10 52 pm. I am performing that classic Man Task (one of the few still allotted to us): I am locking up the house. I’ve locked the kitchen door, locked the front, when I realise I’ve made a Dangerous Error – I’ve left the guinea pigs out.
The Boys spend their day outside. They have an enclosure fashioned from chicken wire and tent pegs where they can run about, though, in truth, they usually choose to spend the day in The Shelter. They don’t seem highly masculine beasts, but, in this, the guinea pigs are classic males: they’re happy to spend the day lying around and shitting themselves. That’s their ideal day in fact. They lie about, shit a bit, then they like to rush outside to (1) have a quick fight then (2) to nibble grass.
It is not, however, the ideal night.
As night falls, our garden becomes a place of evil. The foxes have so far eaten thirteen hens. There are also badgers, weasels, owls, and – these are the most plausible pig-killers – there is also, nearby, a barn full of young wild cats. Oh they look sweet, but those cats terrorise the neighbourhood. Some of them are young boys, and I just know it… At some point, they’re going to find themselves sneaking up on the wire enclosure, and their senses will be tingling as they smell out the truth of it: There are some big rodents in there, those cats will be thinking, and they don’t look like they’d be much good in a fight.
I unlock the back door, feeling very worried.
Luckily, as I do so, I’m joined by my daughter Grace. (She’s the ideal ally in a spot like this. She’s a marvellously capable and good-humoured girl, who’s got the ability to pop up like Mary Poppins, just when you need her.) I tell her what’s happened. She hands me the torch. We go out to the bottom of the garden, where the Boys have their Daytime Residence.
The enclosure is sound too. It’s clear the boys haven’t escaped out the bottom. It’s clear what has happened: a fox has got them.
“Why haven’t we learned our lesson?” I say to Grace. “We knew this would happen from the chickens!” I can imagine what happened, and I’m seething with unease and self-hatred.
“Let me have the torch one moment?” says Grace. I pass it. “There they are,” she says, expertly picking them out, huddling under a clump of grass.
As she picks them up, and leads them inside, I get a great whoosh of relief. I also get a very clear Life Rule, and I shall spell it out for you now: Sometimes things aren’t quite as bad as you think. Don’t lacerate yourself with incriminations and guilt. Just take one last look in the grass.