I’m sliding down a grassy hill. I’m trying to grab hold of grass, twigs, anything. This is crazy. Why did I let big cheese talk me into this? It sounded like a good idea at the time. Foxhunting. I’d had a call from Big Cheese. I was at Club Magik watching the Hammers play Man City.
“Harry, something great’s going to happen.”
“What’s that?” I said.
“We’re going foxhunting, Harry. Or rather, you are. It’ll be fantastic, what do you think?”
“We’re going foxhunting, Harry. Or rather, you are. It’ll be fantastic, what do you think?”
Foxhunting? I’d seen it on telly. Years ago it had been banned. Then it came back in and it was all the rage now. It was even on TV. Regular shows and stuff, with star fox hunters. Some reality stuff too, like a week with the village-in-the-back-of-beyond hunt. That kind of thing. The punters loved it. Except I didn’t see many hamsters in the little red outfit. But then you didn’t see many hamsters doing much of anything. Except for me. Harry was special. I could see a snag though.
“But I can’t ride a horse. Who do you think I am, John Wayne?”
“No problem,” said Cheese, “it’s all been set up. You’re going to be strapped into a little harness on some guy’s head. All you’ve gotta do is hold on tight and enjoy the ride. It’s all perfectly safe – puuuuuurrfectly safe – would I let you do anything where you might get hurt? No way Harry. Next time you come over I’ll explain the whole thing. Have I ever let you down?”
I wasn’t completely convinced at first but Cheese persuaded me. Just wait till I get hold of him. I’m getting a mud bath and who knows where I’m gonna end up? Maybe in a couple of days they’ll find the bruised and broken body of a young hamster in his prime at the bottom of a valley. Death Valley, deep in the heart of this county, whatever-it-is-shire in the middle of nowhere. I can see the headline.
TRAGIC DEATH OF YOUNG HAMSTER IN HUNTING ACCIDENT
who died in somewhere in the back of beyond where you can’t even get a junglefrenzy. Junglefrenzy please? We ain’t got none of that here. Have a pint of Mucker’s Knuckle, best cask beer for miles.
That’s because it’s the only beer for miles and the pub is the only anything for miles. And now my gear is getting ruined. I spent ages working on this outfit. It was all authentic stuff. Big Cheese had had it all tailor-made by Pertwee’s of London, the top guys for fox hunting gear. It was all class stuff. The little black hat – not just a fashion statement but a real working hard hat – I’m glad of that now as my head crashes against a big tree root. That hurt. Ouch. The little cream trousers and the boots. The boots were great, softest boots I ever had. When all the gear was ready Big Cheese and me went around to Pertwee’s to try it all on. It was only a case of nipping over to Bond St. The guy in the shop was fussing around. Real Are You Being Served stuff. But everything fitted great first time. I had a look in the mirror. I looked fantastic. The hunnie bunnies were going to go wild. I was really getting into it now. Hang on – just pop the Rayblokkers back on. Perfect.
I started looking forward to the big day. We were joining the Greater Chernut Hunt in deepest Wiltshire. Wiltshire was a place in the country and Big Cheese said there was nothing there except for trees and grass and the occasional small town. We were going to get to a place called Westbury, stay there the night and then join the Greater Chernut Hunt the next day. Big Cheese was pulling the strings and I expected everything to go real smooth as it usually does when Big Cheese organises stuff. Big Cheese was usually on top of things.
Cheese had set up a couple of interviews. Just local stuff, The White Horse, a local paper and local telly. Strictly for Mucker’s Knuckle drinkers.
“Harry, you are a well-known celebrity in London, but how do you feel about going on a fox hunt?”
“How did I feel about it? I feel great about it. If there is a fox somewhere out there in the grass I’m saying watch out your furry little ass is history. I can’t wait. Just let the dogs out and point ’em in the right direction.”
And I didn’t like foxes anyway. What’s to like? Vicious little creatures. Horrible. City people don’t like them because they do things like…. well loads of things. Mucker’s Knuckle drinkers don’t like them because they steal their chickens. Face it, foxes, nobody likes you. Let’s go get ’em.
