Boarding school pets

Last week, I was telling you about the pets we had when I was very young and still living at home. But animals were still an important part of my life, even after I went off to board at my secondary school.

One of the better aspects of life at Chorleywood College was that, between the second and fourth years, we were allowed to have pets at school. We could have either a rabbit or a guinea pig.

I took ownership of the offspring of one of my friend’s rabbits, a Himalayan Dwarf, which was white with black markings. I am a big Paul Simon fan (well, quite a short one, actually, but you know what I mean) and called my rabbit “Julio”, after a character in the Paul Simon song “Me and Julio down by the schoolyard”, which was in the charts at the time.

Julio was beautiful.

He loved to be cuddled and was wonderfully soft to the touch, which made him an ideal pet for someone with a visual impairment. Mind you, he nibbled everything in sight, including my favourite purple beads. He neatly nipped off two from each side while I hugged him to me.

He also had a taste for rose petals. When we went on holiday he stayed with my grandparents. My grandfather built him a hutch so that he could have his very own home-from-home and my grandmother strewed the floor with rose petals to welcome him. How to spoil a bunny! The only snag was that my grandfather could never quite got the hang of Julio’s name. The closest he managed to get was either “Honolulu”, the capital of Hawaii, or “Goolagong”, after Evonne Goolagong, a famous Australian tennis player of the period.

Although not quite up to the luxury of Julio’s holiday accommodation, the pet facilities at school were really quite good. There was a bank of hutches, a shed where we could store and prepare food, a tap, and brushes, straw and sawdust for cleaning out. Those of us with pets would troop over there mornings and evenings and some of us even took our rabbits out for gambols in the grounds on sunny days. Amazingly, we never lost a rabbit while they were prancing about on the grass.

In addition to our own personal pets, there were also various school pets, including horses and poultry. The headmistress had a particular penchant for failed guide dogs. One such was called Topsy, and a common sound around the grounds was the head’s anxious and high pitched calls of “Topsy! Topsy!” which meant that the dog was up to no good and had no earthly intention of stopping whatever it was that it was doing.

As I mentioned last week, I am not a great dog-lover, so I was much more interested in the various school cats. I had no idea at the time, but I have since discovered that these poor creatures were fed on whatever leftovers were to hand in the kitchen. These could be anything from spam fritters to curry. A couple of girls in the year below mine eventually took it upon themselves to purchase proper cat food for the school cats, which must have been a welcome relief for these malnourished felines.

I still want to tell you all about our pet guinea pig, my favourite cats, and even how in later life I (sort of!) became reconciled to accepting dogs, but those are all stories for another time.