Thursday, 26 April 2012

Oh, Glory Be!

As you may be aware, I have recently developed a bit of a passion for guerilla knitting.
First there was the telegraph pole warmer.
Then the wondrous pig drew itself to my attention.
And latterly there were the cool dudes and their bike.

Now look what I've found.
I have purloined this photo from Facebook (all credit to whoever took the picture, wherever they may be!)

I want this very, very badly.

I want this very, very badly!

The silver beast is finally back in its stable - better late than never - and I can just picture myself gazing out onto this joyous sight every morning. It would, indeed, cause me to leap, singing, from my couch.

The question is, does the silver beast really deserve such a glorious present?
The silver beast has, after all, behaved very badly and taken to demanding presents on a regular basis.
First it was a new radiator.
Then, nothing would do, but that we should buy it a new oil pump. It didn't like the first oil pump, and threw a hissy fit at the second one we procured. Out of the goodness of its heart, it finally settled for the third.
Now it has decided to move into cerebral territory and complained that its brain was aching. It wanted a new EDU.
We have given it an EDU.

Enough, I hear you cry.
How right you are.

Perhaps there is a bargain to be struck.

Maybe I should wave this delicious carrot in front of the silver beast's nose. Toss a copy of the picture nonchalantly on the front seat and walk away. Tantalize the creature, bewitch it.
Then leave it to burn with longing, to ache with envy..
To lie awake at night, feeling the hollow craving for a red ribbon around its tow hitch.

In a day or two, I could go out with a tape measure and start sizing it up, then shrug, toss the tape aside and flounce away. That would teach it to have tantrums.

Eventually, when it has slumped on its wheels in misery, we could have a serious heart to heart.
What exactly would I get in return for such a Jacob's Coat?

The beast would have to promise to be very, very good indeed.

I'm sure it will.
I scent victory on this one.
How could it not promise the earth, the moon and the spark plugs for such a possession?

Perhaps I will start knitting - in secret -

What do you advise?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Half Blue, Half Violet


When I was very young, my grandfather took me on an outing.
It is one of the prized memories of my childhood.
I didn't see a great deal of my grandfather, because he lived in England and we lived in a variety of other places - all far away - but on this particular occasion we were in Cornwall, which was not his home, but was where his wife, my grandmother had been born and brought up. I suppose we were visiting relatives when my 'outing' took place.

Together we walked up through the small, typically Cornish village to the railway station, and took the train over the viaduct. Then we walked down through the woods on the far side of the valley and someone rowed us back across the river in their boat. At least, that's what I recall.

I suppose every part of the trip was intrinsically memorable, because there weren't trains, or viaducts or rowing boats in my other life, and I was a very impressionable child. But those aren't the bits I remember.
It was the woods that transformed that outing into something so magical, they still call me back today.

We didn't have woods where I lived either, we had tropical rain forests.
We certainly didn't have bluebells.
And I'm sure that while the whole trip was beyond exciting, it was for the bluebells my grandfather took me there.

To a small child, a sea of bluebells is a life-changing experience. They are astonishing, and other-worldly, and intoxicating. It's not just the intensity of colour, or the waist-deep sea that immerses you as surely as water closing over your head, it's also the scent.

An English bluebell

You can tell an English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) quite easily from the Spanish variety which is, apparently taking over in some areas of Britain and Ireland. Apart from the occasional white one, they are always blue, they have slender stems that arch, they have creamy-white stamens and they are scented. The Spanish ones are blue or pink or white, are sturdier, with thicker stems that don't arch; they don't have white stamens and they don't smell.

There is nothing to compare with the scent of bluebells. It is a delicate perfume that is never overpowering, as the delightful but much stronger lily-of-the-valley can be. It teases rather than flaunts itself, and it is very hard to emulate. The only bluebell soap I have ever had that actually smelt of bluebells was a box my mother once gave me, which came from Harrods. I don't know if they still make it, but it would be worth being on their mailing list if they do, as I can think of no nicer present. I put the three, heart-shaped bars in my linen cupboard to scent my pillowcases, and rationed them so they would last as long as possible. Fortunately the In-Charge didn't mind using the Imperial Leather instead.

