Julian Norton, the Yorkshire Vet, discovers there's more to derring do hamsters than running on an endless spinning wheel

After tea on a Sunday evening is one of the few occasions in the busy week when our whole family is in the same place at the same time. We finally have time to re-live exciting moments and recount anecdotes from the past week and to discuss the challenges each of us face over the coming seven days.

As well as the real-life stories, and in the same way, I suspect, that all families do these days, there is usually an exchange of amusing stories discovered on the internet via mobile phones or laptop screens. The topics come in all shapes and sizes, but the one which recently gained universal approval from the Norton family was the story behind the headline: Hamster survives daring trip into stratosphere on flying balloon.

Appearing on Anne’s news feed, it was impossible to ignore. As she read the details of the hamster’s amazing voyage into space, I expected the next bit would reveal the story had dubious journalistic origins. We can all remember a similar fanciful (and also alarming) headline involving a famous comedian and a hamster. (Freddie also had celestial connections). But this did not prove to be the case.

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Reportedly, the “world’s most adorable astronaut” reached an altitude of an amazing 14 miles! Just as amazing, the little rodent is still in excellent health after his high-altitude expedition. He was recovered from his presumably deflated balloon somewhere in the sea near Japan. The video recording stopped working during the descent, so we have no idea how surprised, confused or excited his free fall might have been. This might well have been the most interesting part of the experiment.

Julian Norton: These creatures are extremely cute and I know most of them enjoy a challengeJulian Norton: These creatures are extremely cute and I know most of them enjoy a challenge
Julian Norton: These creatures are extremely cute and I know most of them enjoy a challenge

But anyone who knows hamsters will realise that the hamster was sure to have enjoyed his foray into space. These creatures are extremely cute and I know most of them enjoy a challenge. I’ve witnessed this personally and professionally. Once, on my consulting room table, a peach-coloured Russian hamster swung from the roof bars of his cage in front of my very eyes, traversing the whole width of the roof like an acrobat. Was he trying to prove his health and vitality in front of the vet? I’ve also seen footage of hamsters running their wheels faster than Usain Bolt. Unaware of the forces of nature, in particular centripetal force, at a certain rate of knots the energetic hamster flies out at a tangent. A quick internet search of any combination of the words “hamster; fast; wheel; epic fail; funny” will bring a huge smile to anyone’s face and improve a bad day.

Equally, Ardal O’Hanlon’s rendition of Hammy the hamster in the classic Tales of the Riverbank is fantastic. It’s worth a watch and even funnier than the Youtube clips of my favourite small mammal. In the film, Hammy is the main protagonist.

He lives in an old boot. His friend, Roderick the rat, owns a small (obviously it’s small – he’s a rat) motorboat. There is a guinea pig, too, called G.P. Resourceful and creative, G.P. is an inventor and his house has a watermill. He also owns a plane and speaks in a thick Yorkshire accent. The late and great Jonny Morris OBE narrates while Stephen Fry (owl), Steve Coogan (Roderick the rat) and Jim Broadbent (G.P.) add other voices. So, as you can imagine, it has all the ingredients to make it a classic.

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Interestingly, as we read on, the company who sent the hamster stratospheric is planning to repeat the trip next month, when they hope the video will work to record his facial expressions all the way back to earth. Strange times.

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