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Quick Catch Up

It's been a long time since Kev or I posted on here properly and a lot has happened!

The wedding went well - we had a wonderful day, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves! And so now we are officially Mr and Mrs Arlott. Thanks again everyone who could make it and for all the lovely gifts we were given, they were all very thoughtful and have all been used!

About two weeks after the wedding, I got a call from a company I had an interview with in January offering me the job (they turned me down initially, but thankfully remembered me when some more work came up!) and so at the end of April Kev and I moved down to the outskirts of Southampton to a little flat, in the servants quarters of an old Victorian mansionette. Charlie (of course) made the journey with us, but his super-cage-tank was damaged in the move - he was a bit miffed at spending the next couple of weeks back in his travel cage.

The flat is quite small but it's more than big enough for the two of us. The main building is surrounded by much of its original gardens, including an old vegetable patch gone wild, manicures lawns and some wonderful old trees (including but not limited to the biggest horse chestnut I have ever seen, some interesting oak varieties, a larch, a fir and a mighty Scots Pine, but sadly no lofty flowering cherries and I'm not sure about the plucky little aspen). Being on the second floor and surrounded by trees it's often a little bit like being in a fully kitted out tree house. We have bird feeders on the windows and get regular visits from blue-, great- and coal-tits and even a family of nuthatches (and, on one occasion, a spotted woodpecker).

We finally got around to replacing Charlie's cage about a month after moving in, instead of the same size opting for one 5 inches longer. Charlie loved to be back in his log again and continued enjoying his adventures, especially when he started to explore the whole flat (although on multiple occasions, and quite by accident, not in his ball).

In my job (Marine Geophysicist, then Senior Geophysicist the following year) I enjoyed processing a range of geophysical data including magnetometer, sidescan sonar and sub-bottom data. Sub-bottom is definitely my favourite and something that never ceases to amaze me, despite it being something I have spent the majority of my time processing.

Kev was offered a job later in the year with a pretty big company based in Frimley - it means an hour long commute for him but he insists this isn't a problem!

Putting so many miles on the W reg Astra meant it had it's ups and downs and in September 2010 it failed it's MOT. We replaced it with...Another white Vauhall Astra estate, slightly newer! This one had a mere 88k on the clock, but this later turned out to be someone had clocked it (although the seller, a dealer, denied all knowledge of it) and we think it had somewhere in the region of 120k when we got it, which is annoying.

We both started playing badminton with some of my friends from work which turned into a twice-weekly habit. We're both getting pretty good now and it's definitely helped the two of us keep fit.

In late November my works had a Christmas Party, and we got the excuse to dress up and have some fun with our new friends.

Christmas 2010 was spent up in North Wales - for a second year heavy snow covered the whole country and we managed to get some fairly impressive photos of Kev snowboarding on the beach at Black Rock Sands.

We spent the weekend after our first anniversary in Florence. What a beautiful and inspiring city! I am also trying to learn Italian in my own time, but motivation issues are slowing me down.

Sadly we lost Charlie in early August 2011, and gained Winter two weeks later- I will post about that separately.

September saw Kev compete in the Euros at Hoylake, and our first package holiday to Isola di San Pietro, in Sardinia. It made a nice change to be able to swim comfortaby in the sea - I have never swum in a warm sea before! We did a load of snorkelling, and Kev enjoyed using his prescription mask and being able to see the multitude of fish.

That pretty much brings us to where we are now - so much for a "Quick Catch Up"!!

Brave Sir Charlie

Last night was a monumental night for Charles P. Hamster.

Since the arrival of Umber, our guide-dog-in-training, Charlie's ball-time has dramatically reduced. This is not, however, because of of anything we've done - Charlie hates the dog.

As soon as Umber moved in, Charlie started spending more of the evening asleep - when we got him out of his cage, he would just freeze and move very, very slowly. I felt like the worst mummy in the world, but there was nothing we could do but hope that it was just him being unsure - having never come face to face with a dog before, that would be perfectly understandable. But no, Charlie spent almost every night asleep in his nest, only coming out for the occasional toilet break and to stock up on food.

