Daffodils in bloom – check. Wild garlic in full pungent flower at the roadside - check. Tiny white blossoms starring the bare branches of our plum trees – check. Children shrieking as they bounce up and down on the trampoline – check. Spring solstice (and my parents’ wedding anniversary) – check. But it’s still not officially spring in our household until another important ritual takes place.
In these confusing times of climate change, it’s not always easy to spot the season. My husband has just invested in a weather station to help us get our bearings. A neat white plastic box displays the current time, date, temperature, air pressure, humidity, cloud cover and precipitation. It gleans this information from a smaller white box with which it has some sort of remote communication. According to the weather station, we experienced a fabulous run of weather the first week after he bought it - until we realised that the smaller white box was meant to be placed out of doors, rather than on the other side of the kitchen.
But we have a more reliable indicator of the seasons. It’s small, brown and furry, and makes endearing cheeping sounds whenever we pass by. The volume increases in direct proportion to the volume of cucumber in our hands.
Brownie travels around according to the season. In the summer, she grazes all day on the lawn, safe under a vast chickenwire run, constructed by my husband for her enjoyment (he can’t bear to see an animal in a cage). When we go on our summer holiday, out comes her summer palace – a large but lightweight, portable plastic house that just about fits in the back of my Ford Ka. We take palace and pig to my brother or sister’s house, where Brownie enjoys the materialistic life of a city-dweller, spoiled with treats from the nearby pet superstore and trimmings from Marks and Spencer salad packs. Last year she came back from her summer holiday with a red and yellow pop-up tent. (No guinea pig should be without one.)
Then, when the nights start to get a little cooler, she migrates into the lean-to that we euphemistically call our conservatory. Once frost sets in, we move her properly indoors, where, in her summer palace again, she takes up residence on the utility room worktop. So begins a more sociable time of year for her. We have cheery conversations whenever I’m loading the dishwasher or doing the laundry, and she likes to throw in a few helpful comments as I iron my daughter’s school uniform in the morning.
But as the nights shorten, there comes a point when she must be yearning for fresh air again, and today she got her wish. I gave her outdoor hutch a good spring clean and doused it with disinfectant. I lined it with old copies of the Radio Times and a thick layer of hay, before scattering handfuls of the greens that are suddenly growing like Topsy in our back garden. Brownie squeaked her approval as I gently scooped her up with both hands and took her out the back door. The guinea pig has left the building. So spring is here at last.