Varsity Pets

Friends are always there for you. Especially furry or scaly ones.

bedder fish hamster Leaf Arbuthnot Oxford pets tortoise

Regrettably every Goldfish, Bonzai tree, and family of Sea Monkeys I have ever tried to look after has perished. The only life form that seemed to thrive in my presence was an enormous colony of mould living behind my bed. But in Oxbridge there are several who accept the responsibility of caring for a living creature, at least for a couple of weeks until the novelty wears off and you’re finding gerbil turds in your coffee mugs.

Stuart the Fish

On the whole, mammalian pets are pretty crap. They dribble. They make noise. They obstruct. They require exercise. They live too long.

Non-mammalian pets, on the other hand (snakes, lizards and other oddities of this ilk), aren’t so bad. My goldfish, Stuart, does all that a good pet should do – he provides chatty companionship, requires occasional feeding, is good looking – but, crucially, he never pees on my carpet, nor yaps, nor swallows bees, nor eats butter for jokes, before vomiting, also for jokes.

The simplicity of the goldfish bowl, bereft of weirdo plastic castles or blue pebbles, is hard to beat. Stuart is both a decoration and a friend. His lithe orange body is both familiar and fascinating; his scales invite both reverie and revolution. He is the perfect university pet; although strictly banned by college rules, he is easily hid from errant bedders, and even more easily transported to and from Cambridge (in a jam jar, if you must know).

So, if you’re thinking of getting a pet for next year, go for gold. Do not get a mammal.


Flo the Hamster 

Meet Florence. Florence Janet Jubble. Florence studies at the University of Cambridge and lives a socialite’s life in what can only be described as the hamster cage of hamster cages (it’s  a veritable palace).

Her diet is suitably student-esque. Having run out of hamster food, she feeds on the bread and rehydrates with water from her very own shot glass placed in the corner of her palace.

Her owners talk fondly of her ‘BBB’ (big black bootay), which they say has grown at an unnatural rate compared to other body parts. Her pastimes include hanging out in the library, shotting vodka, and living life as a gym bunny. She’s described as a hencher, female Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption – escaping imprisonment not with a rock hammer, but with her precious BBB. She displays determination unrivalled by any possessed third year hankering after a first.

Florence is beloved of everyone who meets her, and the owners believe this will one day lead to a spiralling of fame and the imminent status as an internet icon. (Go on, add her, help her make her dreams come true).


Jumping across to the Dreaming Spires, the dark blues have their own fair share of unusual pets. Although this time, it isn’t a hide-in-the-cupboard-to-avoid-‘scout’ job, but college owned reptiles…

Fox and Oldham the Tortoises (Alexander Coupe)

Corpus Christi college has had tortoises since the late 19th century. Fox and Oldham are the current mascots; two twenty-somethings which are kept in an enclosure in the President, Richard Carwardine’s  garden and fed by the Tortoise Keeper.

Over the last few years, it has become apparent that they are romantically involved. Richard often finds them intertwined amongst the Rhododendra. In recognition of this long, and often thorny, road to (b)romance, last Trinity [Oxfordian for Summer] we conducted the world’s first same-sex tortoise wedding. Technically I’m father of the groom, Foxe.

When out of hibernation, they’re taken on romantic walks in Corpus, and still relish the chance to participate in the annual intercollegiate tortoise race. This is held in Corpus in order to raise money for charity.

Usually about twelve tortoises from around Oxford take part. In 2011 both Foxe and Oldham decided to playfully mount another tortoise. Too much of their energy was expended and, unfortunately, they lost the race.

Over the years, various tactics have been used to try to enhance racing performance. I fed Oldham some strawberries dipped in lager. It only seemed to give him the sort of grimy beer goggles that make everything – foot, tree, clump of grass – a sexual target. But in seriousness, we keep them fed well on strawberries and lettuce.


Now if you’re not sure whether you’re ready to nurture another creature, I would recommend starting with a entry-level organism. If you manage to kill off your Ikea cactus perhaps it’s best that you concentrate on looking after yourself.