It’s that time of the year. Well, at least where I live, this is when the hedgehogs come out of the closet (or whatever bush they generally hide under) and become visible – and audible.
It starts with a quick panting sound, like that of a miniature steam engine making its way up a hillside. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It takes me some time to locate, but once I’ve discounted the dishwasher and the washing machine I peek outside and there they are, Mr and Mrs Hedgehog, at present with eyes only for each other.
It’s like a choreographed dance routine. Mr Hedgehog walks in a wide circle around the missus who turns on her own axle so as to always have her snout in his direction. He pants, she hisses.
“Honey, I’m home!” he snuffles and pants.
“I can see that! And a bloody long time it took you, didn’t it?” she hisses back.
He wisely keeps his distance, rotating on a metre’s radius from his hissing sweetheart.
“But honey,” he whines, “I was sort of busy.”
“Busy? Busy? What, you think I lie around a dawdle all day long? Who’s been feathering our nest, hey? Who’s filled the larder with nice, fat juicy worms?” Her hissing rises an octave or two.
Intrepidly, he reduces the radius to 80 centimetres or so.
“Don’t you dare touch me!” she snaps. (Okay, so Mr Hedgehog is nowhere close to touching her, but my guess is she says this to fire him up)
“Oh baby,” he pants, “you’re so sexy when you’re angry.”
“Huh:” But her spines drop an inch or so (Sometimes females are very predictable, no matter species)
“I love you in the morning,” he croons, “I love you in the night, I love you in your spines, hon, but I love you more without.”
She sort of giggles through her hissing. With a quick shuffle he is now only fifty centimetres from her.
“I don’t want to,” she squeals, gyrating faster and faster to keep up with her mate who has now picked up speed, trotting round her in circles.
“Of course you do,” he pants back, “it’s in your nature.”
“My nature?” (Stupid comment Mr Hedgehog. No female wants to be reduced to a bundle of hormones.)
While he attempts to pacify her, I pop inside, make myself some tea, consider whether or not to have a biscuit (Not. Ten points to me for fortitude) and return to my post just as Mr Hedgehog shrinks the circle to twenty centimetres. By now he’s been walking round her for well over an hour, the poor guy must be dizzy, as must she, what with her constant twirling in the middle.
One would think that all this effort would result in something earth shattering, some minutes when the world moves for them both. The end, dear reader, is rather the reverse. Quick as a blink he’s on her, quick as a blink he’s off.
“Is that it?” she complains, rustling her spines back into neatness.
“What do you expect,” he hisses back. “I’ve got a cramp in my legs.”
Mrs Hedgehog sighs, no doubt contemplating that this is all she’ll get – at least this year. She lifts her quivering nose to the darkening June night and inhales. I do the same, and my lungs fill with the scent of blooming lilacs, of early honeysuckle.
“Well come on then,” he says, “I want my dinner.” He tilts his head at her and winks. “And I could do with a back rub later.”
I spend the rest of the evening wondering just how a hedgehog gives another hedgehog a back rub.