Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Hamsters Have Remarkable Potential : A Case Study

This is a short account of my hamster's personal journey. After reading C.B. Jones' article "Squeak: Help Your Hamster Reach It's Full Potential", I decided to put his guide into practice. What intrigued me most was a hamster's potential to advance mentally. What was that potential? I went straight down the local pet shop and bought myself a little black Siberian hamster. I called him Plato.

While I was eager to see my hamster tackle calculus, Fermat's Last Theorem, and even "The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles Of Our Time", I knew that pushing the little fella was not the right approach. The last thing I wanted was for him to have a nervous breakdown.

I longed to see little Plato develop musically, mastering a range of instruments from the flute, the violin to the grand piano. Oh to see him playing Rachmaninov on a Steinway, or playing lead violin for the Royal Philharmonic. But I knew I would have to wait. For starters, the little chap couldn't even speak English.

I found a great old book in a charity shop titled "Teaching your hamster the Queen's English", by Dr H. Furry - a pseudonym I presume. As we worked through the exercises, Plato made rapid progress. Dr Furry also provides excellent explanations as to why hamsters struggle with certain aspects of the English language. Due to their tight, circular jaw bones, hamsters tend to struggle with long vowel sounds. For example long "a" sounds tend to come out as long "o" sounds.

This caught me out a few times. "Where does my name come from?", Plato asked me. "Your Gnome? What Gnome?", I replied. I had thought about getting him a gnome, but had opted against it deciding that a huge gnome in his cage may have freaked him out.

In addition, due to their long front teeth hamsters tend to struggle with the "th". Statistically, hamsters that have "chew toys" are more likely to overcome this impediment. Dr Furry provided all sorts of graphs, charts and diagrams, but I won't bore you with those. I gave Plato some chew sticks but they didn't make much difference. For the rest of his short life he pronounced "the" as "twer", "thingumabob" as "twingumabob".

In Chapter 12, titled "Who needs angels?", Dr Furry introduced me to the relatively unknown world of hamster song. He explained that while hamsters tend to sing several octaves above soprano, the sound is actually very beautiful, angelic in fact. He warns about allowing your hamster to sing when dogs are nearby, as this has been known to drive the barmy. I got Plato singing "Jerusalem", which not only gave me a terrible headache - his shrill, squeaky voice was awfully piercing - but the sound made our neighbor's dog violently sick.

Plato developed a rapid mastery of English, and quickly moved on to the classical languages, koine Greek in particular. He started strong, but struggled with the notorious Third Declension. I think it was just too complex for his little hamster mind. He tried to explain this to me but, hell, what do I know about that?

I paid for him to have a few piano lessons but, much to my dismay, he gave up after several weeks. He started strong, and picked up some scales very quickly, but it was such effort for him to force down the ivories that he would tire very quickly. He persevered for a while, but it was Scot Joplin that finally did it. The fast ragtime beat meant he was charging up and down the piano like crazy, huffing, puffing, and getting extremely hot and bothered. That was the first time I heard him curse.

In the end I bought him a tiny accordion, and a little green felt hat with a red feather. This was pretty funny to start with, but after a few weeks of constant Gypsy Folk music played on a tiny accordion I was feeling exhausted. I'll tell you what, there is nothing worse than a small rodent playing shrill gypsy jigs on a tiny little accordion. Fortunately he quickly grew out of that.

I decided that newspapers would be helpful in introducing him to the human world. I gave him some tabloids to start with because their target mental age is about five years and I didn't want to chuck him in the deep end. He didn't like the Page 3 girls. "Why are twere naked girls?", he asked. "Um, it is, um, it is for the builders", I said, struggling to know how to explain all this to his little hamster mind. "They like that kind of thing." Builders? What was I on about?

"But twats immoral", he replied. I scolded him for using the word "twat", and then realised he was saying "that", and his goofy hamster teeth were in the way as usual. I changed the subject, and got him the Daily Mail instead. He liked the big, bold font, but said the "shock factor" really irritated him. I thought that was pretty observant for a young hamster.

