Friday, 27 March 2015


Parenthood leads me in odd directions.  The other week I washed and blow-dried a hen's legs and undercarriage so she wouldn't be too muddy when I took her to visit a class at B's primary school.  (The hen was less than delighted but remained stoical.)  But more surreal than that was primping Zach's pair of rats ready to enter a show.

The Yorkshire Rat Club was having one of its bi-monthly shows in March. This one was held in a church hall very close to us. Zach heard about it and wanted to enter his rats Naruto and Kakashi into the Pet category.

Being a less-than-thorough kind of lad, he didn't read as far as the entry requirement, application deadline and so on.  Being a more-than-thorough type of woman, I did.  I contacted the breeder we got them from to check the details, filled in the forms for him and emailed them off. I reserved show tanks and read up what was expected.  I did not expect what was expected - giving them a bath and trimming their claws, ideally 3 days before the show.

Rats have tiny, tiny hands.  Well, paws, but they look like hands and rats sit up and hold things with them.  Their hind paws are bigger, although still pretty small, but the front have minuscule claws.  And they aren't best pleased at someone holding them and trying to clip the ends of their nails.

They have mixed feelings about baths, too.  Kakashi ran about a bit, clambered over the taps, splashed at the water with his paws and had a good explore.  He tolerated the claw trimming with only a few squeaked protests, but I was glad I was the one holding him not Zach - he was very wriggly. Zach was on towel-drying support.
Naruto was outraged by a bath, scrambling to get away. When I dried him and trimmed his claws he swivelled around and bit me.  He managed to rake a thin strip of skin from my little finger which took ages to stop bleeding. I knew I liked Kakashi best for a reason.
Somewhat unwisely, Zach pointed out I'd got blood on the rat's fur.  When he saw my face, he back-pedalled quickly and said how nice and clean the rats looked.  The damned finger lead for 25 minutes.
I am a wimp

Leaving the Big Lad to sleep as only teenagers can, the rest of us trouped along to Oakwood church hall on Saturday morning for 10:30 to enter the rats in the show.  One of the organisers had suggested putting one rat in Pets and the other in Varieties so they weren't competing against one another.  What the heck, we thought, so entered Kakashi as a Silver Fawn rat in the varieties and his plumper brother in the Pet section.

How long do you think a small local Rat Club show can last?  There are some bits and pieces to buy from a couple of pet stalls, a tea-and-bacon-butty type counter, and there's waiting for the rats to be judged.  I guessed a couple of hours.

I was wrong.

The first 90 minutes were quite fun - lots of people to chat with, animals to play with and so on.  The next 90 minutes were more dull.  The THREE HOURS after that really dragged, particularly as our phone batteries went flat.  Not to mention we were expecting to watch the 6 Nations Wales match that afternoon.

Yes, we were there for over 6 hours.  For 4 hours of that, we kept thinking "Surely they're about finished? Surely it will only be another half hour at most."  The friendly and enthusiastic people of the Yorkshire Rat Club told us later that it had been a pretty quick show; some can last another hour or two!  If we'd any idea we'd have stayed for 45 minutes at the start, left Z with a drink and butty (he was having a lovely time) and bobbed back for the last hour or so to keep him company while he waited for the judging and certificates to be done. It was a looooong and hungry day.

On the plus side we met lots of really lovely people. A family with a girl close to B's age kept us company for most of the time. We chatted about loads of things (although avoiding the topic of rugby in the hopes we could watch it on iPlayer later) and they shared their grapes with the kids.  We praised each other's pets to the skies, and had a good old natter to while the hours away.  Zach also made friends with several breeders and exhibitors. He was interested in all of it.

The pet judges having a play with some of the entrants
The judging was both interesting and funny.  The Pet category was judged on criteria that seemed to be "is this rat cute? is s/he friendly?"  The judges got each rat out several times and played with, cuddled and messed about with him for ages.  They both clearly loved these little whiskery beasties and made a huge fuss of them.  Naruto behaved just as he does at home - was quite friendly but mostly wanted to snuggle inside the judge's cardigan. He's a typical male rat -  preferring a cuddle and a snooze with people to the energetic exploring the female rats favour.  The judge thought he was lovely.

Naruto in the yellow cage, taking yet another nap 

The Varieties category, on the other hand, was like a rodent Crufts.  I kept wanting to laugh - I had no idea it could all get so regimented. The judge had a white jacket and everything. Weight, hair length, bone structure and colouring were closely examined against a National Fancy Rat Society standard, which the judge kept in her head (although I saw her google something once.) There was no nonsense, just a focused scrutiny of each animal. The judge ploughed through far more animals than the pet judge in a fraction of the time, while her assistant took copious notes.

4 hours in and Kakashi wasn't even judged.  The breeder told us he was a Silver Fawn variety but he was declared by everyone at the show as Argente Cream (don't ask me) and therefore disqualified as being misidentified.
It doesn't matter how alert you are, Kash, you're still out

I've included links to Google images. Heaven knows how they tell those colour varieties apart. Some are the same darned photos.

I was rather concerned for Zach. He was massively excited about it all, and I didn't want him to come home without even a certificate.  I'll also admit to feeling slightly aggrieved, about which I am embarrassed. I'm immensely fond of Kakashi, he's a lovely natured beastie and my clear favourite, but he isn't even my pet. He's Zach's. So, feeling defensive when others fail to recognise his aceness is doubly ridiculous.
When we spoke to the judge later she said "even in the correct category he'd not be a good example as he's too light boned and his face is narrow while the guard hairs on his rump are too long." I felt like saying 'Yah boo sucks!" because I think Kash is a poppet.  And that, my friends, is why I shouldn't go to these things. Well, that and the instant coffee.

 At the end of the afternoon the winners were finally announced.  Way to go Naruto! He won best buck in the Juniors category, 2nd best overall, 4th in the "Pet Challenge" (we still aren't clear what that involved) and a special award as the one the assistant judge wanted to keep for herself because he was such a sweetie.  Zach had and armload of rosettes and certificates, and was just over the moon.

Miss B "helping" him with all those rosettes
So it was worth it after all.  Zach was full of all the people he'd met, the rats he'd played with and bursting with pride and happiness at Naruto's rosettes.  It was lovely seeing him so delighted with his day.

There's another show in May and he's already hoping I'll take him.  As long as I have a book, a flask of real coffee and butty, I expect I will.

Because this time Kakashi will win.
J x

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