Guinea Pigs and Postage Stamps

Apparently—and I have not delved particularly deeply into the accuracy of this claim—if you live in Switzerland, you aren’t allowed to keep a guinea pig on its own.

It gets lonely, and then it’s only a matter of time until it becomes dependant on opioids to numb its sense of abandonment. Before you know it, you’re popping to the local pet-pusher 4 times a day and missing a Q&A with your favourite influencer. It makes no difference that they answer the same questions every week; things have gotten out of hand.

So instead, in accordance with local laws, you settle on a buy-one-get-one-free at the local guinea pig dealer. Ursula and Levin come home with you, and for a while everything’s just fine: the rodents flourish, and so too does your vet’s retirement fund.

You meet up with the local guinea-pig-parents, and get on well. You mostly talk of all the times you’re plagued with mum guilt. It’s guilt you don’t don’t really feel, but feel like you’re supposed to feel, so then feel guilty about that. Which is a relief.

But then Ursula contracts a rare guinea pig ailment: her feet begin expanding. Over the next few days they will grow and grow, and eventually they’ll explode. She will literally pop those clogs you bought off Nora down the road (you’re all for supporting small businesses, whether you need the item or not). There’s a terrific mess in the playpen, and you’re going to have to get it sorted before you do your next micro-vlog, but none of that really matters now, because the thing is that she—Ursula—has left Little Levin all alone.

Easily remedied, thank goodness: you pop to the guinea pig store and find a replacement. But a few days later it’s clear that Levin is getting on only in age, and not with the wee snip of a thing, Gabriel, who’s alternately ‘a handful’ and ‘a character’, and bugs him no end.

Still, at least at 57 months, Lenin doesn’t have long to last. He slips away during the night: a nice, peaceful ending—or so you imagine—and his followers flood you with messages of sorrow and support. You ‘take time away’ to come to terms with the grief, but then you remember that grief won’t deal with the issue at hand.

For, and you may be able to see where this is going, Gabriel is friendless. He’s at risk, and, annoying little sausage though he is, rules are rules, and anyway, maybe a companion would tame his manners.

This time, though, the pet shops have cracked down. Too many people have been buying single guinea pigs, falsely claiming they’re replacement pets. Officials fear a surge in lonely creatures, and hope to catch up with perpetrators by asking for extensive and assorted paperwork. Proof of existence for your current fluffball; proof that they weren’t living long as an only child; all manner of meticulous records you certainly won’t find amongst the unread self-help newsletters swamping your inbox.

Far simpler to go down the multipack route again. You pick a pair called Leon and Louis, but are guilted into acquiring Barbara too. She was seized in a ‘not-one-child’ raid, and is struggling to find a forever home. You pay extra for the privilege of doing a good deed.

Babs is initially rather taken with Gabriel, and, long story short, Claudia, Monika and Marcel are welcomed into the fold. Enough’s enough, you think. Some of the beasts can go for fostering.

Not so fast, Farmer Joe. Those in the vicinity who don’t share your plight have heard of it: they all seem to be operating a ‘no vacancies’ approach. Overwhelmingly, you note, these were the people you used to despise. The type of people who hung their toilet roll the wrong way round. You remember voicing it once on social media. Oh, how you regret that now.

Out in the wider world, you find a couple willing to take 5 of the 7. But the adoption process takes about 32 years, and in any case, the hairy little monsters will be dead by then.

There’s nothing to do but wait.


The wonderful thing about writing a will is that nobody need have any say in your decision. A minority of people have greatness thrust upon them, but for most, in modern Switzerland, it’s guinea pigs instead.

And so, in accordance with recent tradition, you leave the bulk of the creatures to your first-born. The weaker bloodline, the most incestuous of the offspring, can be cared for by his sister.

Down the line, some 16 hundred odd rodents will gather at the annual Ursula Parade, to pay homage to the grandmother they never had. Your son’ll squander his inheritance, thank goodness, but your daughter will display a maternal streak you neither envisaged nor encouraged. Your legacy, and theirs, is irreversibly entwined in the tailless rodents running riot over the city.

And so, Swiss people, heed caution. Guinea pigs aren’t just for Christmas. They’re for the next 17 generations, who will resent and admire your audacity in unequal measures. Perhaps, and I can’t stress this enough, you should just get a hamster instead.

Have I Not Got a Letter for You

A close friend recently moved to Switzerland. Crossing cultural lines in an unprecedented trip to the post office, she was refused stamps for her cards. The envelopes were too small; they were at risk of getting lost in transit. It would be most ill-advised to send them.

She narrates the story with her thoughts (‘perhaps there’s a problem with the system, rather than my post’), but dutifully thanked the woman, bought the stamps regardless, then waited until she was out of sight before placing them on the offending envelopes and popping them in the postbox.

It’s difficult to know where to start. Is there really a Swiss epidemic of little letters lost for all eternity? Is it a literal net they slip through? Perhaps it’s an excuse, instigated by the government: a way to encourage more efficient modes of communication. Maybe letters of a certain size are ravaged by guinea pigs.

I need closure. But before that, I probably need to measure her Christmas card.