I can’t remember how I ever came to think that keeping alpacas was a good idea. We imported a small herd of them into Ireland in 2003, convinced they would make us a fortune and they’d become pets, alongside the laying hens and lying cats.
Trust me, alpacas don’t make friends with humans. They like other alpacas, of course. But they only ever tolerate humans, no matter how nice you are to them. Ours had a very cushy billet in the west of Ireland, and thankfully, they rarely spat at us. The spitting thing is a way of keeping order amongst themselves and it’s nasty if you get in the way – half-digested grass which is green, slimy and very smelly. And if it gets on your clothes, it is practically impossible to remove the stain.
We brought our alpacas over from Worcestershire via Scotland and Northern Ireland on a night when the skies were lit up with the Aurora Borealis. A memorable evening, which of course, I turned into a poem.
I have read the poem at a few functions recently, recalling that amazing evening when the sky was green and red and we thought that was the norm (we got that wrong as well, never seen the Northern Lights since).
We eventually found the alpacas new homes, but not before we’d collected a goodly amount of fleece from them over several years. I learnt to spin and discovered alpaca makes a lovely soft, hard-wearing yarn for knitting and crochet.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pets, and how humans enjoy keeping companion animals. And I was considering what some people think of as pets, exotic creatures such as monkeys, or snakes, or iguanas. Even alpacas.
My first choice of pet will always be a tabby cat (like my third birthday present), but any cat will do really (rescued, not bred to be sold), plus now my dog, who is a surprising friend to me, given that I spent many years being terrified of her kind.
And if nothing else, pets can serve as inspiration for poems. Just for the craic, here’s a ditty I wrote ages ago about our white hamster, sadly a pet I never photographed.
Snowball, a Hamster The cat has a mouse again and it makes me consider how many more fortunate, furry creatures we have kept, pets to nurture and cherish. There have been many: cats, rabbits, a dog, more cats, and Snowball, a white hamster carefully named by a six-year-old who instantly lost interest. He used to live in my study (the hamster, not the child), well away from feline temptation. I’d let him skip along my desk as I tried to write my memoirs (the child, as well as the hamster). When the time came and poor Snowball ailed, we took him in a shoe box to the vet’s evening surgery, humane dispatch for a fiver, ahead of a State funeral, with flowers and speeches, even a few tears. The shovel, or a brick, would have been cheaper to put him out of his misery, but none of us could do it (even the six-year-old, who was really seven by now). I remember how in his prime Snowball would run across my keyboard leaving a trail, black pellets of rodent incontinence, which I would eventually scoop up and turn into a poem.