Monday, November 27, 2006

On guinea pigs and the sowing of wild oats

I had a guinea pig when I was a kid. Her name was Ginny and she lived to be nine years old, which is really impressive for a guinea pig. She was orange with a big white stripe right round her middle, and a white blaze down her nose.

Dad built her this amazing run in the garden, so she could play outside on nice days. It was basically a wide, shallow "box" with an open top, made from angle-iron and chicken wire. We'd place the run upside-down over a fresh patch of grass, clover and dandelions, pop Ginny inside, and she'd run around making tunnels through the greenery all day long.

When she was indoors she spent a lot of time running around in the laundry, which was where her cage was. We thought it was a bit mean leaving her cooped up for too long, so we'd regularly take her out of the cage and let her have a bit of an explore. There was usually a pile of straw out in case she needed a refuge, but she was such a confident little thing, she'd happily trot around the laundry for hours, squeaking happily to herself and talking to my mum or anyone else who happened to be in there.

Long before I learned about Pavlovian conditioning in my biology class I taught Ginny to respond to the clicking sound of the garden shears - because this sound meant fresh dandelion leaves and clover! Yummy! She would run around squeaking like crazy until I returned from the garden with her green salad. I can still do a very passable imitation of a hungry guinea pig!

I used to take her with me into the playroom to watch telly, and she'd sit on my shoulder and nibble gently on my ear. If she was especially happy (like when she was being stroked) she'd "purr" with pleasure - which I used to call "bubbling" because that's how it sounded. She was quite amazingly well house-trained. If she was sitting with me, rather than in her cage or somewhere she could go to the loo, she'd give a little wriggle to let me know it was time to "go". She knew that I knew that this was a signal to take her home, which I always did, so there were never any little accidents on the sofa (or my shoulder!). Very impressive!

I loved Ginny. She was my mate and she was well cool. I still have a great fondness for guinea pigs, so you can imagine how much I loved this little news article that one of my colleagues sent round the office today. Classic!

Sooty article.
Click on the pic to see a larger version. Just as well the chicken-wire in Ginny's cage was a little bit more robust than in Sooty's!

I love the final paragraph - "He was absolutely shattered. We put him back in his cage and he slept for two days." Heh. Heh hehe hehehehehehe!

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