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Tonka is in the fridge. Actually, he’s in his own fridge, bought specially for him. He’s the only tortoise in the world who spends his nine waking months in a conservatory, and the other three in a custom fridge.

We’ve never put him in a fridge to hibernate before and the research was substantial. But hey, we’ve all got to adapt to climate change, and Tonka is no exception. Unusually wild temperature fluctuations in winter mean his normal hibernation quarters – a large box with torn up newspaper in the unheated utility room – mean he wakes up when he shouldn’t. I won’t go into all the details, but basically he has to sleep for three months at a temperature of no more than 10 degrees and no less than five. This is much more easily achieved by using a fridge otherwise – we’ve discovered – you end up moving his box around the house in an endless search for a warmer/cooler place. So he’s got a fridge. And a customised Tupperware box to rest in, surrounded by newspaper. 

The donkeys are not in a fridge, but they might as well be. We’ve had two weeks of zero at night so  Sarah undertook (with the expert help of our local donkey-whisperer – Mandy) to get them used to wearing rugs. You’d think they’d appreciate that but they were distinctly unimpressed and it took about a fortnight to get them used to thermals. And my bank account about a month to get used to the cost of three pairs of different tog level rugs – one for rain, one for quite cold, one for freezing. The barn – space for man stuff in which, as you will remember, has been slowly been eroded by Sarah’s ever expanding need for camping kit – now has a very good workbench completely dominated by donkey blankets, donkey treats, halters, lead reins, chaff, oh, and the cat food for some reason.

On the positive side, we are now close to being able to have our own nativity. We have a stable, which the donkeys stand in when it’s truly perishing. And they live with the sheep. The shepherd pops in every now and then. I am not a hugely skilled carpenter but I could pass for one with my plane and my saw. Sarah would make a good virgin. All we need is a crib, a baby, and some wise men. We could find the first two, but Beckley is short of wise men.

So happy Christmas from the Swallowtail Hill menagerie.

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