… I’d find myself chasing a hedgehog through a cemetery…

That’s right. I have chased a hedgehog over the graves of my Victorian ancestors.

I have to walk through a cemetery to get to the center of town. I was walking back home one night, at about 6pm, after watching the shambolic Christmas Lights ‘switch on.’ As I walked I saw a strange shape moving behind a headstone. It was shuffling towards the path. I just assumed it was a bird or something, but no! As it moved ever nearer it became clear I was face to face with a fucking hedgehog.

I’d never seen a genuine hedgehog before, and frankly I was excited. Not only was I looking at a wild hedgehog, it was moving towards me, no doubt attempting to establish ‘first contact.’

Its decision to flee came suddenly.

The prickly bastard realised that I was quite theoretically a threat to his survival, and he changed course immediately.

I didn’t hesitate to follow him.

I don’t know if I’m proud or ashamed of that fact. I like to think it was some wild instinct, but I suspect it has more to do with my own innate childishness.

I really didn’t know hedgehogs could move so fast. I was quite out of breath, and I really needed to cough; as soon as I did the ‘hog reverted to stereotype. He rolled himself into a tight little ball.

It was adorable.

I could have left it at that, but I hadn’t had my fun with him yet. I had not had my fill of hedgehog hijinks. I wanted to touch him, but I couldn’t find a stick anywhere. I threw a bit of grass at him, to no avail.

So I sat and waited; I’m a university student, I don’t have anything better to do with my time.

My patience was rewarded. Slowly, two beady little eyes peered out, blinking at me. I sensed we’d made a connection; he began to relax. The human-hedgehog gap had finally been bridged.

Until I coughed again; the hedgehog recoiled in terror, and I began to wonder if hedgehogs suffered from weak hearts. I hoped not.

I decided to leave him be, and I haven’t seen another hedgehog since. Although earlier this evening I found myself chasing a kitten across campus: best Saturday night ever.

… I’d find myself trying to win drinks off Swedish businessmen at 3am…

The people I was drinking with that night had been my friends for little more than a week. It was the night that really cemented a lasting bond and has unanimously been voted the best night we’ve ever had living here.

The night actually started at about three o’clock in the afternoon at Buddy’s, which is this awesome American-style diner in the middle of Winchester. After a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft and a burger we headed down to a pub on the river and had a few good pints of ale.

By seven o’clock we’d gradually become drunk on cheap Bulgarian wine with our Student Advisor at a get-together for older students, and had found ourselves locked in the lecture theatre.

This was especially awkward in the wake of a recent spate of thefts from the lecture theatre. We were almost hoping we’d have to spend the night there, and had quite a lot of fun with the microphone; we performed our version of ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana.

We got out via a fire exit, and fled the accusing glances of a university official in the car park.

We finally got the pub venue for our Department Social at around eight; this was pretty uneventful, although good beer and good times were had by all. The fun really started after we got thrown out just after eleven pm. Nobody wanted to go home, and there were five of us who still fancied another drink.

This led us to a bar none of us remember; it may well have been a figment of our collective imaginations.

I had to borrow money to buy a pint. There was a guy standing on the bar with an acoustic guitar singing Bob Dylan songs.

How we got talking to the Swedes I vaguely remember. I think it had something to do with Curt (although I knew him only as ‘handshake guy’ at the time) and his drunken handshaking. Before we knew what was going on we were talking to a group of Scandinavian businessmen who worked for IBM. They bought us free gin and tonics and I got a bottle of Peroni.

However, the gravy train stopped, and conditions became attached. First we had to find them pretty blonde girls to talk too, which was unsuccessful— even pretty girls don’t like being pimped, apparently.

Then it was just a simple language challenge: speak Swedish, win beer.

The bitterness of failure was heightened by the fact that I actually know several Swedish phrases, but they’d all been submerged in free Italian beer and gin…

… I’d end up making the Centurion from ‘The Life of Brian’ laugh…

One of my modules here is taught by a guy named Bernard McKenna.

He wrote for several vaguely well known British sitcoms and acted in a few of them too.

More impressively he has worked with Douglas Adams and all of Monty Python. The man had two roles in The Life of Brian and began his first class with ‘I was having dinner with John Cleese last week…’

It became my goal in life to make him laugh. This was sort of awkward, as I got the distinct impression the man wasn’t used to competition in his classes. I don’t want to come across as boastful or biased, but I’m pretty sure over our three classes I got more laughs.