It tastes like mousecrap. I’ve got a faceful of it and I hope it’s mud. I’m holding on to the tiny end of a bit of root that I’ve managed to grab. Just as well my forelegs are so powerful. All that wheel work has paid off. I’m never going to get the stains off the Pertwee gear. Don’t tell me that root is starting to break. It’s puuuuurfectly safe Cheese said. There’s the little harness attached to some guy’s head, tested to BSI standards. Thanks. I’m falling. Fall. Bump. Fall. Bump. Bump. Fall. More fall. Then smack I hit my head and stop. I lie dead still. I check that I’m still alive. Go through the legs and forelegs one by one. I’m hurting all over but can still move so everything must be all right. I look up and can see trees and the blue sky. At least I think it’s blue sky. Just take the Rayblokkers off and check. Now it’s just a case of finding my way back. Just sit and chill for a minute first. No need to panic. The worst is over.
Then I smell something funny. Something like an animal. Not a cat or a dog. Very different, maybe a badger. That would be just great, a badger. It’s something kind of like a musty sweet smell. Out of the corner of my left eye I see something move in the bushes. It’s red and furry and then a head pops out of the bushes. A fox and it’s looking right at me. Now it’s walking towards me, like a cat about to pounce.
That’s just what I need, an X-Pet fox, a smart Alec. Must have escaped from a lab. One of those army places where they do weird experiments like make mouse assassins. Or pigeons that are really spies. A freak fox, but maybe I can sweet talk it out of doing something nasty. If only Big Cheese was here, he would know what to say.
“Just out for a ride, fell off my horse,” I said. It didn’t sound very convincing so I decided to lay it on thick.
“I think I’m injured,” I groaned. Foxy was creeping closer, moving real slow. Her teeth were showing in a snarl like a horrible space alien monster.
“That’s a pity, looks like your fox hunt is over. My furry little ass isn’t going to be history after all. “
That’s all I need a fox that reads the paper and watches the telly. I wonder what her favourite channel is. Fox News?
“Hold on,” I said, “I never said that. That was all taken out of context. You know what the press are like. What I really said was….”
I could see that I was digging myself into a hole. Foxy was right up close now, maybe only three or four feet away. I could smell the horrible foxy kind of smell. What was it I had really said? It looked like it wasn’t going to matter. Any moment now I was going to be a goner. What a way to go. Alone in the woods. I thought about Big Cheese and my sitting on the balcony of our flat looking out over London. I thought about the sunset. The red spikey face was getting closer. Close enough to pounce.
Then something happened. It was like the sky got darker, like in the films when the alien spacecraft arrives and you can’t see the sky anymore. I looked up and saw something big and brown where the sky used to be. Then the earth shook like a two ton truck was going past. I looked to my left and it was like a huge tree had just sprouted out of the earth. I looked to the right and there was another one just the same. Foxy was looking up at something. She looked scared. I heard a voice, a big deep voice, like the guy on telly adverts who says things like, “Blogg’s aftershave, the best a man can buy.” The voice spoke.
“Is everything ok here?”
Sure is. Here’s me, Harry the Hamster, is about to be torn to shreds by a crazed fox from a weird army experiment lab. My Pertwee gear is ruined. I’m sore all over. I could have been killed.
Foxy snarled and hissed and slowly started to back off. She was hunkered down and moving back very slowly. Her tail was whacking the ground and looked very bushy. Suddenly she squealed, a blood curdling squeal right out of a horror movie, and darted forward as if to attack. The big brown tree thing didn’t move. Foxy did an emergency stop, turned around and sprinted towards the bushes. But before she got there she stopped, turned around and said,
“I’ll be seeing you again Harry.” I don’t think so. Goodbye Foxy. Then she disappeared into the bushes.
I sat up and looked up. What was this thing? I eased my bruised and broken body forward. Gradually I started to see the sky again. I pushed my Rayblokkers down my nose to get a better look and saw something big, leathery and wrinkly. It took a minute for it to dawn on me what it was. I was looking at a dog. A very big dog. The big brown sky covering thing was its belly. The big trees were its legs. The big leathery thing was its head. I backed away to get a better look, like a tourist looking at the Gherkin from close-up. I started to get a crick in my neck. No worries now about foxy coming back. The head lowered and I looked into two big brown eyes.
“Hello Harry,” the big dog said, “I’m Westie. Let’s head back to town.” That was the best idea I’d heard all day.
“Hop aboard and grab and ear.”