They say it is smell that lodges so deeply in the memory that you can never prise it out.
I believe them.
One whiff of bluebells and I am a child again, waist high in magic, my soul back on the potter's wheel being shaped - again - around that day so long ago.
But colour does funny things to me as well. My mother used to quote a line about the colour of bluebells -  ' man has ever named it yet, that shade half blue, half violet...'
It is probably my favourite colour, and everything about it is encapsulated in another line I once read: - 'blue that is a lovely hurting in the eyes'.

Yesterday, on a sudden impulse, I dropped everything I was supposed to be doing, threw the divine duo into the back of the faithful little green car (the silver beast being still an in-patient) and drove to a bluebell wood that I have known of for years, but never visited. It's a long way away, and after ten minutes or so there was muttering on the back seat.
'We usually walk to our woods,' Under Dog said.
'Don't worry,' Top Dog soothed. 'This is the way to our favourite beach.'
Fifteen minutes later, it started again.
'She's missed the turn off. She's lost,' Under Dog said miserably.
'They're always getting lost. Look at the Master - he doesn't find his way home 'til supper time most days. At least we're here to find the way back.' Top Dog reassured him.

Forty minutes into the journey, they curled up on the back seat in silence, which was quite a statement, as they usually like to drive.At least, Top Dog drives, head thrust forward, gimlet-eyed, his attention only wavering if we pass another dog.
Under Dog, it has to be confessed, drives by looking out of the back window to check where we've been.

The dogs cheered up

They cheered up when we arrived.
It had been a long drive, but we all thought it was worth it. The flowers weren't fully out, but it didn't matter.
They raced off between the trees and I raced back in time on a helter-skelter rollercoaster through all the bluebell woods that are part of who I am.

I was a small child in Cornwall again; an adolescent in the beech woods near our eventual English home; a lover with her swain; a young mother taking her small son to be bewitched. It is always the same.That blue against the acid green of young leaves and I can scarcely breathe. When something pierces you through and through, you always catch your breath - our deepest memories, they say, are held in our breath.

My son, aged 2, encountering bewitchment

As we meandered along the paths through the wood, I thought again of my grandfather, and the gift he had given me. A gift from his own experience, a gift he would have received again in the giving.

Now I realize what a two-edged sword it must have been, because now I understand the perpetual cycle of memory. That happiness and grief are inseparable.
I can only imagine what was in my grandfather's heart the day he took me on that outing. He must have been looking back, just as I was doing now, at the endlessly turning circle that somehow weaves an individual picture for each of us. He had walked those woods with his lover, the wife she came to be, and then with his small twin daughters, long before he bequeathed bluebells to me.

I suppose he felt happiness for my joy and grief for his own sorrow.
For the love of his life, the woman who had first taken him to those woods, died when my mother was only twelve.

My grandparents, young and happy

There are no better words than those of Kahlil Gibran: 'When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. And when you are sorrowful, look again in  your heart, and  you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'

If a bluebell wood can make you smile and make you cry, then truly it is the sum of all things.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Naming Ceremony!

First of all, thanks to everyone who read my guest's post this week, Pegasus Pedals!
If by any chance you missed it, please have a read - that man is going places on his bicycle.
Literally. And for a good cause.


And more thanks!
Thank you dear Readers, for the many and various suggestions you kindly offered when I appealed for help in naming the Golden Princess.

I have now had a long chat with her Imperial Highness.
We sat in the sunshine and discussed the matter in depth. Napoleon, who finds being an Emperor quite tiring, was having one of his regular naps nearby.

Napoleon gets very tired

'It's high time you chose your name,' I said. 'Everyone is waiting with baited breath.'
She looked unmoved by this admonition and ate some more grass.
She loves grass.