As he matured he began to read more widely. I gave him a list of renown books and told him to get to work. He enjoyed the Bible, though he complained about all the genealogies. He appreciated the stories with animals in the most, but was a little disappointed that no hamsters were mentioned in Genesis.

He found "Das Kapital" very dull. It was "illuminating", he told me, but had made him vow never to join the communist party. Phew, I thought. I couldn't imagine much worse than a communist hamster. Incredibly, he read it in a week.

It was around this point that he began suffering from eye strain. He was reading an awful lot, and his close proximity to the text (he had to clamber onto the book to read it) was straining his eyes. I took him down to Spec savers to see if they could provide him with some glasses. We went away empty handed, the assistant mumbling something about it all being quite "non-standard". This is complete tosh. I know plenty of hamsters that wear glasses.

He was particularly interested in his namesake, so I got him a little copy of The Republic. He didn't like the class systems described, nor did he like the attitudes towards the "disabled". In fact, he moaned about a whole lot. The advocation of censorship. The twisted involvement of the state in family life. "Wasn't Hitler heavily influenced by Plato?", he asked. "Um, I don't know", I stammered. "And isn't Plato generally respected and revered as a great philosopher, despite his freaky totalitarian views?", he questioned. This was getting a bit deep for me so I changed the subject. Secretly though, I was pleased that he was using his little brain. Maybe he would develop a political career, even becoming Prime Minister one day.

And then he told me he wanted to be a "philosopher-king". In retrospect, I think this was roughly when his delusions of grandeur began. It was around about this point that he started acting strange. He had been drinking wine for a while, out of his plastic bottle of course, but then he asked for a silver goblet.

"You what?!", I exclaimed. "Where the hell am I going to get a miniature silver goblet from?!"

"EBay?", he asked. Smart answer. It took me a while to find what I wanted. A search for "tiny silver goblets" revealed nothing. Neither did "hamster quaffing". Then I had a brainwave. A quick search for "unusual doll's house accessories" and I had exactly what I wanted.

C.B. Jones warned about "delusions of grandeur", but I had no idea that achieving the right balance between encouragement and discipline would be so difficult.

For a few days he dabbled in cartography, drawing little charts and maps of his cage. They were remarkably accurate, and I was impressed that he knew which direction North was - I mean, he didn't have a direct view of any windows, so he must have been using a special hamster sense.

But then they became more detailed, adorned with globes, beasts, angels and crowns. Oh yeah, and hamster "philosopher-kings", with flowing robes and silver goblets.

In retrospect I should have acted earlier. I should have confiscated his William Blake book and his goblet. I should have rationed his wine. Instead, I fueled his literary cravings by providing literature on the ancient Greeks, the gods, King Arthur, and a copy of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines". I even let him out on the windowsill.

He would sit there for hours watching the birds. On that fatal day I arrived home to find him by the open window, standing next to an open tub of beeswax, a wax wing fixed to each of his four little limbs. On his head was a tiny golden crown.

He flew out the window and I never saw him again. I just hope that he didn't fly too close to the sun.


Sass said...

I just read this entire post with my left hand over my mouth. Apparently when I'm sitting alone on my couch, I feel the need to stifle my laughter.

I have to agree with young Plato...or as he probably called himself, PlOto...Twats can in fact be immoral.

Brilliant, Mo. Absolutely brilliant.

Skye said...

Oh dear, that was too funny! I'll have to go back to Sass's blog and thank her for the link :)

Ms. Florida Transplant said...

I wish my dogs were half as cool as Plato!

Lee of MWOB said...

Hey Mo...I'm here via Sass and wow. I'm in love with that wacked lil' hamster Plato. And more people need to read's too much. In a good way of course...

I'll be back!

Harmony said...

You my dear, are pure genius. Excellent post, I can't believe how it hid in plain sight...only the lucky will find it, like a buried treasure.

Off to claim the world his own...I suppose, such are the dreams of Hamsters.

Mo..I can't thank you enough for directing me to this post.

As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!