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About A Week: Tiggywinkle

Peter Hinchliffe tells of an encounter of the prickly kind on a dark autumn night.

A dark autumn night. One of those nights when things which you can't quite make out seem to be moving towards you in the blackness. I'd been out late. I was unlocking the kitchen door, anticipating warmth and light, when there was a noise. A spooky unfamiliar sound, over by the garden fence.

Common sense dictated that I should go inside and lock the door. Curiosity compelled me to get a torch, arm myself with a shovel from the coal shed, then investigate.

The noise continued. Not menacing exactly, but highly disturbing. I had never heard anything quite like it. Scrape-shush, scrape-shush, scrape-shush . . .

The torch beam revealed the midnight prowler. A hedgehog. A small hedgehog, proceeding sedately along the fence line, brushing its spines against the wooden slats. The torchlight did hot bring a halt to its perambulations. Eventually the creature turned off into a field, disappearing in silence into the darkness.

I put the shovel back in the shed then went indoors, feeling foolish and wondering whether dumb animals are capable of playing practical jokes.

Some are. I'm sure I've seen dogs laughing at me in triumph after achieving the desired effect with a menacing salvo of barks. Not a hedgehog though. Actually those Beatrix Potter Tiggywinkle creatures, with their cute noses and bright-button eyes, are none too bright.

Nature intended that they should go adventuring after sundown when they can forage in safety. Now you see them strolling and meandering in daylight.

One came snuffling around our garden recently. "You're supposed to be in bed," I said. Evidently it wasn't in a mood to be reprimanded. It carried on with its stroll.

Audrey Burley of Huddersfield recently saw a hedgehog face up to a fox in her garden. Audrey is a great lover of wildlife. She thinks the fox is a much-maligned creature. She buys 15p loaves, spreads marge on the bread, makes sandwiches with bits of meat, then puts them outside for foxes which regularly come to visit.

"A vixen was eating a sandwich when a hedgehog trundled over and joined in," she says. "The vixen ate one end of the sandwich while the hedgehog chewed away at the other."

Foxes and hedgehogs aren't supposed to socialise. Mind you, the hedgehog probably wasn't taking too much of a risk. It has a party trick which protects it on most occasions.

Some humans seem to model themselves on hedgehogs, curling themselves up into a spikey ball in defence against an aggressive world.

Another local lady, Vera Sanderson, recalls the day when her Great Dane Max learned the hard way of the hedgehog's defensive capabilities.

Max thought he was a lion. He went on stalking expeditions along the disused railway line near his home. When he came upon a curled-up creature he impulsively plunged forwards for a good sniff. Only to scream when a spike pricked his nose.

Despite this ability to give sharp lessons to the over-curious, hedgehogs are likeable creatures. They bring out an "ah" reaction in most humans.

An unsolicited catalogue which flopped through our letter box contained gifts for lovers of hedgehogs. A hedgehog paperweight. A house plaque which announces A Hedgehog Lover Lives Here. A cuddly washable hedgehog cover for a mobile phone.

Those tempted to keep a hedgehog as a pet should heed the warning of CRASH, an organisation called Care Rehabilitation and Aid for Sick Hedgehogs, which runs a hedgehog hospital. "Their favourite trick is to stomp food into newspaper lining their box, tip over the water bowl, mix it all together adding a good helping of droppings, mash it all in, then tear up the resultant mess into strips and start making a nest."

On top of which, hedgehogs have fleas.

If you find a lost hedgehog or some other creature of the wild, in distress, help is at hand on a new website created by St Tiggywinkles Hospital Trust. Click on www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk

Mrs Tiggywinkle the hedgehog is best enjoyed and observed when she is roaming free.
Though not perhaps at midnight in the beam of a shaky torch.

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