The Princess didn't appear to be listening

'Here is the list,' I continued. I wasn't at all sure I had her full attention. 'Eugenie, Zarina, Orianna, Sheba, Aurelie, Constanza, Beatrice, Christabella, Grace, Countess Markievicz, Cleopatra, Charlotte, Christina, Elizabeth, Orla, Gwendoline, Pauline, Gilda, Titania and Beauharnais. There's also -' I hesitated and then ploughed on: 'Chickadee, Edna, Dolly and Mrs Smith.'

I was slightly out of breath, but happy to see that she had stopped eating at last and was listening intently.

'Yes, those will do nicely,' she said and turned to walk away.

'You can't have them all!' I protested.
'Why not?' she asked. 'Princesses always have lots of names.'
'Empress...'Napoleon spluttered in the background. He had obviously woken up. 'Not just Princess. Empress. Always be an Empress to me...'
She ducked her head coyly at this tribute and Napoleon crowed loudly to cover his embarrassment. 'Dolly,' he squawked thoughtfully. 'Rather like Dolly.'
'Dolly?' I exclaimed. 'But what about Eugenie? Cleopatra? Something with a royal ring!'

The Princess started eating the grass again, and it seemed that as far as she was concerned, the conversation was over.
'Twenty four names is all well and good,' I said. 'But what am I going to call you every day?'
We had by now attracted an attentive audience.

An attentive audience


The Golden Princess thought for a moment, her head on one side.

'Mrs Smith,' she said at last.
Napoleon uttered a strangled noise. 'Mrs Smith?' He ran after her, frantically flexing one wing. 'But Empress...!' he repeated, faint but persisting, and then he stopped. 'What about Dolly?' I heard him say tentatively. 'Rather like Dolly,'

Napoleon ran after Mrs Smith

I left them to it. I know when I've been put in my place. Evidently we are not yet on first name terms.
Mrs Smith it shall be. And prizes will be awarded accordingly.
Perhaps one day I'll be permitted to call her Eugenie Zarina Orianna Sheba Aurelie Constanza Beatrice Christabella Grace etc etc...

However, in the privacy of the boudoir, it sounds like she's going to be Dolly.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sonnets for Saints and Scribes

To celebrate both St George's Day and the birth and death of William Shakespeare, Julia - in her wisdom - has decided to make them both turn in their graves by setting a sonnet as this week's 100 Word Challenge!

There are 3 rules to sonnet writing
1  It must be 14 lines
2  It should be 10 syllables per line
3  It should rhyme a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g

Julia has made rules 2 and 3 optional.
She has also allowed us to overrun the 100 words - and I have to say, that's lucky!

For those who live beyond Shakespeare's 'sceptred isle', St George is probably less well known than good old Will. Suffice it to say he slayed the dragon, no doubt wresting a maiden from its fiery jaws at the eleventh hour in the process.

Alas, I must leave it to everyone else to tell both heroes' tales.
Here is my entry:

Would I could pen some literary rhyme
That heralded the works of saint and scribe,
To make you sigh – despite yourself – ‘Sublime!’
Not run amok to flee my diatribe.
Instead, ‘You are not Will!’ I hear you cry,
‘For pity’s sake, leave verse to better men,
‘Ere George abandon all damsels to fry,
Lest tarrying invoke your words again!
The bard will feel his grave untimely chill
With parodies of sonnets best forgot,
For as your lines are hollow, brash and shrill,
‘Twere better if this page were one vast blot!
When you can write of courage, beauty, love
Then let your verse arise to those above.’

Perhaps Julia should have had a 4th rule.
Something about content...!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Pegasus Pedals!

I am lucky enough to have two brothers.
I have Wonder-Brother, of blog-repairing fame, and I also have Big-Brother.
Big-Brother is a Man on a Mission.
I'll let him explain for himself! I'm hosting his guest post today, which I hope you'll enjoy.
And please pass the link on to any cycling buddies!

Paris or Bust!

