Thursday, 18 June 2009

Buying a hamster...or a snake...or a tiger

When was the last time you were stopped in the street and asked by a complete stranger if you would accompany them to a pet shop to buy a hamster?

My guess is this isn’t something many of you will be able to answer in the affirmative and nor could I – until last Saturday.

I happened to be in Trowbridge and was pottering along merrily when a somewhat forlorn looking teenager stopped me and politely asked if I had a spare five minutes. Sitting behind him on a bench was a female friend clutching what appeared to be a rodent’s cage full of rodenty-type toys. For some reason I thought they may be doing some kind of survey but instead, I was asked that hitherto unheard of question: “Could you help me to buy a hamster”?

It appeared that this couple had decided to buy a hamster and all its paraphernalia for a friend’s birthday and although the pet shop had been more than happy to supply them with all the items to make a hamster’s life a ball-spinning treat, it couldn’t actually provide the hamster itself. It is like being sold a football kit – but being refused a football.

This unfailingly polite youngster explained to me that the excellent pet shop had a policy (which is based in law) of not selling hamsters to anyone under the age of 18It all seemed a bit bizarre to me (although several friends have since given me all kinds of uncomfortable reasons why a live hamster shouldn’t be let loose in the hands of a teenager!), but he seemed such a nice chap that I happily visited the shop with him and helped him choose a very handsome little chap to go in his cage.

(I can only assume, incidentally, that those working in the shop thought I was his elder brother as clearly I’m far too young to have teenage children.)

This did get me thinking later as to how weird it is that there are different ages when you can do things.

It has always struck me as strange, for example, that you can legally have sex at the age of 16 but you can’t rent out a video to show you how to do it until two years later. Equally strangely (and more frighteningly) you can join the army (with parental consent) at 16 and in theory be sent to an armed conflict and risk your life for a war you’re not considered old enough to even vote for until you are 18.

All these questions were swirling around in my mind so I decided to do a bit of internet research about the age of (various) consents but as so often happens when you go web surfing, your mouse wanders away from your, err, hamster.

I wanted, for example, to see at what age you could legally buy my least favourite animal – a snake. I never found the answer to this but I did find plenty of sites that were seemingly willing to sell them to me at surprisingly low figures. Fancy an African Rock Python which can grow up to 25 feet? Yours for just £70.

If your mad enough to want it that is.

I then got into the “so can you buy anything online”? mode and found pretty much that yes, you can. I hate snakes but I absolutely adore tigers and guess what (and you can see this yourself), there is a site where you can buy pet tigers online.

The package comes to $13,000 and includes, would you believe, three tiger toys (by which I imagine they mean small mammals). I am sure they are doing a roaring trade.
A tiger, snake or hamster still not enough for you? Well, I also found a site where you could buy . . . a tank.

An accompanying feature came up with the wonderful phrase: “Purchasing a war machine in central Europe is fairly simple. Getting it home is the problem”.

So it’s official, the world is NUTS. But at least one happy Trowbridge teenager now owns a hamster...

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