When we went down to do our notice giving, Charlie came with us and that week he was like a different hamster. 7pm sharp, he'd wake up like he used to and announce to the world "It iss teatime, where is my food?!" and then until we went to bed he would be out and about, running in his ball just like he used to. Obviously then when we returned, it was like someone flipped a switch - back to scaredy-Charles.

Umber on the other hand, loves Charlie. Umber has, on several occasions, sat and watched Charlie running in his wheel for up to 15 minutes.

Then the other night, Umber went away to see who might potentially be his new owner. We put Charlie in the ball first thing in the morning when we got up the following day (he was still wide awake and wanting very much to come out and play, we didn't wake him!) and he ran around the house, even though it still must have smelled like dog. He was running about, being put back in his cage every 20 minutes or so for a drink and a sleep if he wanted it) until 12pm!

For 3 days we did this, and he started coming out again more in the evenings. Umber came back and then last night, while Umber was shut in the kitchen and lounge, Charlie spent the best part of 2 hours roaming free and happily like he used to, top speed up and down the hallway.

Finally it seems like Charlie is not afraid of the dog any more, just as Umber is getting ready to leave us!

Charlie's New Pad

As with Biscuit, Charlie is a prolific cage bar-chewer.

Before I tell you how we're solving this problem, a little information about Hamster Keeping.

There are many varieties of hamster. The main ones are Syrian hamsters, the largest hamster breed, and dwarf hamsters, including Chinese and Russian hamsters, amongst others, which are much smaller. I don't know much about the dwarf hamsters, so this information will mostly be related to Syrians.

A burrowing animal by nature, hamsters like tunnels - however, many of the cages with tunnels on the market are much too narrow for a fully grown Syrian hamster. This is also true for cages - the bigger the better, though many shops with hamster "starter" kits sell a tiny cage, with a tiny wheel, with tiny tunnels, which your Syrian hamster will very quickly grow out of. The cage we bought originally for Biscuit is 16"x14"x12", and came with tunnels that locked into the shelves - Biscuit, roughly a year old when we adopted her, was already too big for these tunnels. Charlie fitted through them fine when we adopted him at 4months old, now, at 5 1/2 months, he really struggles to get through easily. I'll take this opportunity to point out that neither of our hamsters have been overweight, or even close! We've always been on the lookout for a larger cage, but so far haven't found one that's much bigger.

Hamsters are designed for running and foraging. While they may look an ungainly creature (especially after keeping more agile rats as pets) they are very good at running for long periods of time, and in the wild can cover many kilometres in a single night. This is why a wheel in a hamster's cage is so important. Once again, many of the wheels sold in shops are unsuitable for hamsters in that they are much, much too small. A hamster shouldn't have to bend his/her back to get into the wheel - it should be as though they're running normally along the ground. The wheel should also be flat, not with rungs that small feet could get caught in, and semi - contained from one side - again, to prevent limbs getting caught and broken by non-moving parts. Charlie and Biscuit have both so far used a Savic Rolly Large, an 18cm diameter wheel although if Charlie keeps growing much more we'll have to go up to the Jumbo sized one!

Left - a bad example of a hamster wheel. Too many open rungs for limbs to become trapped.
Right - the Savic Rolly Large (18cm). No places for limb-trapping and also very quiet!

Hamsters chew the bars for a number of reasons. The main reason is most likely that they're bored; in a small cage, their wheel isn't big enough or there is nothing for them to chew. This isn't helped by the fact that so many of them are stuck in cages which are not fit for purpose. Extra wooden toys can be put in a cage to provide your hamster with something to do - Charlie likes hazel and eucalyptus, though his present nest is made in an elder-stump. This is also linked to handling time - hamsters handled little tend to be more bored than those who spend a lot of time out of the cage and exploring.

The other reason hamsters chew cage bars is simply because they can. Charlie and Biscuit have both had between 2 and 3 hours handling every night, and when they aren't being handled or running free they are in the ball running around the house (they return to the cage when they want to have a rest, which I think is quite impressive!) but both of them turn to chewing the bars as soon as they're put back in the cage for the night.