And in the last class, his feedback on my script was ‘you should have written a comedy; I think you’ve got a talent for it.’

… I’d find myself lying to the the British Constabulary…

This was especially surprising given that about four hours earlier I’d claimed that the most likely person to complain about our house party to the police was me.

I had a bad feeling about the house party, and the forty-plus people that would be turning up. I spent the week envisioning myself homeless after being evicted from the property. I’d planned my escape route over the fence if the worst came to the worst.

It did, but it seems there is a big difference between the sober James D. Irwin, and the James D. Irwin who has been to the pub, had three pints of Guinness and was now onto somebody else’s warm lager.

I guess I was relaxed. The one person I’d hoped would show up did indeed show up, and when the rozzers arrived I was standing outside with her and a man dressed as a minister (it was a fancy dress event). I saw a wheel pull up and wondered who hadn’t arrived yet.

Then I saw the police hats.

As we were outiside, we were approached first. I was being very British about it— keeping calm, stiff upper lip.

I’d forgotten that I was dressed as Magnum, PI.

”Are you residents or guests? We need to talk to a resident about this party.”

I was indeed a resident, but they couldn’t prove it! They’d never make it stick! It’s not a crime if you believe it to be untrue! (That was going to be my defence if I got arrested; I was going to plead inebriation)…

”Oh no Officer!” I said, raising my can of beer. ”Just good honest guests!”

I didn’t stop there…

”A damn menace is what this is! I tried telling them about the noise— I said someone would call the Old Bill! No one ever listens to me!”

The police officer had stopped listening to me.

Seizing what seemed like the perfect opportunity to impress the girl I leaned toward her, covered my mouth before loudly whipering ”I JUST LIED TO THE POLICE!”

Rather than being taken like the bad-boy-rebel-who-plays-by-his-own-rules that I thought I was, I was scolded like a naughty child.

I don’t understand girls.

… I’d find myself dressed as a policeman in an alley and scaring young children…

I recently had to make a short film for an assesment.

We never wrote a script.

We just did it.

I met with my co-worker, Nick and Liam, to scout a suitable location to stage the murder of a baker.

The shoot was more troubled than Apocalypse Now.

The camera kept running out of power, people kept getting in the shot— it was set in 1911.

Our first choice location was covered in market stalls… we couldn’t find a toy gun… and fake blood started at £3.50.

We hustled into McDonald’s to steal ketchup, only to find they had run out.

We had to make do with BBQ sauce.

Finally, we were ready.

Then all the batteries died.

Nick had to run off to buy more; I was left in an alleyway wearing a toy police helmet. I was standing next to a guy holding what looked like a huge knife.

A young child stared at us as he came up the street. He got within a foot of us and decided he wasn’t taking any chances: he crossed the road, watching us all the while, ready to flee at any necessary moment.

Nick came back, we got all the shots we needed; we wrapped.

As we strolled up the road I felt Nick nudge me.

We’d walked about five yards.

He was pointing at house with a painted sign above the door:

C. E. Matthews

Family Bakers

Est. 1901

We got the camera out again.

It started to rain.

… I’d find myself struggling to find a good way to wrap up a post…

I guess this will have to do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more small mammals to chase.

Which reminds me: a few weeks ago I had a great time watching a mouse trying to vault over the edge of a flower bed.

It was like watching Point Break: hilarious and yet strangely inspirational.

Vaya Con Dios, Brah.

TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

James D. Irwin is a British writer based in the Hampshire countryside. His work has appeared online, in print, and on stage. He can be contacted at [email protected]

60 responses to “When I Moved Here I Never Imagined…”

  1. Tawni says:

    The hedgehog sounds so cute. I love him. I picture him wearing a red bow tie and black top hat for some reason. (Probably the Vicodin talking. Ahem.)

    I respectfully request that you must always carry a video camera to record impromptu performances of Nirvana’s Rape Me.

    Peroni is one of my favorite beers. Mmmm.

    Congrats on your comedy props. I’m not surprised. The Funny: you haz it.

    BBQ sauce blood? Beautiful. 🙂

    • I always remember the hedgehog blinking in confusion and disbelief; I like your image better.

