Thanks to the delightful story, a stampede for tortoises – if you can imagine such a thing – has already begun, according to Ann Ovenstone of the International Tortoise Association in Sully, Glamorgan. “People will think: 'I had a tortoise when I was little so I will go out and get one’, ” she said yesterday.
The film certainly took me back to the Seventies, when the tortoise was a ubiquitous pet. Remember Blue Peter’s resident reptile, Fred – who then became Freda when her sex finally became apparent? The moment she was brought into the studio at the start of each winter to be carefully put in her box to hibernate was a marker in the passage of childhood.
I longed to have a tortoise of my own. In fact, one glorious summer, I almost did. One afternoon, to my immeasurable delight, a big old fella with “Fred” painted in white on his shell ambled across our garden.
I was eight at the time and, as far as I was concerned, he was now mine. Of course, my parents insisted that I call on the neighbours until I found Fred’s true owner, but I had no intention. I loved his languid approach to the long hot summer we were enjoying as he alternated between basking on the lawn and lazily munching his way through my mother’s bedding plants. I’d lie on the grass next to him. The only noise he ever made was when he ate something with a discernible crunch.
Despite his motionlessness and a shell that hardly cried out for a good stroke, Fred was surprisingly pettable. I swear he smiled whenever I tickled him under his chin. And if next-door’s cat came sniffing, he was unperturbed. He’d simply pull back into his shell until she got bored and went away.
Ovenstone says it is the tortoise’s docile and pleasant temperament that makes them a wonderful pet for all ages. “They don’t do any harm to anyone – just your bedding plants. They have a lovely approach to life.”
But, she warns, they’re not as easy to care for as we might remember. These days you have to be able to prove – with a birth certificate – that your tortoise wasn’t imported. They need heated tanks and UV lighting, the kind of kit that runs to hundreds of pounds.
Nicola Faber has been the proud owner of two Spur-thighed tortoises since 2005, when her husband bought them home as a gift. Back then, they were the size of a 50 pence piece (today, they’d struggle to sit on a side plate, but appear to have stopped growing) and cost £200 each. Once the equipment had also been bought, there was little change out of £1, 000.