Me and My Pet - Kendra Grahame-Clarke and Tommy the tortoise

Kendra and Tommy

Kendra and Tommy - Credit: not Archant

York PR consultant Kendra Grahame-Clarke on her long-term companion Tommy the tortoise

Grove Terrace in York seems to promote longevity. Moving in 14 years ago with three young children, I found the surrounding homes full of families who had seen their children grow up and were now enjoying visits from their grandchildren and relaxing into retirement.

I also found a new friend, taking over temporary guardianship of Tommy the tortoise, who is purportedly more than 100 years old, and who I inherited – sort of – from an elderly neighbour. The charming gentleman, John Rowbottom, informed me that he was 13 when he took on Tommy, who was already 27 years old by then. I knew Mr Rowbottom was in his early nineties so, doing the maths, Tommy seems to have achieved a fabulous age.

Among my current roster of clients is the charity English Heritage, so history plays a major part in my working life. It seems only fitting then that I have a centenarian pet at home.

Although, Tommy actually has two homes. He lives part of the time with Alice, our new neighbour who bought Mr Rowbottom’s house, and part of the time with my family. With work on-going at his original home, it was considered best to let Tommy spend time with us, which we’re very grateful for as we’ve all taken this rather lovely reptile to our hearts.

When Tommy was younger, he had full run of the garden next door. Mr Rowbottom and his family enjoyed a high level of kitchen-garden self-sufficiency, so Tommy was allowed to roam free and enjoy the joys of a warm compost heap and the shade of rhubarb leaves.

No pressure then to provide a similar habitat! With three boys, we have a practical garden often strewn with footballs and apples, depending on the season. Thankfully, new house-owner Alice has been extraordinarily open to taking on a new, slow-moving pet but, needs must, and Tommy’s welfare comes first, hence his extended sojourn at our house.

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He loves figs, cucumber and raspberries, all of which are grown in the garden, interspersed with anything green that takes his fancy. Tommy does have one frustrating habit though. He’s a terror for hiding during summer evenings, when he somehow squeezes himself into deep undergrowth. It’s not a problem at the height of summer as he can stay out all night – although I do worry about him accidentally finding himself upside down (it does happen!) – but spring and autumn require him to take to his hay-strewn bed in an outhouse, which means we inevitably have our work cut out trying to find him at dusk. He really could do with a beacon of some kind to alert us to his whereabouts.

I shouldn’t really complain though. Tommy happily hibernates for five months a year, which makes him the perfect pet in my book.

Mr Rowbottom’s adult children still retain an interest in Tommy’s well-being and give us great advice, which is gratefully received as I have an irrational fear that he will escape. Thankfully, my middle son, Alban, has recently taken on the mantle of ‘Tommy watch’, so the responsibility is now shared.

My husband, Nigel, takes it all in his stride and achieves a high level of indifference. I know, however, that if the chips were down, he’d be out there poking about in the undergrowth with the rest of us to make sure Tommy was tucked up safe and sound – and looking forward to the next 100 years.

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