There are moments when a text message can so completely draw you into a story – the perfect headline. And that is what happened today when Emma sent this simple message:
‘Last night a hedgehog ate my shoe.’
The message raises so many questions – was she wearing the shoes at the time? If so, was she prone in the garden, perhaps having tripped over offending hedgehog? Was this a gentle nibble or a more substantive assault? How were her toes? Were her shoes of finest leather – perhaps understandably attractive? Or do her feet smell of slugs?
Maybe it is the weather, but I was keen to find out more and as she had been deemed inappropriate for her latest appearance in the jury, she was free to pop round for a nice cup of liquorice tea and to show off her shoes.
Okay – that is not as clear as I thought it was going to be, let us try again:
This was not just a casual nibble, this was a feeding frenzy. Emma had gone into the garden to pick up her sandals and found them covered in what she thought was slug slime – then she noticed that they were incomplete and had a horrific thought that there was a shoe-eating slug on the rampage. And then she noticed , looking cheekily on, a hedgehog. There was nothing else around that could possibly have been responsible. But could a hedgehog really eat an entire strap (she checked around, found a few fragments, but most of it had vanished) and cause such damage? “It looked as if they had been attacked by a Jack Russel puppy!” she said. “And it is possible that the shoes were originally inside and the hedgehog had dragged them outside – I only think that because all the cat biscuits had gone as well.”
Now, I have heard stories of hedgehogs getting excited into a frenzy of self-annointing when chewing on leather shoes, but these are plastic – and more than that, this is not just a case of chewing and then frothing up into salivatory froth.
Self-annointing is one of the mysteries of hedgehogs – why do they generate vast amounts of frothy saliva and then contort themselves, spreading it across their spines? The obvious answers do not hold true (for all hedgehogs at least) – it is not noxious substances being applied to the spines to act as an extra layer of protection, or to disguise their scent – as distilled water has been show to set some hogs off. But it is usually strong scents and flavours that get hogs going – for example if you wash your hands with highly scented soaps, all sorts of strange things can happen with some hedgehogs.
And then there was a hedgehog I was radio-tracking in Devon (it was Nigel, again, a hedgehog that taught me so much). I had been watching him eat from along the verge of a quiet lane when he came across a slightly larger black slug – probably around 2cm long. He did not start to eat it straightaway, he began by scrabbling at it, dragging it across the surface of the road, leaving a trail of mucus – seemingly making the slug more palatable. After eating it, however, he starting smacking his lips together and building up a froth of saliva that he then spread across his spines.
So back to Emma and her shoes – is it possible that this young woman has feet that smell like slugs? Was that what set of the shoe-eating rampage? Or perhaps there is a hedgehog out there that has a foot fetish! “I am just glad I was not wearing them at the time,” she said. “Hedgehog hospitalises Oxford woman – now that would have been a headline!”