Muddle has disappeared. Vanished. Gone. This can’t happen. In the summer, he stays in the conservatory or outside somewhere on the patio if it’s warm enough, which it mostly has been for the last few weeks. The patio area is enclosed such that he can’t escape. Also, he can’t get up to the higher part of the garden because climbing up objects is not what he does. Sure, he likes nothing better than clambering over things and down things, but he definitely can’t climb up. He’s not a cat. Nor is he a squirrel. He’s a Greek or Spur-thighed tortoise and climbing up concrete steps is beyond him.
He isn’t in the top part of the garden. He likes having a wander around it, its true, but that’s only when I carry him up there. Then he can pootle around in the long grass to his heart’s content – I’m a big fan of No Mow May (and June, maybe even July). But I haven’t carried him up there today and neither has the rest of the family. Thus, I can discount the top of the garden.
In the summer months, we let Muddle have the run of the patio. He sleeps in all different places. Sometimes either in a compost bag or under it. Sometimes in a wellington boot (see photo – I’m not making it up). But being out on the patio all night means he gets to be up with the sunrise and make the most of when the sun’s rays hit the patio. He gets himself at a 45-degree angle so as to maximise those rays. During the day he’ll explore all that there is to explore, periodically enjoying a smorgasbord of fruit and leaves, until mid to late afternoon when he’s pooped and crashes out.
But that’s every day apart from this one. This day he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth and I’m running out of ideas.
If he ever gets bored of the patio, Muddle’s other option is to wander indoors and see what’s on offer. First stop is usually the cat’s bowl. I know what you’re thinking – aren’t tortoises vegetarian? Yes. Yes, they are vegetarian. But you try telling Muddle that.
So I search everywhere possible on the ground floor. He has a number of places he likes to park up of an evening, but today he is in none of them.
A bid for freedom?
Even though I know he can’t get under the garden gate, I open the side door and start hunting for him. I wander up the road to the left. Then I turn around and walk to the other end of the road. I cross the main road and have a mooch around the park. No sign of him. It’s unlikely he would have made his way here on his own, but it’s not actually beyond the realms of possibility. This is where we go on our afternoon strolls. Muddle is mostly good at keeping to the pavement, occasionally making a detour across random gardens, but sometimes he’ll just head straight across the road so I have to be on my toes.
Every so often we’ll meet someone and they, without exception, will be enchanted by Muddle – you’ve seen the photos, why would they not be? They will also, without exception, ask me if he’s mine and each time I will smile and say “No, I’m his.” Muddle is the same age as my son, 18, so I like to tell everyone that Muddle has been doing his A levels. They find this hilarious. At least, I imagine they do.
But he’s nowhere to be found in the park, so I return home, all the while checking every garden and drive I go past in the hope I see a glimpse of a shell plodding along minding its own business. I do not.
I stand on the patio once more and have another look around, searching in all the places I’ve already looked because…you know. My wife comes out and she, too, searches again all the places she has already searched.
For no particular reason, I climb the three concrete steps to the higher part of the garden, saying out loud “Well, he can’t possibly be up here, ca…”
A few feet ahead of me, in the long grass, Muddle has heard my voice and looks up at me. If he could talk, which he definitely definitely can’t, he’d probably say: