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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Confucius (in the guise of Geoff of Hampstead)
predicted the perfect recipe for ALICE McVEIGH's
Classical Music Agony Aunt column:
dachshunds, daughters' birthdays, God, goldfish, husbands,
landsnails, mothers, parrots, slices of apple
and the scent of gerbils,
but not the slightest hint
of classical music ...

Dear Alice,
I understand from a mutual friend that in addition to your expertise on dachshunds, Giant African Landsnails, and goldfish, you are now a gerbil expert. As my older son (11) would like one of these creatures, I was wondering what specific advice you had to offer?
Geoff, Hampstead

Dear Geoff,

Your information is bang up-to-date. My daughter Rachel (ten this month) specified two things she wanted for her birthday, a Wii (an expensive but diverting little game you can play on your TV) and two gerbils. (Having no literary taste worth mentioning, she has named these two gerbils Dustfinger and Roxanne, after two characters in Cornelia Funke's books for teens.)

In appearance, they differ, as Dustfinger is, well, dust-colored, while Roxanne (also female) is a pretty light brown with a white collar around her neck. However, they are both equally stupid, as evidenced by the fact that they escaped from the Cozee Comfort Gerbil home (all modern conveniences provided) the first chance they got (or yesterday, when Rachel forgot to close up one of their cage openings before going to sleep).

Now, many mothers would have panicked, upon her daughter's charging in at some ungodly hour to complain of two missing three-inch-long mice-like thingies, not counting their tails. I am proud to say that, outside of screaming, 'You stupid nerd!!! It's all your fault!!!' to my (a) daughter (b) husband (c) dogs (d) Giant African Landsnails and (e) goldfish, I failed to panic. Instead we conducted a systematic search of (a) Rachel's room (b) S's and my room (c) the guest room (d) the upstairs bathroom and (e) Simon's study, the whole eliciting (outside of numerous shrieks of 'I hear something!') bugger all. Though it's always good for rooms to be aired and clothes heaped on Rachel's floor to be shaken free of dust etc etc, of course.

I made the first breakthrough, eliciting from a site entitled something memorable such as 'Taking care of one's gerbil' the information that crisply-cut segments of apple should be put in every room, so that (upon spotting a less crisply-cut, slightly chomped bit) one might say to oneself, 'Blow me down if this might not be the room where one's gerbil has escaped to', the only difficulty being that we're talking, rather than about hardened gerbil criminals, about six-week-old babies who would probably be in such a panic that they'd scoot right by any amount of apple chunks.

I then accessed another site, which suggested that any capable dog could locate a missing gerbil by the exercise of smell alone.

Well, I am here to tell you that I do not own a capable dog. Our dominant dog, Dorabella, once hauled upstairs, got tremendously excited and sniffed madly, exciting everyone, only to unearth nothing more thrilling than a mislaid 'mino-cheddar munchie'. Our junior dog, Fiordiligi, was still worse. Once bunged into the room where the gerbils had resided, and being aware that something (God knows what) was vaguely expected of her, she brilliantly rolled over on her back to enable us better to rub her tummy and thumped her tail madly.

And the gerbils were just as lost as ever.

It was Simon who located Roxanne, by the clever idea of lifting up the bed in the guestroom. There she was, scuttling from end to end as if in serious training for the Beijing gerbil Olympics -- and how long it took for us to catch her is not to be told.

It was also Simon (while I was ticking off the dogs) who discovered Dustfinger, by the simple expedient of lifting up the bed in our own bedroom. It took me even longer to swipe Dustfinger and he wasn't a bit grateful, wiggling madly and dustily (for underneath beds is not a place I usually dust, if indeed I dust anywhere, which I don't). And by the time all this was done, Simon was late for work, Rachel almost late for school and I had two uncomprehending dogs and two shattered gerbils to look after. (Roxanne refused to come out of her hiding box for hours, and when she did it was with one of those how-dare-you-blame-me-for-escaping-you-heartless-woman expressions on her pointed gerbilly face.)

Still, I have resisted kicking their cage, for which they ought to be properly grateful.

Therefore, Geoff, I have to tell you that if you are seeking gerbil expertise, I would look elsewhere.
Parrots, anyone?


Copyright © 28 September 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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