November 12th – The Annual Hedgehog Tea Party

Today is a good day to cycle or drive slowly, or to step carefully if you are walking or taking public transport to get around Buentoille, especially if you are in the north of the City. This is because, unlike your average commute to work, today’s journey may feature some added obstacles that have the potential to make your tyres very flat and your heart very heavy if you run over them: hedgehogs.

These snuffly little creatures, which can today be found out and about in small groups and alone, are not normally seen during the daylight hours, given that they are nocturnal beasts, a rule to which today seems the only exception. At places in the north where the roads converge, the streets can often be full of hedgehogs, all travelling in the same direction, in broad daylight. Some of them have been walking since late last night, making slow progress through the wee hours, trying to avoid the various hazards (late-night trams, urban foxes rats) that line their pilgrimage. At these intersections and convergences, the sense of direction within the hedgehog crowds becomes immediately clear to any onlookers, as they all shuffle onwards like a little prickly conveyor belt. It’s clear as they coalesce that the hedgehogs are not rudderless travellers, but that they are all going to one very specific location – a party, to which they’re all invited.

Whilst folk have been leaving out food for hedgehogs for many hundreds of years, the first documentary evidence of something like the Annual Hedgehog Tea Party was in 1853, when the early wildlife photographer Milsom Wetflannel staged a set of photographs which later became a triptych called ‘More Tea, Billy?’ These three images, which still grace the front of many a greetings card today, show four small hedgehogs clambering over, eating and drinking from a fine porcelain tea set which had been laid out especially for them. Unlike those free hogs who make their journey today, these had been captured for the shoot, which took place just before the hedgehogs went into hibernation, when they were a hot topic across the City. It was in part thanks to the timing (but mostly to do with the cuteness of the images) that the triptych kick-started Wetflannel’s career and turned him into an influential figure in the wildlife image industry.

When these captive pricklepigs were freed after the photoshoot, they presumably told their friends, because the next year, after they’d bedded down for the night, there were fifteen hedgehogs snuffling around in Wetflannel’s back garden, where the shoot took place. Obviously hedgehogs, like many humans, have an excellent memory for places they got a good meal. Wetflannel was certainly one of these people (he remembered the layout of the Buentoilliçan districts by the restaurants he ate at in them, much to the frustration of his wife), and perhaps it was for this reason that he took pity on the little spike-bearing-intruders, and decided to feed them in much the same way as before, filling the cups with mincemeat, dried fruit, nuts and water. Of course, the next year twenty more turned up.

It was a good job that Wetflannel had friendly neighbours, and a large communal front garden and play area between their houses; it was certainly something he needed by year ten. By this point people had started coming from all over the local area, bringing their children to watch the curious little creatures have their tea party on a long rug laid out in the centre of the communal garden. Nowadays folk come from all over the City, standing at the sidelines, and pointing, chatting with their young children or holding them back from trying to pick one up, carefully stepping over a small rivulet of hogs and hoglets that stoically head towards the banquet laid out for them. Much of the food on offer these days is bugs and the like, captured for them by local children, and refilled periodically by the ‘waiting staff’.

When a hedgehog has filled up all the corners of its stomach, it readies itself for hibernation, usually in the immediate vicinity; the garden and all the back gardens of the housing development (Collafield Crescent) are peppered with little hog homes and readily available leaf litter. These are usually similar to a birdhouse, but at ground level, but some are intricately constructed things, with chimneys and extensions and little terracotta roofs. The hedgehogs do switch houses some years, but normally they stick to the place they lived before they went off into the wider area for the spring and summer, and as such many have names written above the doors. In recent years the garden has come to look more like a model village. The hedgehogs here are all the hedgehogs from miles around, which obviously think that the feast and safe housing they receive is worth the effort of walking throughout the day. This pilgrimage inevitably leads to some deaths each year, and as such criticism is often levelled at those who live in the Crescent, but the defence they always give is that it wasn’t their idea – it was the hedgehogs’!

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Clash of the Westhall Teeth Day
  • The Festival of Mystic Mead
  • The Yobbish Sparrow Festival