After the eerie silence of lockdown, city centre life is back, judging by the nocturnal soundscape outside my window. There’s a constant, happy burble of chat, occasional singing and, last night, a proper fight – broken up by a waiter wielding a fire extinguisher: the scotch egg, served as a main meal, is a powerful intoxicant. My consolation – apart from the fact it’s quite nice to hear the city becoming a city again – is that the worst sound of autumn has stopped. You’re expecting me to say “leafblowers” aren’t you? No. This is a more esoteric pet hate, “pet” being the operative word: it’s tortoise sex. My husband’s tortoises come into the house in October for hibernation preparation and it is, frankly, harrowing.
From the moment their heat lamp clicks on in the morning, my productive hours are numbered. First they rustle, maddeningly, as they wake and eat. Then, hopped up on dandelions, one of them will start ramming its shell repetitively into the walls of the wooden enclosure: thunk, thunk, thunk, audible across several floors. It goes on for hours: there are four tortoises and they appear to operate a thunking relay.
This is merely a warm up (literally) for the main event. Tortoise sex doesn’t sound how you might expect: it involves high-pitched squeaking, the kind a dog toy makes. Blue Peter didn’t warn us about this. “Oh, is that your whippet?” someone asked on a work call recently. “Yes,” I lied. “He’s very playful, sorry.”
I have been pleading with my husband for weeks to put his scaly Casanovas in the fridge (they hibernate in the vegetable drawer; Blue Peter didn’t warn us about that, either) with no joy: more dandelions needed. “Just eat, damn you,” I took to muttering as I walked past them, rutting tirelessly.
Finally, either they had sufficiently fattened or (my hunch) they interrupted one of his meetings. After a last cooling phase – which did not cool their ardour – they have been consigned to the fridge in individual plastic containers. I’m ready for hibernation myself now.