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Hedgehog: Screenprint and Sketches

There it sat. Accusingly. Last year’s new plastic scrubbing brush. Grey and covered in bits of dry leaf underneath the bird table. With a thin film of green slime from an over-wet winter. I rinsed it, and soaped it, and polished it with a cloth until it gleamed. Curvy torso, slightly too fat waist and hips with a see-through bellybutton hole at the bottom end. Or a single cyclop’s eye at the top end – depending how you look at it. But in any case, all smooth and spruced, ready for work.

I laid it on the table in front of me. On its back, embossed in square letters, was the word ‘HOME’. On its underside were rows and rows of nylon bristles, cut to identical length, tightly clumped in identical groups. The outside row was dark grey in a one-eyed figure of 8. Inside that three smaller white rows marched round and round. From the side it had character – like Dougal the dog from the Magic Round-About, or a fun plastic billipede. Depending on which age-appropriate game you want to play.

I looked around for something to start work on. To show I was doing something. First was the glass-topped garden table had served as a winter pigeon feeder, safe from next door’s new cat. And for squirrels to distract them from the bird table. I dipped the brush in a bowl of soapy water and scrubbed. But the rasping scratching noise made me nervous. The bristles were too hard.

The smaller slate-topped table was more successful. It had served as a winter mealworm platform for robins and blackbirds. More watchful and agile than pigeons in dealing with cars, they had been messy nevertheless. Even before the flocks of starlings came. A comforting swish swish of soapsuds bubbled green as they removed the grunge.

I considered the small porcelain hedgehog feeder under the bird table. smooth emerald glazed brown, three inches square with a holder on one side and small hole to let out water. Exquisitely RSPB utilitarian. But too small and dainty for my overweight brush.

We had several hedgehogs last year, visiting just after dusk. One night there was a large mother one with a young hoglet. The most frequent visitor we had unimaginatively named ‘Hopalong’. We had been so happy when it came more and more often. The blackbird would announce its arrival as it wobbled down the path, more and more boldly each day. It certainly had a limp. But it soon stopped scratching and was quite alert as it munched through bowls full of food.

‘It’s a wonder he lasted so long’, said the vet, ‘it’s bone is sticking through its skin. Leave it here.’ It had been by chance I had spotted the tabby cat from down the road, just about to pounce. I really could not continue to watch anxiously all day. I still remember my feelings of guilt in the car. It had been difficult to catch and coax into the carrying bucket. I had promised it would be safe in a hedgehog sanctuary.

It is late Spring now. Our outdoor camera – Christmas present specially for hedgehog-watching – had only captured moths and a moving spider web across its lens. I suspect the disappearing food is being eaten by the cats. I look again at the brush. I turn it on its back. No longer dithering Dougal or fun Billipede. But a new, more durable, plastic Hopalong without fleas.

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