Cycling is something I’ve always enjoyed. My earliest cycling memory dates from when I was about 9 and learned to ride on an adult’s bike so big I couldn’t reach the pedals from the saddle. We were living in Barbados, and our friends with the bike lived on the road surrounding the Savannah, a huge park containing the racecourse and a cricket ground. Early on, I took the bike out on that road – heaven knows what I was thinking! – and vividly remember a car passing so close that I instinctively leaned away and wobbled into the deep ditch. Relatively unscathed, I was nonetheless mortified and terrified of being found out. I don’t think I ever told my parents. On another occasion, in my teens, when we had moved to Trinidad, I was bitten by a dog that ran out from a nearby garden as I rode past. It was a serious bite on the ankle, and took weeks to heal, but despite all that, looking back on those times still gives me a thrill.

My first bike - my little brother perched precariously on the saddle

After that, I nagged constantly for a bike and eventually my parents agreed. My mother, while on a visit to England, took me to Hereford to choose one when I was at prep school in St Asaph. I kept that bike right through secondary school and beyond, and only parted with it when it became too rusty to ride. In 1974, as I was heading off to Strathclyde University, I spotted an old road-bike with drop handle-bars in a friend’s barn, and bought it for a song. It served me well, that trusty steed, until, despite being locked, it was stolen one Sunday evening in 1977 from outside Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh.

I didn’t get another bike until 1998, when my MG Midget died and I decided to get fit again, to try and keep up with my growing sons. I bought a mountain bike with the intention of cycling to work by Christmas, and on Christmas Eve I even managed it. Better late than never! Alas, it didn’t become a daily habit, but over the next twelve years my time for the 6 mile journey did improve dramatically. Mercifully, the homeward 6 miles was downhill – my preferred direction!

Taking Dad for a spin in the Midget (both of us in dark-glass-disguise)

Since 2002, Jan and I have been doing various long-distance Scottish walks, including the Canals, the West Highland Way, and the Speyside Way, mainly in short stretches, and often taking the bikes. When Jan, who is a keen hill-walker, began climbing Munros further afield, I started hitching a ride with her to explore more of Scotland at lower levels, occasionally painting a water-colour en route. But I found the mountain bike hard work and only managed to cover any significant distance a few times – about 30 miles each way from Dalwhinnie to Aviemore was the most in a day!

Jan, also in disguise.

On retirement in 2010, I decided to get a ‘proper’ bike and when Pegasus arrived I was enthralled. What a beast! My old cycling fervour was rekindled, but alas, the contrast with the mountain bike was too great: narrow wheels, higher pressures tyres, and a lighter frame altered all the dynamics. On a 35km ride from Dalwhinnie to Blair Atholl, I came a cropper as I jack-knifed out of a pot-hole on the old A9, leaving more of my left knee, my right hand and my pride on the track than I care to remember. Fortunately, Pegasus escaped with minor scratches. But just a month later, I was travelling too close to a car outside the National Museum on Chambers Street in Edinburgh and was in the gutter again. More scars! Again Pegasus was largely unscathed, but I put him away for the winter, got road-tyres on my mountain bike, and set out to get myself back up to speed.

Pegasus arrives!

By the following spring, I felt confident enough to take Pegasus out again, and started training with my friend John for the annual 50-mile Pedal for Scotland, Glasgow to Edinburgh cycle ride. After completing that successfully with approximately 10,000 others, I began something I hadn’t achieved all those years ago – routinely biking to work at my new post at Edinburgh Napier University. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? 

At Murrayfield - the finish of the Pedal for Scotland, Glasgow to Edinburgh ride

Then, just before Christmas, Jan spotted an ad for the Big Issue cycle ride from London to Paris.
‘What about that?’ she said.
‘You’re just hoping to claim on my insurance,’ I replied.

But the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed. I wanted to follow-up Glasgow to Edinburgh with a bigger challenge before my 60th birthday. The extra fitness would be helpful too. More importantly, the ride is for a cause that I truly believe in. So I took the plunge and signed up.