So what if they chew the bars? Well the problem is hamsters chew cage bars with their back teeth - so they aren't wearing down their front teeth as they should be. This can cause the front teeth to become misaligned, but can also cause the brain to be misaligned. And nobody wants a crazy hamster.

If you look this up online, you will see that there are a few ways you can try to stop them doing it - as previously mentioned, putting extra toys in the cage, keeping them more occupied etc can help. There are also a few home remedies, where people have put something a hamster doesn't like to taste on the bars where they chew. I have tried a few of these, and nothing has worked with either hamster! Only shortly before Biscuit died did she stop chewing the cage, and Charlie has started early.

The final way to stop a hamster chewing the cage, is to provide them with a chew-proof cage. It is possible to buy cages ready made from glass with shelves for small animals, and there are also plastic hamster cages you can buy from pet shops everywhere.

The final straw for us was last week Charlie broke the end of one of his bottom teeth from chewing on the cage - it's been worn back level with the other one quite quickly, but we wanted to solve the problem as soon as we could when we realised just how much he was chewing the bars over all of the wooden toys we've given him.

However, when we found plastic cages they were usually either the same size or smaller than the one he was in - when ideally, we wanted something a big bigger for the ever growing hamster. They also tended to be a bit flimsy - only very thin, easily chewable plastic! We considered an indoor guinea-pig cage, like the plastic hamster cages but much larger - the the bar spacing at the top was much, much too wide! And Charlie is a bit of an escape artist, so we didn't want to risk it. We also found that the ready made Perfect-O small animal environments are nigh-on impossible to buy at the moment. We used to have a Perfect-O one which was about 3ft long that housed the rats, which would have been brilliant!

Then last week we were in a pet shop and found a glass fish tank, for £25.99 - 24"x14"x12" - this is roughly half the price of one with ready made shelves of a similar size! So we bought it, and have since been filling it with Things.

The tank has a wooden shelf, supported by four wooden legs, and a large hollow elder stump (see the photo). The wheel is fixed to the stump with a bolt through where the original spindle was held, and the water bottle is a SuperPet Flat-Bac bottle, with the nozzle turned the other way and some suckers instead of the Easy-Clamp thing. So far it all works really well!

The lid is constructed from a cage that used to cover an outdoors heating fitting, and yes, sadly he is still chewing it, although not half as much as he was! In the meantime, we're working on making a chew-proof lid, but we're happy with the little progress we've made so far.


Hamster Diaries - Cage Cleaning

Hello diary,

My name is Charlie. I am a 5 month old Syrian hamster (my unofficial birthday is the 6th of April, 2009), and I have decided to log my adventures here (as it looks like there might be a few!). I'm quite a handsome chap, if I do say so myself, although I am missing my left eye. I remember how I lost it but I can't write it here! It would give any diary finder nightmares.

Anyway, the first story to write in my diary is thus.

I hate Saturdays. They are, officially, the worst days in the history of weekdays. Picture this - you're cosily snuggled up in your warm bed, that has your food in one corner ready for snacking in the day, and all of a sudden there's a noise that shakes the bottom of your cage! Well that's what happens to me every Saturday, well, it's happened every Saturday for a month now, and I should imagine it will continue!

Today I was turfed out of my cosy bed and spoken to by Leah. She then handed me to Kevin - and started putting all of my hard work, stockpiles of food and cosy nests into a plastic bag! What's that all about? Anyhow, Kev held me captive - I kept trying to get back to my house but I watched as it was broken into two and all the bedding pulled out. Have I been bad? Why are you ruining my bed!? I'm so hungry!

Kev puts me in the ball, and it's then I makes my 'scapes - I run as far and as fast as I can out into the hall and down to the kitchen. I'll show them about destroying food-piles!

I ran about for about 20 human minutes (valuable sleep time any other day of the week), all the time there is a strange, sweet-ish but cloying smell in the air - I followed it to it's source and it's the bathroom - Leah is doing something in the bath, and that's where the smell is. There's water too....brr...I hate water! So I turned tail stump and ran as fast as I could - closer to the kitchen.