      We seem to sing ‘Rape Me’ alot, although not as often as we used to…

      I wish I could still afford Peroni…

      The BBQ sauce kind of works because the scene was black and white. It was a Psycho parody/homage. It worked a treat!

  2. Magnum P.I. was so cool. And so are hedgehogs and movies set in 1911.

    How’s your novel coming along?

    • Magnum P.I. still is cool! Pretty much my all-time favourite TV show.

      We set our movie in 1911 because it was crime fiction and we couldn’t be bothered to research forensics etc… it was genius in a way…

      I recently finished Part Two of my novel, and have written the first few pages of Part Three (of Three). I’m hoping to finish it over the Xmas break…

      • Am I still a character in it? I mean, I half expect to hit the cutting room floor in your epic. But I’d be happy to even be the drunk in the alley your characters pass… lol

        Did I mention hedgehogs are cool too? They are. I remember meeting this hot babe who raised them… I better stop telling that story already.

        • You are indeed sir! In fact you’re about to make a re-appearance.

          Part Two focuses almost entirely on the main protagonists and there are less silly vignettes, so I haven’t had the pleasure of writing the fictional Belardes a chapter for a while. And I still maintain that he’s my favourite character.

          In one of the next few chapters you are going to show up in an underground cult compound…

          I want to hear the rest of the story!

        • I can’t share the rest of the story as it involves a naked wrestling match and I think I may be sworn to secrecy. Maybe. Either way, I’m stoked that the name “Belardes” is going to enter the literary underbelly as a character in an Irwin novel. It has to be one of the coolest things that ever happened to me. I hope it gets published.

          Underground cult compound? You must have been spying on my REAL life.

        • When I wrote the character names I took them from TNB writers and readers.

          It’s meant as a sort of tribute, but it’s also good fun trying to get them all in. I still have a few to go… and obviously it’s not every TNBer, because there aren’t that many characters…

        • Oh come on. Put in 200 characters you ninny!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          there are already quite a few, although mostly fleeting.

        • Dana says:

          Magnum P.I. you say? I was invited to spend a week vacationing at Tom Selleck’s home when I was in 8th grade. One of my best friends was his first cousin. Sadly my parents were not on board with their daughter traveling across country to stay the week with a television star. I never did get to meet him, but my friend brought me back a lovely personalized SHIRTLESS 8 x 10 photo. It was pretty sweet. I can’t believe someone stole it from my locker. 🙁

          Now that I’ve dazzled you with my brush with fame, I’m sure you’ll want to include me in your book. Bartender, hooker or librarian would be my preferences. 😉

          Congrats on your newly improved social and academic life!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          That’s awesome. Tom Selleck is my fucking hero!

          It’ll have to be bartender, I think. There is a chapter set in the New York Library, but it already references Ghostbusters… as for hookers… no… That’s what’s going to set my novel apart from the Bible: no hookers.


  3. Matt says:

    Man, you just made me really nostalgic for my student days. Strangely, I’m also at work on a piece about my time as a student, which also involves encounters with furry animals.

    Also, corn syrup plus red food coloring is a cheap alternative to stage blood. It’s what they used to make the first Evil Dead.

  4. Enjoyed the post, but
    “We set our movie in 1911 because it was crime fiction and we couldn’t be bothered to research forensics etc.”

    was seriously the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Love the truth in it. I was just watching The Mentalist the other night and a suspect made a point about how juries expect such things now, and if the prosecutor can’t serve up spit on a plate, no conviction comes. So you nailed that handily, and said it better.

    Awesome stories too, though. Good job making the Centurion laugh. Good job making us laugh, too.

    • I was the team leader. I am incredibly lazy.

      We had to a presentation afterwards which we wrote five minutes before class.

      I love being a bad student though, because I suspect we had much more fun than the other groups who looked liked they’d put a lot of effort in— and researched forensics.

      Ah well, I value TNB comments more than I value good grades… so totally not worth the effort…

  5. Laura says:

    *thumbs up* Irwin.
    I have nothing much to say, other than reading this induced images of England that I am sure don’t really exist, but it’s fun for my mind to have a walk down whimsical lanes once in awhile. Thanks.

    I agree with Matt, it makes me nostalgic for my college days, except mine were never as adventurous or enriched as yours are. So glad you made it back to Uni. They need you there!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’m always thinking of images of England that don’t exist… although Winchester comes pretty close to it.

