This isn’t your usual celebrity memoir nonsense.
No, My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding is a rare treasure that takes you on a delightful journey through the early years of Clare Balding’s life not year by year but animal by animal, including household pets as well as horses that were in her father’s stable.
Her father, incidentally, was of such high standing in the horse racing world that the Queen was a frequent visitor to his stables, and she even gifted Clare’s family a pony that her own children had ridden. (So it was a secondhand, used pony, but still…)
I have to say that I’ve struggled to read much this month, which you may have noticed due to my lack of blogging activity.
A few weeks ago my father-in-law was rushed to hospital after a suspected heart attack and subsequently had quadruple heart bypass surgery. My wife flew over the the US to be with him and spent two weeks there, leaving me here (in the UK) with our children. So, understandably, I’ve had less time to read or write, and my head hasn’t been in the right place for blogging.
Reflecting my state of mind, I’ve started a staggering six different books this month but have barely made a dent in any of them.
However, My Animals and Other Family is the one that I’ve progressed with the most although I am far from finishing it.
Like Clare Balding, I grew up with pets. Unlike Clare Balding we didn’t have horses or ponies or occasionally have the Queen Mother over for lunch.
What we did have was a long-haired ginger tom cat called Squeaker, who my parents adopted from a neighbour after setting up home as newlyweds in 1972.
I spent most of my childhood afraid of him sitting on my lap. In the end, I did eventually let him on my lap but only with a cushion sandwiched between us. I must have been nearly ten years old by then, and he died before my eleventh birthday.
Hi died en route to the vets, foaming at the mouth as he lay on the floor of the car. A very undignified end, and the first death I ever had to deal with.
Our family remained pet-free until a few years later when I bought a hamster. I named him Comet, after Halley’s Comet which was all over the news that year as it flew close by the Earth. Comet was soft and fluffy and friendly.
The day Comet died I dragged my mother to the pet shop to buy a replacement. His name was Honey and although he was indeed soft and fluffy he was most definitely not friendly and steadfastly refused to be picked up or held.
When he died a couple of years later we decided against having more rodents, and were once again a pet-free family. Honey was not missed…
Then, in the early 1990s my parents adopted a rescue dog from the Blue Cross animal charity. They chose a greyhound called Flo-Jo. I must admit before I go any further that I do not like dogs; I’ve never liked dogs and that is highly unlikely to change.
As pet dogs go, I guess Flo-Jo was OK. She adored my father and got very excited whenever he returned home from work. She was a quiet dog that rarely barked and enjoyed the attention that was showered upon her from my grandparents.
My grandparents sometimes looked after her at their house and on one occasion, during a walk in a local park, she got scared by another dog and slipped out of her collar and ran off, leaving my very upset grandfather standing there with just her lead and collar still attached to his hand. He went home and wept.
In the meantime, Flo-Jo had found her own way back to the house and was safely sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother when my grandfather returned home.
My parents never had another pet after Flo-Jo died; they couldn’t stand the heartache.
Now I am grown with my own family, my kids have pet fish: easy to take care of; cheap to feed; they don’t require walking and we don’t have to go around picking up their poop. I’m certain I will not write a book about them.
Go read My Animals and Other Family instead, you won’t be disappointed.