My nerves are shattered, torn, shredded and fried. I have experienced a weekend of such furious emotion, speculation, accusation and premature judgement that I can barely muster enough wits to make sense of it all. I forewarned that these last couple of days might be a wee bit tough, but nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened. Please forgive me if emotions appear in the following entry. I hope that someone out there can offer an excuse for the behaviours I must now describe......
Slipping on Hedgehog blood
I have to say, it began peacefully enough. Mrs McHaggarty was in a jovial mood, having won £253.77 in the National Lottery the week before. She had treated herself to a pair of new shoes from Asda (aka Walmart, for my American readers), two necklaces from Elizabeth Duke, a facial treatment, two bottles of champagne, three t-shirts from TK Maxx, 1 leather jacket from TK Maxx, and five bottles of Chardonnay from Tesco. I can recite this list verbatim because I heard her repeat it no less than seventeen times during the weekend. She was so proud of her small winnings that she would push her substantial breast in the air everytime she mentioned it, as though a chance payout is some kind of personal acheivment.
I had, as promised, made a complete inventory of the institute prior to her arrival. Although Mrs McH may have been in a good mood, I did not doubt for a minute that she would still attempt to extricate one or more of my belongings from its rightful position. Three times before I had actually caught her in the act, and only the protestations of my pious wife, Mrs Dr McC, had prevented me from calling the authorities (that and the fact for some reason the police refuse to visit the institute during night-time).
So anyways, I did my best to remain scarce, and busied myself in Laboratory No. 1, the best equipped lab in the institute, with my dissection of hedgehogs captured by Angus McCavity (my number 2 research assistant), and Denise (my faithful receptionist). Ravel (my no.1 research assistant) should have collected the insectivores alongside McCavity, but he still had not checked in since departing on his traverse of Hadrians wall some weeks ago. It was the first time that Denise had been collecting hedehogs, and I was slightly worried as to whether she was fit enough for the purpose. Hedgehogs are notoriously difficult to catch at the best of times, and someone with a 30-per day cigarette habit whose only regular exercise comes from typing on a keyboard would be unlikely to be very efficient. But, needs must I'm afraid, as the other staff had strangely made themselves unavailable this particular weekend.
To my surprise, Denise performed her tasks with consumate gusto and ease. She was surprisingly spritely for an unfit lady receptionist, and even managed to catch more hedgehogs than McCavity, a member of staff who regularly keeps fit by jogging and skipping. I openly applauded her efforts on her return, and even, I think, managed to make her blush!
The dissections went well considering that I had to work alone. Normally, Ravel would have helped but as he was absent (and McCavity is not qualified for this work) I was forced to sacrifice the hedgehogs myself, using my patented 'HedgeSnap' device that swiftly delivers a fatal blow to the back of the little animals heads. They feel no pain, and death is instantaneous (I am limited by stringent ethical guidelines to a restricted number of sacrifices and have to certify that the cull is carried out according to a long list of conditions). I won't describe the operation to remove the parasites as it would require several blogs-worth of space to do justice to the intricate partings and clamping of spine-covered flesh, the slicing open of sticky abdomens, the frequent mopping of hedgehog blood, the delicate manouverings of tweezers to extract worms from each digestive tract, etc etc.
Each parasite that I retrieved was first killed, identified, sexed, and measured along at least two axes before being placed in a numbered container and stored at -80 degrees centrigrade in one of the institutes 5 freezers. This procedure allows for future experimentation without ruining the tissues of the organism. The hedgehog remains were then placed in a black plastic bin liner for later incineration.
All went well until I was on my 113th and penultimate hedgehog. It was whilst extracting a particularly long roundworm that I heard a loud stomping sound from somewhere outside the laboratory. It sounded like someone running in clogs, and I immediately realised that it must be Mrs McHaggarty. I wondered what she was doing at this end of the building just as the doors of the labopened and in she stumbled. She was quite clearly inebriated.
'Mrs McHaggarty, you really should knock before entering. This is a restricted area. There are hazardous materials here.' I said in a stern voice.
'Aah, no be worrying. I'm jush here ta say hello you daff brush.' she replied in her trademark Geordie-Edinburgh accent (topped by a Talisker slur).
'Well thanks for that but I'll be finished in a few minutes....'
'Aah, Joseph, you've nae shown me 'round like, I jush wanted to see yaz in acshun.'
'Just wait there a minute' I said firmly, motioning with my free hand that she should not come closer. I knew I had to finish this extraction quickly, for once Mrs McHaggarty got hold of an idea she rarely let it go. The worm was three-quarters out of the insectivore's gut and it just needed one more tug...
'I can do that ya know!' said Mrs McH from beside me. I had taken my eyes off her for just two seconds and now she was making for the tweezers with both hands. She grabbed hold of them before I could react and with one great tug pulled the entire worm out. Her enthusiasm made her unsteady though, and in another instant she was falling backwards towards a large bag full of hedgehog carcases. She fell onto the bag with a soft thumping sound but then seemed to twist her ankle as she fell off it, crying out in pain as her rump hit the floor.
I muttered several inclement words under my breath as I watched her falling. This wasn't the first time that she had disrupted my work and I was not best pleased that she had spoilt my penultimate dissection. But from the way she was trying to clutch her ankle and sobbing, I guessed she might have hurt some part of her bulky personage. As her son in law I felt duty bound to offer assistance.
'What's wrong?' I enquired in a cold, flat tone of voice.
'Ish me ankle Joseph. I think I've gone broken it'
'I doubt that very much. Try standing'
'I cannae. Go fetch McCavity and the two of yez can carry me out on a stretcher.'
'I'm sure I can manage. Here, let me help'. I tried to take hold of her but she waved me away and insisted in being stretchered. I knew it was fruitless trying to argue so instead told her to remain still whilst I brought the stretcher.
McCavity was not far away and it only took us a few moments to locate the stretcher. As we entered the lab we were slightly surprised to see that Mrs McH had managed to stand, and was partially bent over the operating table. On hearing us enter she turned her head, effected a startled expression, promptly lost her balance and fell back to the floor, this time seming to twist on her other ankle.
'Good grief' I muttered under my breath. 'I told you to stay still Mrs McH. Now look what you've done'
'Aye, sorry Joseph. I did nae want to put yez to more trouble. I thought I could shtand up like, but I think I shlipped in shum o' that hedgehog blood undaneath tha table. Have yez brought the shtretcher for me? Aye, let me hop on then and yez can take me to my room. I'll jush be needin a bit o resht and an eyshe pack for mez broken ankles.'
'Cankles more like,' muttered McCavity.
We managed with some effort to get Mrs McH back on the stretcher. She started telling us all about her lottery winnings as we took her to the first aid room. I called my wife (a qualified first-aider) on her mobile and told her what had happened, and said we would wait with Mrs McH until she arrived back from her shopping trip. This took longer than expected due to roadworks out of the village, and for the next 15 minutes I had to endure Mrs McH telling me all about the time she was unfairly banged up for stealing toys from the display at an Argos superstore in Glasgow (she claimed it was her friend, who subsequently moved onto bigger things by focusing exclusively on Debenhams).
I thought, at that point in time, that I had everything under control and that the weekend maybe hadn't gone too badly afterall. But soon things were about to take a strange twist, and my foundations of trust were about to be shaken to the core....'