(This is a true story.
Do NOT try this at home.)

Jen was going up to Glasgow to meet her ex, and it was going to be tense but oh she so needed to go, and her mother could only do the afternoon, and would I, could I possibly come and stay overnight with the boys? She'd be back by six, honest, swear on anything you like, she said. You know they love you to bits, she said. They'll be saints, she said, and when I looked sceptical she added: I have bribed them .

I never did ask what the bribe was, but it must have been a good one. Sam and Joe (8 and 10) were holy terrors most of the time, but the evening passed without incident. We played Zelda, Mariokarts and 1080 Snowboarding, ate our way through two giant pizzas and a stack of Doritos, giggled and yelled a lot but all in good fun, and not a whimper came when I said it was time for bed. I lay there later in Jen's enormous comfortable bed, reading Anne Fine books with my ears on super-alert mode - but by 1am it seemed a safe bet that they were really asleep. So, congratulating myself on a nice easy ride, I nodded off.

Six hours later they were bouncing on me, screaming, Sam in tears.
 "Scooby's dead!" he hiccuped. "There's stuff! Coming out of his ears!"
I managed to get hold of both of them and sit them down. "Calm down. Who's Scooby?"
"He's our hamster," wailed Sam. Joe dragged at my arm. Still half-asleep, eyes barely open, I went along to their room while they hid in the corridor, and found poor Scooby flat out on the ground level of his Habitrail in a pool of blood. Suppressing the urge to eww and leg it, I had a good look. Some kind of brain haemorrhage, maybe? Whatever, he was definitely dead. I covered him up with an old hanky of Joe's and took the boys downstairs.

Over breakfast we discussed Scooby's burial. I offered to dig a grave in the garden but Joe had other ideas: he wanted a Viking funeral. "That might be a bit complicated," I said, and got four tragic eyes, two downturned mouths and two mutinously downed cereal spoons as a response. There was no getting round it, only getting into it. So I said okay. Joe went and got his favourite book on Vikings, and built a longboat out of an old shoebox, with Sam's help. They made a lovely job of it. It had a curved prow, and six shiny shields down each side, made from milk-bottle tops.
"There should be flowers," said Sam, and raced off to the garden to behead Jen's chrysanthemums.
"There should be music," said Joe, and went to get his boombox. I silently discarded the idea of playing "Disco Inferno", and let him choose. To my amazement he pulled out Jen's Twenty Great Classics tape.
"This is the right sort of thing," he said, and put on Carmina Burana.  And suddenly I could see it all: the flames, the music, the stately progress down the river.
"Brilliant!" I said, ruffling his head, and went off to get the corpse.

Their house - a very nice house - was on a small street right next to the river, by the boat club. Just past the boat club was a green, secluded river path leading up towards Hammersmith Bridge. It was usually quiet at this time of day, and seemed like a good place to carry out our plan. And so the funeral cort├Ęge, in silence, made its way up the path. Joe headed the procession, solemnly carrying the flower-filled cardboard longboat on a rusty tin tray from the garden. Sam carried a bunch of extra flowers and the boombox, and I followed at the rear with a box of kitchen matches, a tin of lighter fuel, and a bottle of meths as backup. We found a gap between two trees at the water's edge where it was possible to make a launch, and set everything up.

Scooby lay in his improvised shroud (the hanky) beneath a fine rug of slain beast (actually a square of Joe's fur pencil-case, hacked up for the purpose). The flowers, red and gold and white, filled all the remaining space in the longboat. It looked pretty cool. I gave it a good spray with the lighter fuel and lowered the tin tray gently into the water, hoping to god it didn't sink. Then I chucked in a match, and Sam hit the button on the boombox. Bingo! Carmina Burana and fierce orange flames.
"Yay!" yelled the boys: and then quietened, remembering they were at a funeral. Sam hurled his flowers into the water. I gave the burning tray a nudge, and we sat on the bank and watched it float away, leaving me beaming with satisfaction at a job well done.

Then a breeze caught it and, predictably I guess, blew the darn thing back again. It also blew out the flames, and when the smoke cleared a little, there was the tray, no longer very pretty. The longboat was mostly gone, leaving nothing but a charred, nasty-looking black lump with rodent teeth in the middle of a very wilted pile of flowers. The smoke smelt foul, and the tray was beached just out of reach against a concrete mooring-post about two yards out from shore. Sam wailed. I picked him up, not wanting him to look too closely at the tray and its icky contents. Joe, more practical, got up and turned off the boombox.

"We need a stick or something," he said, and started hunting for one. I was tempted to tell him to leave it, rather worried someone might come by. Was this really a responsible thing to do with two little kids? Was it illegal to cremate pets on the river? What the hell would Jen say if we all got arrested? I was beginning to wonder if this hadn't been one of the worst ideas ever when suddenly there was a roar, and a speedboat came flashing by. The boys and me watched eagerly as it set up a big, frothy wave which lifted the tray, and whooshed it away. For a minute we saw it surfing, contents and all, bravely downriver towards the bridge. Then it finally sank: and disappeared. (Oh thankyou God. Oh thankyou, Mr Speedboat Owner.)

Later, after the park and the adventure playground, Sam dozed off. I popped upstairs to tidy the Habitrail away, and came back down to find Joe setting up the Nintendo. I caught his eye: he looked at me with a look that somehow summed the whole day up, and gave me a rueful smile.

"Burning hamsters really smell, don't they?" he said.


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