October 2010

Very rarely do I feel that I have been in the vanguard of anything. There was a time when I was one of few people talking about the emergence of genetically engineered trees, and the threats to the environment that an unfettered release might cause. I felt then that I was on the wave. Everything else, well, I have either just been part of a pack, or ploughing a very lone course.

But now, I am thrilled to have assisted in the beginning of a new craze that is sweeping the globe at an unprecedented rate. No longer are people looking for esoteric celtic knots or the names of their children/loved ones/cities of conception. Mum, love, hate and ironic anchors are no more the tattoos of choice. The new tattoo is … well … I hardly need say … the hedgehog.

I received an email from Eryka Blank – the delightful mystery of emails is that you can have so little idea of who you are in contact with. I had no idea of country or age – just that she had read my book in its US incarnation (always a good starting point) and had been attracted by the images at the bottom of each page, so much so she was contemplating having one done as a tattoo. I sent her some larger copies of the pictures – the originals were done by the great artist David Shephard – and asked that if she did get a tattoo done, she send me a photo. And she has, along with a note explaining more about her and what motivated her … so here she is:

And here is what she had to say about herself:

“I agree, our tattoos should be friends.  I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and grew up in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.  I am in my third year of college studying Communications Arts emphasis on Global Communications, and a theater minor.  I have always loved the outdoors and critters, and I constantly surround myself with pets.  I love books like ‘Watership Down’ and ‘Life of Pi’.  I can’t remember how I got interested in hedgehogs, but I did quite a bit of research on them, have a  pet hedgehog (named Phinneus), and am a member of the Hedgehog Welfare Society.  I short story I wrote titled ‘Burberry and the Fox’ is appearing in the Nov/Dec issue of the Hedgehog Welfare Society newsletter.  Last winter and spring I get receiving mysterious packages (I suspect my parents may have had a hand in this) with little plush hedgehogs and hedgehog books.  One of these was ‘The Hedgehog’s Dilemma’.  I loved reading your book and every time I saw one of the little inked drawings on the bottom of the page I thought what a great tattoo it would make.  I judge art by whether or not I would be willing to get it tattooed on myself.  The little hedgehog is actually my fourth tattoo (the others are a circle of Beatles lyrics on my upper back- “Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy are Drifting Through My Opened Mind”, a fiery colored swallow on my leg, and my beloved dog’s paw print on my ankle) and didn’t hurt much.  It stung a little, but was no worse than getting a shot from the doctor.  I thought, what better animal to have staring fiercely out of my arm at everyone? Eventually I want to get the whole arm that the hedgehog is on turned into a full sleeve of critters- air, earth, and water all represented. I hope whatever you get tattooed on your other leg is as worthy as your hedgehog!

Personally, I have a great fondness and respect for cheetahs, birds (like swallows and sparrows), and otters.  In fact, I think a river otter will be my next tattoo.  Whatever you choose I can’t wait to read about it in your next book.



P.S. I recently did a speech on the history of the relationship between hedgehogs and humans for my speech class and I found your book to be an excellent reference!”

And as Eryka suggests, I am in the market for a new tattoo – but this is a serious one, one based on a competition that has already begun. There are advocates for different species all clamouring for my attention, trying to win me over to their particular animal. What will it be? Badger? Dolphin? Solitary bee? House sparrow? Owl? Otter? Water vole? Dragonfly? Fox? Porpoise? Robin? Bat? Any other suggestions?


Hedgehogs are remarkable – their capacity to hibernate is a physiological wonder. They can shut their vibrant little bodies down to as close to dead as you can get. Heart rate drops from 200 to 20 beats per minute, breathing virtually stops (and who thought it was a great experiment to stick a hibernating hedgehog into an air-tight box, filled with nitrogen, and leave it for 2 hours … just to see what happens … which is, the hedgehog is fine).

The behaviour probably is behind the hedgehog being such a significant animal in early cultures – the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has small amulets from Sumaria and Ancient Egypt in the shape of hedgehogs. And it has now been suggest that the small chalk hedgehog found at Stonehenge, associated with a child’s body, was placed there because there might have been some sympathetic magic hoped for – if the hedgehog can come back from the dead each year, why not my child? Though it could also have been a toy.

But I digress – hedgehogs can only manage to survive hibernation if they have stocked up enough on food during the autumn – i.e. now. So if you were feeling like doing a little something to help hedgehogs, now would be a great time to start putting some food out for them. There are many ways you can do this so as to reduce interference from cats, foxes and rats – have a look at the wonderful BHPS website for top tips.

And the reason why I am reminded of this all? I got one of a fairly regular stream of calls from friends who have found hedgehogs – wanting advice. Everyone is so apologetic about calling me, but if I can help, I love to be able to, and if I am too busy, will always redirect them to someone else. This person, though, had some rather special skills that I hoped he would employ. Adrian Arbib is a brilliant photographer – I first met him covering the protests at Twyford Down as the M3 extension was being forced through the beautiful countryside around Winchester – and he ended up photographing our wedding as a gift – a very fine one at that. So when he called to say he had found a hedgehog trapped in the stairwell of his house in north Oxford, on top of the advice I gave about getting it some food, I also asked if he would take some photographs …