOB NOISILY.
Vet: Buster took a turn for the worse ...
Small Boy: Where's Buster, Mum?
Vet: We did everything we could -
CAT WOMAN BLOWS HER NOSE VIGOROUSLY AND BREAKS INTO FRESH SOBS
Vet: More oxygen, cardiac massage ...
M: Cardiac massage?
Vet: I'm afraid he passed away this afternoon. (SHE LAYS A GENTLE HAND ON M'S ARM.) These things are never easy. (BEAT.) I'll get his remains for you.
Small Boy: Where's Buster?
M (GENTLY): Buster was very ill, darling. The vet couldn't make him better.
Small Boy: Buster's dead?
SMALL BOY HOWLS AND BURIES HIS FACE IN M'S WAIST. CATWOMAN SOBS EVEN MORE LOUDLY.
Receptionist (SHOUTING OVER ALL THE NOISE.): That'll be £68, please.
Receptionist: £68. We take cheques.
M (MUTTERING): He only cost £3.00 in the first place. I could have bought twenty new hamsters for that!*
Receptionist (LOUDLY): Although his tail has wagged its last -
Receptionist: It's a poem we recite at times like this. People say it helps. Although his tail has wagged its last -
M: He was a hamster. He didn't have a tail!
Receptionist: Oh dear. Now's not the time. I'll pop it in the post. (BEAT.) May I see your bank card, please?
* This is the line which inspires the hate mail. And, yes, I know money should be no object when it comes to easing the suffering of a poor, dumb, helpless animal. And I know I should have been prepared to spend £3,000 if that's what it took to make Buster better and that proper pet owners don't put a price tag on their pet's welfare. And, yes, I know telling this story as an amusing anecdote is in very poor taste. And I know people like me don't deserve to have pets.
Is that it? Or have I missed anything?
P.S. We had a very nice funeral. And ate beans for a week.
P.P.S. That is not a photograph of Buster, who was at least four times the size of that cute little hamster.