Returning from a party late at night
I went to use the basement loo and saw
a mass of heaving spikes and bright black eyes
and swore I’d never touch champagne again
until I realised that it was real –
a hedgehog struggling in the lavatory pan.

I held a walking-stick – he grabbed the end
and wrapped his body round it like a ball.
(He didn’t smell too good when he came out.)
Harry Houdini, Master of Escapes,
I christened him. His black eyes glistened as
I fed him with the leavings from the cat,
then picked him up, a poncho round my hands
to save them from his mass of bristling spines.
I carried him down to the garden’s end,
where he could safely graze on juicy slugs.

Next night, at two, my prickly friend was back.
He’d catapult himself into our house
(via the cat-door right above the loo),
then chunter round the basement busily,
night after night. He had no hedgehog friends.
A chortling, snorting presence in my room
would wake me as he scuttled to my side
and tried to tug the blankets on my bed.
I’d stroke his face up from the nose to where
the whiskers turned to bristles on his head.

Four centuries ago, I’d have been burned
for having a ‘familiar’ friend. These days
it’s just peculiar.

Eventually, the novelty wore off.
My hedgehog ceased to come. I like to think
he found a prickly girlfriend on his beat.

One night, before he left, he went upstairs,
wearily climbing steps higher than his height.
I lost him in the house for one whole day.
The following night I caught him, wide awake,
inspecting corners in the room above.

Weeks later, when I’d half begun to think
my nightly visitant had been a dream.
I found the evidence – a prezzy wrapped
in newspaper behind the drawing-room door –
three green-black drolls, tiny as fairies’ turds.

Send Letters To:

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Vol. 14 No. 23 · 3 December 1992

Dick Hill asks (Letters, 19 November): ‘On what basis does Ms Pitt-Kethley assume that the hedgehog of which she writes so feelingly is male?’ I assumed he was male because ‘Harry Houdini’ was the proud possessor of a penis, an inch and a quarter in length. I have not done research on the mensuration of animal genitalia, but I should imagine he was rather well-endowed – better, I might add, by a quarter of an inch, than one of the poets currently on the London literary scene, whose irate ex-girlfriend telephoned to let me know his not-so-vital statistic.

Readers may be interested to learn that the poem, ‘My Prickly Friend’ (LRB, 8 October), was banned from inclusion in a children’s anthology by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, presumably because of the turds in the last line. Mr Tiggywinkle is not allowed to have natural functions, it would seem. If I had mentioned his penis in the poem, the exclusion might have been slightly more understandable. Censorship of material for children can go too far. Any child who does not know about lavatories and turds by eight – the bottom age that the anthology was intended for – is in deep shit, so to speak. I have since, however, forgiven the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, become a member and bought items from their Hogalogue.

Michael Ruse, who complains that ‘My Prickly Friend’ was ‘about hedgehogs and not about penises’ should be relieved to hear that there will be plenty about the latter animal and nothing about the former in my next collection, Dogs, to be published by Sinclair-Stevenson in February. But just what did Mr Ruse expect from the title of my poem? If I am ever unlucky enough to be confronted by a prickly penis, I guarantee that I shall run like hell.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Vol. 14 No. 22 · 19 November 1992

Am I alone in feeling disappointed, let down even, on finding that Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s poem, ‘My Prickly Friend’ (LRB, 8 October), is about hedgehogs and not about penises?

Michael Ruse
University of Guelph, Ontario

On what basis does Ms Pitt-Kethley assume that the hedgehog of which she writes so feelingly is male?

Dick Hill
London NW2

Vol. 14 No. 24 · 17 December 1992

The world would be a much greyer place without Fiona Pitt-Kethley, a lady whom I admire profoundly as much for her chutzpah as for her witty, scatological verse. However, the poet with the one-inch penis to whom she refers (Letters, 3 December) does not, I suspect, require a larger one to follow his trade, unless of course, he is now using it as a writing tool. Could this explain why a certain well-known poet’s recent work is less than penetrating?

Russell Lucas

Vol. 15 No. 1 · 7 January 1993

Let me, a Swedish reader, remind you of the fact that the middle part of Miss Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s name (Letters, 17 December 1992) means (in my vernacular and a bit vulgar) – ‘penis’.

Per Runesson
Umeå, Sweden

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