It's always a happy-sad occasion when the kids leave home.

But they usually come back, at least to raid the fridge and borrow stuff.

My orphaned hedgehogs though, after all my rescuing and nurturing and feeding and weighing and cleaning out, turned out to be thoroughly ungrateful little sods.

I had re-housed them from a cage in the bathroom to an outdoor enclosure under a tree. Okay it was just a tractor tyre but it was quite a job to get it there and it's going to be equally difficult to shift it away.

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They'd got to a size where they no longer fitted in the specially-purchased pet igloo together at sleep time (all day - boring wee mites), and they were busily making nests around the enclosure and behaving like grownup hogs, so I enlisted a willing helper - my husband who couldn't wait to see the back of the spiky mites - and we propped one side of the tyre up a bit so they could wander out.

Wander? I suspect there was a small spiky stampede that night because by the time I went out to check on them the next morning they were completely and utterly gone.

I'd had fond thoughts that they'd come back for food and water and maybe to sleep, but no. They'd scarpered.

Gone.

The hedgehogs had left the building. Well, the tyre.

I kept putting out food and water. I peered under shrubs and bushes. I went out with the torch after dark. No hogs, all I managed was to scare the cat and make the dogs think I was a burglar. And to be honest, if all that yapping was their response to an invader, all you'd need to be able to break in would be earmuffs.

I did discover that sheep's eyes glow yellow in torchlight, which is kind of creepy, but zero hedgehogs were found.

I felt a bit miffed, really. I don't know what I'd expected, it's not like they could pop down to the shop and grab me a box of chocolates, but a mass exodus seemed a bit harsh.

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Then, one day last week I smelled something whiffy in the corner of the garden near the grapevine.

At first I assumed it was something the dogs had dragged in ... being chihuahuas they can't drag much but what they lack in strength they make up for in determination, frequently raiding the chook-house for illicit leftovers and bringing them in to be interred under the couch cushions.

The next day the whiff was veering towards being a pong, and a day later it was nearing reek proportions. And not your average reek ... it smelled like ... dead animal.

I didn't want to look. I was convinced it would be one of the missing hogs. I was avoiding the garden anyway, because it was full of menacing-looking pumpkin vines, but eventually I would have to investigate what had now become a stench.

It took another day to steel myself. I put on rubber gloves, wrapped a scarf round my face and tentatively started to peel back tendrils of grapevine. Nothing. I peeled some more. Still nothing.

The stink was still there, but it wasn't emanating from under the grapevine.

The only other concealing vegetation was ... the pumpkin vines.

I started pulling them up, tentacle by tentacle. There were metres and metres of vine. It went up nearby trees, through the corn and spud patches, up the fence. Every few metres I'd have to stop and remove an immense pumpkin, putting them aside as I kept pulling up vines, hand over hand.

It took two days to clear the garden of the pumpkin-laden invader, but I found no hedgehogs, deceased or otherwise.

I had, however, gained 19 large pumpkins.

The eye-watering stench remained.

As I stood rubbing my aching back I noticed something on my gardening workbench. It was a plastic container.

I recognised the container.

It was the one that I'd taken out of the fridge many days ago. It had contained some meat that had been in the fridge a little too long. And I had been going to bury it, nice and deep so the dogs couldn't get it.

And there it was. Not buried, but sitting right there, proudly stinking to high heaven.

I would have sighed, but I didn't want to breathe in.

I looked at the gross mess, all covered in creepy crawlies and thought ... the hedgehogs would have loved those bugs.