Sooner or later most kids want a pet of some sort. In an inner-city household like ours, where a dog is impractical and adding to the cat population means many backyard fights and dead songbirds, it's to the small rodent that attention turns.
So we've had a succession of mostly hamsters and gerbils, small creatures that on the face of it seem to require little maintenance. But no – this dedicated dad inevitably is saddled with cleaning them out, feeding them and generally taking care of their wellbeing in suitably climate controlled conditions.
And with the kids also – inevitably – losing interest them in a few weeks, and with the poor creatures not being the easiest things to handle, they really become my pets. Don't get me wrong – I love animals, and had loads of pets myself as a kid. But sometimes I can do without the routine of decanting a pair of squabbling dwarf hamsters into a box while I disinfect their cage in the back garden.
What's more, it's hard to impress on a seven-year-old that these animals are pretty much nocturnal. Their body clock is basically the opposite of a school boy, at least if we get them to bed on time (the boy, that is). So he can't have the cage in the bedroom because the noise of a high-speed hamster on a wheel is not conducive to sleep.
Neither is a pair of gerbils shredding cardboard boxes and cartons, which they do constantly. And don't remind of the time when one of the kids put a narrow cardboard tube in the cage and a gerbil got stuck in it and yours truly had to poke the creature gently out – and it rewarded me by sinking its teeth to the bone in my thumb.
Sorry to say, the bright spot is that at least they don't live that long, and I've dug a fair few tiny graves in the flowerbeds.
Now the pressure is on to get some fish. I've managed to head off tropical varieties with dark talk of complicated water purity and temperature control issues, and it looks like a nice coldwater, minimal mess making – and completely silent – goldfish will be next in line.
Why I wish I'd never given into pet pester