But I must have taken a wrong turn - there was a lot of light coming from a big wall at the end of this corridor, and it was a bit draughty - then a giant shadow appeared on the other side of the wall! I tried to run but it was too late, the wall opened and trapped my ball between it and the wall and the giant came closer! He had a big booming voice - but then I realised it was only Tom and he wouldn't hurt me. So I just carried on. He hadn't turfed me out of my nest after all, so there was no smiting to be done.

I eventually made it into the kitchen, and found all sorts of tasty crumbs on the floor - only tiny ones though, I wouldn't expect those humans to have seen them from all the way up where their whiskers are. They were a nice snack, but I was still hungry. So I just ran about a bit more!

In the end I found a quiet room with no humans. Thank the Great Ham for that! All this trundling about has made me tired and thirsty, so I found a quiet corner and took a nap.

No sooner was I fast asleep when Leah woke me up. Typical, inconsiderate humans. She took me back - and there was my house! All it's shelves and my Wheel and water bottle all ready for me to move back in. It looks so clean and tidy now - not how I left it at all! But humans have a funny habit of making their houses like this. Most uncivillised. But they can't be blamed too much, they are a very strange and unfortunate creature. And the smell! That horrible cloying smell is all over my house now and it's all I can smell!

I suppose it will take another week for me to make it smell back to my normal handsome hamster smelling self, just in time for them to muck it up again.

Thanks, humans. Maybe one day I'll try to make your house more like mine.



When I adpoted Biscuit it was a chance for me to try and give a better life to something that needed it - Biscuit was an adult hamster who obviously wasn't loved any more, so I wanted to prove to her that she was loved and could have a happy life after all.

So when she died, that purpose of mine was fulfilled - I'd given something a home that genuinely needed it, rather than going out and buying a "mass produced" baby hamster, or some other poor creature Pets at Home decided to sell for a profit with little regard as to where it was going. Understandably the lack of something "needing" me for food and cuddles left a bit of a hole so a hobby formed with Kev and I in going into pet shops (particularly those with adoption centres) and seeing what might need us.

When I went to Tamworth to visit Mum, I mentioned this to her and we ended up going to the Pets at Home there to see who was in.

There, catching 20 winks (instead of the usual 40) in a small cage in the adoption corner, was Charlie.

Charlie is a sort of butterscotch coloured hamster, and at the date of his adoption (Tuesday 8th September) he was four months old. And, in case you hadn't gathered, a boy. He also has only one eye.


Nobody knows how Charlie lost his eye. Some speculate that he lost it fighting a grizzly bear in the Rockies, though the guy at Pets at Home came up with two suggestions;

1:- Charlie caught his eye on something ill-placed in his cage after he was purchased as a baby, on one of his over-energetic climbing sprees.
2:- Charlie hasn't ever left the pet shop, and after getting too old to be kept with other hamsters lost his eye in a fight with a brother.

Either way he thinks he'd been in the vet-section of PaH (yes, they actually have a vets in many stores now) for a while as his eye socket healed over, but since it cleared up he'd been up for adoption and nobody wanted him.

At first I was entirely against the idea. Mum and Kev pestered for about an hour, but I was sad - so soon after saying goodbye to Biscuit felt like I was betraying her. But when I thought about it, I figured that logically looking after another adoption animal would be better than buying one, or spending forever going into pet shops and going "Aww..." and so, Charlie came home with us.

Kev has agreed to take joint responsibility of him and we're all slowly beginning to make friends. Charlie is naturally very jumpy if you catch him on his blind side, so we've been making extra effort to make a noise when we do have to pick him up (when he tries to jump off the bed etc.).

Hopefully in time Charlie will be as good a friend to me and Kev as Biscuit was - although he will never be a replacement, we will love him all the same.

An Ode to Biscuit.

Biscuit, a fully grown female Syrian hamster, was abandoned in Llandudno in January, 2008. Frightened and alone, she was placed in a rehoming centre in Bangor, fed and made to be fat and lazy for almost a week before Kev and I came along.

She was taken to Bryn Teg, and lived a warm and cosy life surrounded by people who loved her very much, even if it took her a little while to love us back. By day, she was a fat, lazy, ginger hamster who spent much of her day asleep. By night, however, she took on her superhero life as a fat, lazy hamster, spending many of her evening hours wide awake on her super-sized wheel, running and running and running and running and running.....

