Tonight I happened upon the invaluable article “How to Make Your Ferret Smell Better.”
This heart warming advice column for ferret owners everywhere has some top tips for tending to the ripe weaselly little animals.Advice includes spraying the ferret daily with deodorant; removing its pungent earwax – which, the article informs us, can be remarkably musky; and use of ferret ear-cleansing-drops.
Knowing the ferret’s infamous temperament this does not sound an easy option. One might prefer to live with the smell.
Here in Britain there is one surefire way to ensure they smell better: namely, refrain from putting them down your trousers.
I refer to that time-honoured pastime of miners from the old Yorkshire collieries. After a long day down the mine, they liked nothing better than to come home, put on baggy trousers and head up to the pub for a spot of Ferret Legging.
Contestants in a ferret legging contest would first tie string round their waistband and the bottom of their trousers, the better to stop a nippy ferret from a waist-to-socks dash and a frenzied bid for freedom.
A large and unruly audience was customary: and I can see why. I would not be at the back of the room should my husband attempt to put two feisty ferrets down his chinos.
No contestant was permitted to wear any underwear or protection. This, bearing in mind the temperament of a confined ferret, was foolhardy in the extreme.
But there were emergency procedures. The sport had its organisational structure: namely stewards standing by with buckets of cold water, sharp scissors, a first aid box and a pint of the strongest ale.
The winner was the man who kept a ferret down each leg for the longest period.
The sport has been around for centuries but miners in the ’70s gave it a raucous new Elizabethan revival, and records have been kept since then.
In 1972 the record for the longest time with a ferret down one’s trousers stood at a ginger 40 seconds.
The records crept up over the following years, to a minute. Contestants must have practiced hard for it leapt to 90 minutes, and then Edward Simpkins from the Isle of Wight confounded all other by setting a record of five hours and ten minutes in 1977.
Purists will dispute his claim: he only had one ferret down his trousers for four of those hours, and only graduated to two in the final hour and ten minutes.
Respect is due, however, because he managed to play a creditable game of darts during the record attempt.
It was in 1981, at the Annual Pennine Show in Holmfirth, Yorkshire that retired miner Reg Mellor from Barnsley smashed through the ferret legging barrier by keeping the requisite double-ferret combination in place in his trousers for five hours and twenty-six minutes.
Reg was a lifelong ferret legger.
Long had he strode across those Yorkshire Dales outside Barnsley, using his ferrets to help him hunt. They were not partial to the rain so he used to pop them in his slacks to keep them dry, he confided. They were accustomed to being in his trousers as a matter of comfort.
But his surefire secret of success? Feed those ferrets well before you put them down your trousers.
No one has managed six hours yet. It is the holy grail of the ferret legger. A retired headmaster did manage five hours and thirty minutes in 2010, though.
These days, ferret legging doesn’t get much attention. They’re all doing that new-fangled ferret racing through tubes now.
I wonder which the ferrets prefer.
With thanks to the North Pennine Ferret Welfare site for the low-down on ferret legging.
Image source here