      I’m so glad I’m having a good time here, because my last university experience was shite. This is what dreams are made of.

      • Gloria says:

        I love the word shite. The boys and I were watching The Simpsons the other day and Groundskeeper Willy said something was shite and the boys laughed and laughed. Then, they proceeded to walk around for three days calling everything shite, thinking they were talking in code. I had to explain to them that MOST people know what shite means and would still consider it a curse word and so they should be careful.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I remember you telling me that. Which means I’ve probably already told you that ‘shite’ is one of my all time favourite swear words.

          It’s like a more vitriolic version of ‘shit.’

  6. New Orleans Lady says:

    I’ve never seen a hedgehog and I’m jealous.

    I love the thought of you singing Rape Me. Great song just made better.

    You never told me what happened with girl who agreed to go out with you. Is the girl from the party the same girl?

    Also, I love that your big rebel moment was just a little lie to the police. Too cute.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I would definitely try and see one at some point. They’re fucking adorable. I wanted to bring it home.

      I’ve joined a grunge bad, which is why we keep singing that song. Or why we kept singing it.

      The girl from the party is indeed the same girl that came to the tea room with me for what be the last time for all concerned. The afternoon was a disaster that ended with a proletariat uprising and the theft of a pepper pot.

      It was only a little lie, but it seems like something that should be crossed off a list. I don’t know, I felt like HST at the time.

  7. Gloria says:

    Yes, girls are complicated. Apparently, so are hedgehogs.

    Loved this.


  8. Zara Potts says:

    My dog had a hedgehog encounter just the other night…and you’re right – they can move hellishly quick.
    It sound like you are enjoying your uni year James! I hope it keeps giving you lots of material.
    And yes – girls are strange. If it’s any consolation, I don’t understand many of them either!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      You’ve just reminded me that I miss my dog. And so far he’s the only member of my family I’m looking forward to seeing at Christmas…

      This place is giving me plenty of material, but very little time. I wrote this at about 4am last night, and it’s only thanks to Gloria that I got to put it up. She fixed all the technical ‘boo-boos’ which would have taken me about a another week to get around too…

      Girls are strange. And awesome. I like girls.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Because I couldn’t remember if there are hedgehogs in the US, I had to refer to Wikipedia, where I learned that, no, there are not. We have porcupines, obviously, but not their cousins, hedgehogs. Meantime, in light of Zara’s comment, I learned this:

      “In areas where hedgehogs have been introduced, such as New Zealand and the islands of Scotland, the hedgehog itself has become a pest. In New Zealand it causes immense damage to native species including insects, snails, lizards and ground-nesting birds, particularly shore birds. As with many introduced animals, it lacks natural predators. With overpopulation, it kills off more insects than initially intended and expands its diet to include things such as snails, worms, and the eggs of wading birds.”

      I’m reminded of Don Mitchell’s mongoose piece of months past: how the mongoose has become a pest in Hawai’i. (I hope I placed that apostrophe correctly, Don.)

  9. I’m telling you man, you just made that hedgehog’s list.

    A good trick for playing on people in bars, or at parties, if you’ve got a bunch of people who are in on the joke.

    Step 1: Meet someone.
    Step 2: Shake their hand.
    Step 3: While shaking their hand, suddenly allow an impressed look to come over your face.
    Step 4: Say: ‘Man, that’s one hell of a handshake you’ve got there.’
    Step 5: Call out to your friend (let’s call him John). Call ‘Hey! John! You gotta come over here and get a load of this guy’s handshake!’
    Step 6: John comes over, shakes the mark’s hand, and suddenly, he, too, is impressed.
    Step 7: John calls out to Tim. ‘Hey! Tim! Check this guy’s handshake out!’
    Step 8: Tim repeats the cycle.

    If you’ve got enough people, soon enough you’ll have a new friend in the middle of a circle of about ten strangers, all of them complimenting them on how good their handshake is.

  10. Great post! I found a hedgehog in the backyard once. It was the strangest animal I’d ever seen–completely foreign looking.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      My brother had a stuffed toy hedgehog that he called ‘Hedgehog.’