Westie lowered himself to the ground very slowly. Westie did everything very slowly. I clambered up the side of his head and settled down for the ride. I got hold of one of his ears. Westie asked me if I was ready and I said yeah let’s get out of here now. I felt Westie slowly rise like he was being helped up by a crane. Then he began to move, like one of those huge loads you see inching down the motorway. With each step the woods shook. The King of the Jungle is coming through. We soon got out of the undergrowth and on to a path. From then on it was plain sailing, though the going was slow. We came to where the crowd was. The hunt guys had all gathered near a pub and there were loads of other people there too. People having a pint, the local press. There must have been hundreds of Mucker’s Knuckle guys. When they saw big Westie trudging forward they went crazy. Everyone was cheering. The press went wild and suddenly there were a million cameras on me. And they must have got fantastic shots. There was me in my Pertwee’s covered in mud, that was a great shot by itself. Then there was Westie, you don’t see a dog that big every day. And Westie had that something special, a bit of star quality. And the guy was a red hot tottie magnet. Girls just rushed up to him, just couldn’t wait to give the big dog some luurve. Put these things together and you have one of the greatest shots of all time. One of the greatest stories of all time.
The best shot was when I got down from Westie’s back. We were in front of the pub and everyone was cheering. Westie lowered himself to the ground and I slid down his side and onto the ground. Loud cheers. Then everyone could see for the first time just what a state I was in. I think that was the best shot of all. Me standing beside Westie in my muddy Pertwee’s. The Rayblokkers made the whole scenario look even cooler. But all I could see was a sea of faces, with press guys going crazy because this could be a career defining shot. And at the back of the crowd I saw Big Cheese. He wasn’t excited, just sitting still and watching. He was sitting on a stone wall with his front paws curled up underneath his chest. He looked very calm.
It was after this that I went global. The shots went around the world: London, Paris, Rome, New York, LA, you name it everyone knew about Harry the Hamster. Big Cheese took over handling a lot of my PR and had a full time job keeping up. It wasn’t just local news, local papers, Mucker’s Knuckle or even London stuff. It was big time all the way. I was a star.
Big Westie usually hung out at The Garden Hotel in Westbury. The Garden Hotel was a small hotel near the market square. Big Westie liked to sit behind the bar. There was a garden out the back and we were sitting there having a drink. I’d cleaned up and changed. Cheese had booked us into the hotel for the night. We were going to go back to London the next day. Big Cheese was meeting some guys in the hotel bar.
Westie mostly sat in silence and looked at his drink, a large bucket of Mucker’s Knuckle. Westie wasn’t a big talker. It didn’t take too long to work that one out. Someone had actually managed to take the straw out of their mouths long enough to get me a junglefrenzy. I think that was the best junglefrenzy I ever had. Westie took a slurp from his bucket.
“A very exciting day.”
“Yeah, it was,” I said.
“Looks like you are going to be a very famous hamster.”
“Harry says yep – great.”
“You didn’t catch a fox though.”
No we didn’t, but who cared? I didn’t. I’d decided I wasn’t really a fox hunting kind of guy.
“No fox,” I said, “but I coulda been a goner back there. Thanks for helping me out. If we X-Pets can’t stick together what’s the world coming to.”
We sat there for a while drinking our drinks. It was late evening and there weren’t many people around. Earlier a few people had come up asking for autographs, but they were gone now. I said Westie should come up to London sometime. We could hang out together, get some great shots in the celeb mags. Harry and Westie in a nightclub. Little and Large, that kind of thing. The celeb mags would love it. But Westie said the big city wasn’t for him. He wasn’t a big city kind of dog. He liked a quiet life, a quiet bucket of Mucker’s Knuckle. When it started to get too dark we went inside. Just to the right of the bar as you went in there was a room with big comfy sofas. Big Cheese was there talking to a few guys. He was stretched out on one of the sofas with a bowl of cat treats in front of him. The guys were drinking pints of Mucker’s Knuckle, except for one guy in a natty jacket who was drinking an Aztec Warrior from the bottle.
“Harry, come in, there are some guys I want you to meet,” said Cheese. Big Cheese introduced me to the guys. The guy drinking the Aztec Warrior was Chris Selby Welby, the son of Sir George Selby Welby, one of the country’s richest merchant bankers. He was in this neck of the woods using his dad’s country place for a photo shoot. He was the editor of Britain’s top men’s mag, GUYnacology. He also owned the Magik Club in Soho. So everyone knew him as Chris Magik. No one could pronounce Selby Welby after a few pints. Big Westie plodded off to bed, which was a blanket under the stairs in the hallway outside the bar. I stayed to talk to Chris and the guys. We talked long into the night.