by June McNicholas
I wonder if any of you got a copy of Pam Ayre's latest book 'You Made Me Late Again' for Christmas.? It's worth a read. I'm a stickler for punctuality, but it made me think that my problems have often arisen when people arrive too early! Two incidents immediately come to mind, and both have involved ferrets!
Episode 1 - how ferrets can sell your property!
The first was when I was selling a large house in Warwickshire. It had a huge kitchen where the ferrets enjoyed a couple of hours of rampage each day. One ferret in particular (Harry Polecat) delighted in opening the lower cupboards and climbing through the back into the drawers above and opening the drawer from the inside out. No matter what I did, he always managed to do it!
One prospective purchaser was delighted with the house and arranged to bring his wife and children to view the house. A date and time was arranged. After a lot of tidying up, cleaning and generally sprucing up the place, I decided to allow the ferrets a short run in the kitchen before our prospective purchasers arrived. A big mistake! They arrived early! I and my daughter rapidly scooped up the ferrets and returned them to their run, or at least I thought we had! The family were very taken with my house, particularly the wife who had always wanted a big kitchen. While I and her husband discussed sale arrangements she couldn't resist having another look at her new kitchen.
It was then the scream was heard. Just as the poor woman was admiring the oak fittings, a drawer opened of its own accord and a little masked face appeared over the top. I thought we would have to remove her from the light fittings. I also thought my sale negotiations were about to disappear down the proverbial. Happily she saw the funny side and, accepting that I and my family were totally bonkers with even weirder animals in tow, decided that they still wanted the house. In fact, she even asked if Harry Polecat could stay! Not a chance. He was a totally useless worker, a pain the butt for everything you would want a pet ferret to be, and a walking disaster area as regards anything remotely trashable was concerned, but he was MY disaster area and I loved him so he had to come with me.
The sale went through and I and my ferrets, including the Right Horrible Harrison Polecat, moved to a semi-rural location next to hundreds of acres of woodland. Cue episode 2...!
Episode 2 - ferrets and your love life
The new house was next to a large expanse of woodland which was home to a number of wild mammals, including badgers. I love badgers and deplore the so-called sport of badger baiting; illegal, cruel and inhumane. I quickly came to recognise a number of badger setts in the woods and I checked them on a daily basis to ensure there was no illegal disturbance. I also alerted a the Chairman of the Warwickshire Badger Group to make sure the setts were listed. He asked to be shown the setts and a date and time was arranged. (Why is 'a date and a time arranged' so problematic for me?!)
On that afternoon, I hurried back from my work at Warwick University in plenty of time for my ferrets to have a bit of playtime in the kitchen before I went 'badgering'. Wrong again! No sooner had I got my ferrets out and Harry had climbed up the tea-towel hook on to the kitchen counter and was dancing in the butter dish than the door-bell chimed. Another early arrival!
Caught between answering the door and removing the ferret from the butter dish, my sanity must have gone into suspended mode. I dashed to the front door, opened it and yelled to the unsuspecting stranger, 'You'll have to wait, there's a polecat in my butter', slammed the door in his face and dashed back to the kitchen. Half-way there, the enormity of what I had done hit me. What must the poor man think of me? Grabbing the offending ferret, I dashed back to the front door and opened it, buttery polecat in hand, just to show him I wasn't having some sort of psychotic episode. The man showed no sign of any reaction, he looked from me to the polecat who just looked back, smiling butterily. Showing him into the kitchen, I excused myself while putting the ferrets back in their run while the man spread out his maps on the kitchen counter, carefully avoiding the buttery footprints.
'I think the setts are here and here', I said, pointing to locations on the map. To my horror, my fingers left horrible greasy marks on his pristine map. I tried to give them a rub but they just smeared further, partially obliterating a local reservoir. Another, red-faced, gabbled apology. Again, the man said nothing, betrayed nothing of his feelings, and just suggested we take a walk to see the setts.
What with his early arrival and buttered polecats, I was still dressed in my smart(ish) work clothes which were more suitable for teaching my medical students than a ramble through the woods. Again, I excused myself and dashed upstairs to grab a pair of jeans I had untidily discarded before showering that morning. Pulling them on, I ran downstairs to find him waiting at the bottom, business-like and with map folded to the location of the setts. It was then I got an awful feeling of something sliding down one leg of my jeans. I looked down. Yesterday's knickers! (Girls, I bet you've done it, too!) A pair of white silky undies were around my left ankle. I tried to kick them out of sight but only succeeded in doing something like the Hokey Cokey, twirling a pair of knickers on my foot. Again, the man showed little reaction.
I scarcely remember anything about the walk to inspect the badger setts, I was so overcome with embarrassment, but having located and listed the setts we reurned to my house. I was wishing the whole humiliating episode over but, out of courtesy, I offered a cup of tea. I was surprised the man accepted. I had rather thought he would prefer to head for the hills or prop up the bar of his local pub and regale colleagues of his meeting with the Barmy Bint of Binley Woods. We managed a reasonably normal conversation about badgers in the area, when he asked if he could see my ferrets before he left.
I took him out the ferret run where a number of the ferrets came out to greet us. 'Can I hold one?', the man asked. I avoided Harry Polecat who, having been still buttered when I returned him to his run, had now been licked to the point that he looked as if he'd been slicked down with hair gel. I picked up Saffron, a lovely little sandy jill with the most loving nature. A brilliant worker, a superb PR ferret, she had never put a paw wrong in the six years I had had her. I wasn't taking any chances after everything I had put this poor man through! But whatever spirits or gods were present that day, they were having none of it.
Saffron snuggled up to him, licked his hand...and skunked over his expensive tweed jacket. Never had she done that to anyone, nor did she since. I was all red-faced and apologetic again, cursing ferrets, badgers and just about anything else that came to mind. Again, my sanity took a leave of absence. 'Would you like some tomato juice?', I queried. How was I to know that few people who have not lived in Canada or North America know that tomato juice removes the smell of skunks and other horrible animal odours? The man looked at me as if I was offering a cocktail at the most strange time of day.
At last it seemed my ordeal was about to end as I showed him to the door. To my surprise he actually smiled and said, 'It's been a pleasure to meet you, thank you'.
Another disaster arising from an early arrival? It seemed so at the time, but not this time. In those famous words of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre...
'Reader, I married him'
First Published February 2014