      They are weird looking things, but they’re adorable

  11. James:

    Only you could find a hedgehog in a cemetery. Very cool…

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Cool things keep happening here. I suppose it’s largely down to the fact that I’ve become more fun myself, ore sociable and more open to weirdness.

      I’ve just been discussing the true meaning of Christmas with two old lady christians. I’m now going carol singing in an Irish theme bar next wednesday…

  12. Erika Rae says:

    Giggling over the hedgehog. We have prairie dogs in these parts. They are truly just too…adorable.

    Barbecue sauce. *snort*

  13. Cheryl says:

    I would have totally chased that hedgehog across the cemetary. And the kitten too, probably. This is a great post, kind of a snapshot of your wild university days. Live it up!

    We live sort of out in the country and get a lot of deer that come through our property. My husband and I were standing on the front porch one day, watching two cats stalk one another down the hill from our house. After sizing each other up for nearly 10 minutes, one finally pounced on the other. There was a typical cat scuffle – all shrieks and hisses and flying fur. We were just getting ready to yell at them to break it up before someone got hurt, when out of the blue, this young buck leapt right in the middle of the two cats, front legs splayed, all wild-eyed like “WWHHHASSSSUUUUUUUP!” The cats totally freaked out and ran in opposite directions and the deer actually chased one of them. He was having a blast. It was funny and weird. I didn’t know deer were funny.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      My university life here is way better than Essex. That campus was supposed to be famous for its rabbits. Never saw one once.

      Hedgehogs make everything better.

      I like your story. As the TV show testifies, animals do indeed do the funniest things…

      great mental image…

  14. jmblaine says:

    one thing’s for sure:

    TNB’s got no one else like Irwin.

    Stay crazy brother.

    If there’s a bustle
    with your hedgehog…

    • James D. Irwin says:

      this is one of my all time favourite comments.

      I haven’t listened to Led Zep IV in a while. Not since debating it’s merit with Greg a few weeks ago…

  15. Nice post. The hedgehog thing intrigued me because I can’t believe you’d never seen a hedgehog before! In Scotland I saw them all the time. One time I saved one after it wondered into my football goalposts and became entangled in the net. I ruined the net but saved a prickly life.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’ve always lived in pretty suburban places. Usually by the sea too.

      My last two gardens have had foxes. My dad says he saw a badger once. in my garden here we have a tail-less squirrel. Ne’ver seen a ‘hog before though.

      My only regret is not picking it up. I think if I’d had gloves on I probably would’ve done.

      If I see him again I’m doing it.

      I want to be ‘that guy who brought a hedgehog home.’

  16. Mary says:

    Hey James, seems like you hadn’t posted anything for a little while. It’s good to see you back. I love the hedgehog story. The mental image of you, a presumably grown person, chasing a hedgehog around in the dark … it’s just priceless.

    • I haven’t posted for ages. A combination of not having much to say and being busy terrorising woodland mammals.

      I hope the fact that I was also wearing a smart, double breasted coat adds to that mental image. I still regret not bringing it home…

  17. sheree says:

    Great stuff young Sir. I look forward to reading the rest of your novel. I’ve got 3 scarves done up double strand to keep ya warm. Cheers!

    • Cheers— it’s getting bloody cold!

      Unfortunately all this adventure (and not to mention hard work!) is somewhat getting in the way of the novel. I’m going home for Christmas, and my home life is quiet and dull. Should be perfect for getting the first draft finished before 2010 rolls on around.

      I want to start 2010 having written a novel, however bad it is. I think that might just be a good enough launch pad for the 365 days that follow…

  18. sheree says:

    Man with a plan. Chicks dig that…. Unless of course the plan is a dastardly deed of some sort. Will be mailing those scarves out to you next week. Cheers!

  19. D.R. Haney says:

    Sorry to be so late in commenting, James. Things here have been difficult, to say the least. But I’m glad to have an update, and only wish we heard from you more often, though I personally am a little relieved to have missed the Bulgarian wine and your version of “Rape Me.”

    Oh, and I know what a kick it is to make established funny person laugh, as I learned when I did the same with Stephen Wright.

    • No worries man.

      I’m hoping to post more very soon. I could write another one exactly like this with the crazy shit thats gone now since its posting…

      last night I got very drunk in an Irish bar singing along to the covers band. they were awesome.

      stephen wright is also awesome. I’ll try and post a more worthwhile reply after I’ve had something to eat…

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