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The Plastic Hedgehog

There it sat. Underneath the bird table. Last year’s new plastic scrubbing brush, covered in bits of dry leaf and a thin film of green slime from an over-warm wet winter.

I rinsed it and soaped it and polished it with a cloth until it gleamed. Curvy torso and hips, slightly too fat waist and a see-through belly button hole at the bottom dark grey end. Or a cyclop’s eye at the dark top end – depending how you look at it. But in any case, all smooth and spruced ready for work.

I laid it proudly on the table in front of me. On its back, in square letters, was embossed the word ‘HOME’. Underneath were rows and rows of nylon bristles, tightly clumped in round groups. The outside row in dark grey made a figure of 8 with one hole. Inside were three white rows marching round and round. Looked at from the side it seemed as if it would move – like Dougal the dog from the Magic Round-About, or a pretend plastic billipede. Depending on which age-appropriate game you want to play.

I looked eagerly around for something to work on.

I started with the glass-topped garden table that 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 of its aesthetic effects. The bristles were too hard. So I decided to save the brush, and use a cloth instead.

Next I tried the small grey slate-topped table – the winter mealworm supplier for robins and blackbirds. A bit more watchful and agile than the pigeons. But messy nevertheless. Success. A comforting swish swish of soapsuds bubbling green removing grunge.

I considered the small porcelain hedgehog feeder under the bird table. I had kept putting out food over winter just in case hungry hedgehogs woke up. But it was late Spring now. Any food was quickly eaten by next door’s new cat. Our outdoor camera – Christmas present specially for hedgehog-watching – had only captured moths and a moving spider web across its lens.

The feeder was 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 big grey brush.

Last year we had several hedgehogs 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’. It came more and more often each day, growing slowly thinner and thinner. Though still alert as it eagerly finished whole bowls full of food. We had been so happy to see it every day.

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

I looked again at the brush. Turned it on its back. Not a Dougal or billipede. But a plastic replacement Hopalong.

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