I have had quite a few guinea pigs as pets in my lifetime. The first ones when I was a child, then several when my children were young (they were then the pets of choice). The main memory of my guinea-pig days is having to chase them madly around their ‘run’. This happened each evening when we put them away in their hutch to protect them from night-prowling foxes and cats. Often it would take two or three of us to do it, one holding up the run, another fielding them, while the third was the catcher. The guinea pigs seemed intent on escape or at least getting as far away from us as possible. Yet now it has become clear that I never fully appreciated the potential of these creatures as entertaining companion and pet.
I realised this when I was chatting with Rosemary, great granddaughter of David Parr, who grew up in the house. She told me how she would spend hours playing with and training her guinea pigs both inside and outside the house. The hallway was turned into an assault course with cardboard jumps and tunnels for the guinea pigs to run through. When Rosemary walked to the shops down Gwydir Street she trained them to follow her there and back. They would run by themselves from the front door around the side road to the back garden, and vice versa, for a titbit. One time Rosemary even made them a little cart that she attached to their backs, so they could pull it up and down the road. I can’t imagine such a sight on the streets of Cambridge nowadays. But maybe I am wrong – there might be many gardens and streets in the City with well-trained, performing guinea pigs? (Do let us know!)
Another Cambridge guinea pig story is that of a lady who lived just off Grange Road who kept lots of ‘free range’ guinea pigs in her back garden. If you wanted one for a pet, that was where you could go to get one. When we visited we found the guinea pigs not only roamed the garden but some also roamed around the house. It was lovely to see someone who cared so much for them, and who gained such companionship from them.