A recent building society advertisement, that stars a hedgehog, reminded me of a wildlife incident last year. First though, a confession.
Some years ago I was returning home from work in the early hours. Tired and impatient to get there, I turned into our street; a hedgehog was crossing the road ahead of me. He stopped, sniffing at something on the road; I waited; he waited; I waited again. Becoming impatient, I decided he wasn't going to move so drove on slowly, carefully positioning the car centrally above the hedgehog. He found the presence of a throbbing 2.2 litre, two-ton diesel estate car distracting; he moved. I didn't know he had moved until I looked back to ensure that he had completed a safe crossing behind me. It was dark and I had to look quite hard to see unpleasant evidence of my impatience on the road. I still feel the guilt.
Now cut to last summer, but first it's important that you know we live at the top of a very steep hill - remember that.
Imagine the scene: a warm summer evening, I reverse the car off our drive and set off to collect Tom from a brass band rehearsal. As I descend the steepest section of the road towards the junction below, a hedgehog crosses the road ahead of me. He stops; I wait; he waits; I wait again; but this time guilt prevents me from risking a repeat of the, too horrific, earlier incident.
I need a plan, but in the absence of any cunning one springing to mind, I alight to see whether I can offer some encouragement to the hedgehog. As I round the front of the car the hedgehog finds my presence distracting; in fact it frightens him; so he does what hedgehogs do. Some of you will, by now be way ahead of me: like my spiky friend who has a quick lesson in gravity.
The ball of spines rolls down the hill, with increasing velocity, towards the junction below. With cat-like reflexes I dart ahead, blocking its path with my instep in a true footballer's move (those who know me will be surprised to read). With the hedgehog saved I review my position; my car abandoned with the door open and the key in the ignition some twenty yards up the hill; me with an unmoving spiky ball resting in the V of both feet. What to do?
Access to the footpath below us is prevented by the high curb; after a tentative prod, I decide I cannot pick the creature up. The only route is back up the hill. By trial and error I find I cannot gently roll the spiky ball upwards - the prickles prevent an even roll; the only method of making progress is to give it a shove with my instep, catch up and repeat the process. I press on with enthusiasm; there is a need for rapid action before another car comes along or a neighbour peeks between the curtains to see me playing football with a small native wild mammal.
Using this method I successfully manoeuvre my prickly companion onto the footpath. The footpath is smooth: a perfect rolling surface. This again requires an athletic dart back down the hill to catch the spiny sphere before it rolls off the curb. We start again and eventually I direct the ball into the soft earth beneath a neighbour's hedge.
Returning to the car I sit watching anxiously for a moment - but success! After a few seconds the creature uncurls and makes its way off - though I'm sure its path meandered more than is usual for a hedgehog.
Whilst searching for a hedgehog picture for this post I came across the UK official website for children and road safety. Guess which cute creature they have chosen to pass on the road safety message? Not the best choice in my view.