It is also widely believed that Biscuit’s real name was Professor B. Iscuit, a genius creature who arrived on this planet by accident and has spent a great deal of time working on a way to return home. To begin with she was greatly amused by human science – Hamsters have known where to find the Higgs Boson for some time, and it’s not where we’ve been looking. In fact, you’d be surprised at where it really can be found. I was laughing for days when I worked it out. However, after time spent with us travelling the length and breadth of the country and being spoiled rotten with peas and porridge and other tasty snacks, she decided to stay and live out a normal hamster life-span. She even helped me complete my final year dissertation, running about over the keys on my laptop with suggestions.

And so when I moved out of Bryn Teg, Biscuit travelled up to Scotland with me and Kev. This is when things sadly started to change.

Not knowing Biscuit’s real age, we expected the inevitable expiration of the ambitious, adventurous hamster. Some people speculate that Biscuit was recorded in the secret journals of Genghis Khan, “a feared and vicious creature, even I’m scared silly. No creature hath fury like a ginger creature – and no ginger creature hath fury like this hamster,” meaning Biscuit could be thousands of years old. A local vet put her age at what we had surmised – somewhere between 1 and 1.5 years old when we got her.

In Summer 2009 (so when she'd've been 2.5-3-ish) her health began to rapidly degenerate; the vet's assessment was that the two lumps that had slowly grown on her side were either kidney or ovary cancers, and without her access to hamster-science there was nothing to be done. Her time was up. So we said our goodbyes, and she would like you all to know she enjoyed her stay with us.

So now, she has kicked the bucket. She has shuffled off her mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. She is an ex-hamster.

And she will be sorely missed.

Hello! Goodbye Uni, goodbye Biscuit …

Right. Sorry for not updating for a while those of you who do read this - I've been really busy finishing my last year at Uni.

I did my dissertation on changes to sedimentary regimes due to tidal barrage schemes. It doesn't sound very interesting, but I found it fascinating! That scored a first in the end, so I was quite delighted with that score!

I graduated  with a high 2.i (68%. Grr.) so I'm really pleased with that mark- now all I need to do is get a JOB.

Biscuit died last month. I've missed her ever so much - I'll write about it in a separate post. It's amazing how much you can love something so small, and how big a hole they leave when they go. But she helped me through Uni and for that I'm eternally grateful to her!

I have every intention of keeping this better updated from now on. Promise. When I have something exciting to say, I'll say it, instead of thinking "I really have to update the blog at some point...".

That dread feeling.

I think one of the worst feelings ever is that sensation of dread you get when you look in where you keep a pet, be a it a fish, a hamster, or a puppy, and you do your usual ritual of waking it up, only to be met with a kind of empty silence.

 Like last year, when Dennis (may he rest in peace) failed to be woken by my feeding or tapping gently on the side of the tank. It's such a horrid "oh no...." feeling.

Today I woke up after a surprisingly quiet night from Biscuit. I didn't think anything of it (I was ridiculously tired yesterday) until I went to get her out and she didn't move. I tried whistling, clicking, tapping the cage, rattling the food bag. Nothing worked.

 In the end I took one last stab at waking her before i opened the cage and opened the lid of her house. I blew a quick puff of air down the chimney.

The house jumped and an indignant nose peeped out.


Goodbye, Henrietta…

Sarah and Pete have been growing increasingly resentful towards their poor nocturnal hamster and today, Pete announced to his Chemistry class, that a hamster was available for free - and someone wanted it.

 So Henrietta has gone to a new home.

Goodbye, Henrietta...


After seeing my last post on a cyclometer for the hamster wheel, mum posted me one she got from Kellogs.

 I've tried several different ways to fit it to the wheel but sadly the cage isn't big enough to try any more and the others were unsucessful!

The main issue is however that due to the use of magnets every time the magnet nears the sensor it grinds its way around the metal framed cage; it's really noisy and my nocturnal hamster is noisy enough as it is!

Never mind.