The Chubby Chatterbox and Uncle Skip have inspired me to cast my mind back in the search for memories of my first pet. I trawled back through a succession of dogs, oe cat, two rabbits and - for a short time - one lamb. Then, further back in the dim past, came the recollections of a budgerigar named Billy. He was a very smart, blue budgerigar and it had taken a great deal of persuasion before my mother agreed to admit a feathered creature into the house. It wasn't that she was particularly unfond of feathered creatures, or furry creatures either for tht matter. Her concern was for my brother and me. We boys were both quite severely asthmaticand our doctor had suggested that we would probably be allergic to fur and feather. As it transpired, Billy caused no problems. But he wasn't the first pet in our household. Before Billy came a succession of goldfish, fish carrying neither feather nor fur they were considered safe pets for us boys. Thinking about those fish has brought to mind the funny little shop in Canterbury Street where we acquired these creatures. I don't think it was a full-blown pet shop; in my mind's eye I can see only tanks of fish - tropical fish in the main part of the shop and cold water fish in a sort of passageway at the back and side of the shop. That was where the proprietor would lead us to gaze at the fish in the tanks as we decided which particular fish we wanted.
But even the goldfish weren't the first pets. I need to explain here that my mother's sister lived fairly close to us. She had three children - a boy a year older than me, another boy a year younger than me and a year older than my brother, and a girl another year younger than my brother. We sort of meshed agewise, but my boy cousins were allowed a great deal more freedom than were my brother and I. It was their back garden that was dug over in a series of trenches and encampments with a dug-out for a shelter. It was my cousins who were allowed to go off on their own and explore the chalk pits, the disused chalk quarries. Now I come to think of it, I don't even know where the chalk pits were (or are). It was through my cousins' chalk pit explorations that my brother and I acquired our very first pets - a couple of newts. Just how these unfortunate wild creatures ended up in our house I cannot say, but they did. Neither my brother nor I - nor, indeed, our mother - had the faintest idea of how to look after newts, what sort of habitat they needed and, even, what they ate. Given that I was probably about 8 at the time and my brother 6, our ignorance could, perhaps, be excused. Nowadays, of course, newts are protected by law and capturing any wild creature to keep as a pet is abhorrent to any right-thinking person. Things were different 60+ years ago when this all happened. Anyway, my mother found an enamel dish, about 9" x 6" and 2" deep, into which we put a few stones and an inch or so of water. We pulled up some weeds and grass from the garden and threw those in - and that was home for the newts. We must have put something over the top to stop them escaping but I can't remember what it might have been.
I suppose we had taken the dish into the garden to do something or other. That was when the newts escaped and dived down a drain. Goodbye newts.