So, in mid July I’ll be participating with who knows how many other cyclists on the 230 mile, 3 day trip from London to Paris, each of us having raised a minimum of £1,400 for the cause. The Big Issue Foundation gives a hand up, not a hand out to many homeless people in Great Britain and Ireland. If you haven’t heard of The Big Issue, it’s a magazine sold on the street by homeless people who are entitled to keep the 50% profit they make from sales. The experience of ‘working’ and the self-esteem it brings is worth as much to them as the cash which helps to pay for hostel accommodation, food, and other living costs.

I’ve been in training since February, and recording my experiences on a blog. So far it’s been incredibly rewarding and the main event is still to come! Please join me on Pegasus Pedals! and keep up to date with my progress, and if you feel like donating towards the minimum £1400 I have committed to raise, I would be most grateful. Please click here. 

Thanks for reading!
Hope to see you again.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Picture it in Your Own Words - Two Subjects

Will it never end?
I have pulled a muscle in my arm.
I am reduced to typing with one finger.
And lying awake in pain!
I can't cope!

Thank you for all your suggestions for the golden princess.
Watch this space for news of the naming ceremony.

In the meantime, here is my entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge - Two Subjects.

The cruise ship and the railway station. Not often seen together! This was taken in Cobh Harbour in Cork. The ship makes everything else look like toy town!

Here's my second entry.
Together, but not together.

Next up!
If you are into cycling, please come back and read the guest post I will be hosting later this week!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Golden Princess

Joy of joys, Napoleon has a new wife.
I know you will remember that his little Empress died.
You will also remember, I am sure, that Marie Walewska didn't love him as she should.
He was not a happy bunny.
However, a new era has dawned. Marie Walewska has moved back in with Wellington, where she is much happier, and Napoleon is on honeymoon with his new bride.
They are still getting to know each other, but I can reveal that the bride is a charming little bantam of delicious prettiness and impeccable origin.
By which I mean, she is Sligo born and bred.

She is still a little nervous and has obviously never seen anything so rude as a CAT before.
As for a DOG, apparently she has heard tell of them, but thought they were rumours put about to scare young chicks.
She is wide-eyed and innocent. But she thinks Napoleon is very handsome and she is most impressed at the smorgasbord he lays before her at breakfast time.

Here is the little golden princess.

Don't you just love her violet earrings? And her fascinator? And her pert little tail?

I'm not sure which is her best angle yet

Napoleon is smitten

She hasn't got a name yet.
Any suggestions?
(PLEASE bear in mind her imperial status before suggesting anything as frivolous as 'Goldilocks')

I have just had to stop writing and rush outside because such a hue and cry arose (or 'human cry' as I have heard it called here), that I thought a fox had leapt into the orchard and was causing havoc.

No fox.
The blue, blue sky was full of seagulls mewling and screeching.
I love the noise of seagulls, though I know many don't.
Living all of five minutes from the sea, I would have thought we had a RIGHT to seagulls, but alas, no.
They are a rare sight and sound in our coastal quadrant.
I think they prefer bigger towns and harbours with lots more rubbish to pick over and argue about.
The noisy little divils.

I must go and set out the best linen, light the candles and put a perfect rose in a vase.
The honeymoon couple await their supper.

There will be a small, but perfectly formed prize for anyone who thinks of a suitable name for her.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Mad Hatter's State of Mind

It's been a funny old Easter. One of those years when you are dimly aware that something is happening - elsewhere - but the festivities have passed over your head.

The In-Charge and I are largely recovered from our joint illness, but remain in a state of spineless exhaustion. The slightest exertion - sometimes even coming downstairs first thing in the morning - is enough to reduce me to a grease spot on the floor. He feels much the same, which is most unlike him.
What is it with this flu?

I have to say the weather doesn't help. The miraculous sunshine of two weeks ago is but the vestige of a memory, and we are back to rain and chilly inclemency.
Hello Ireland.

But all is not woe.

Easter - the moment for millinery genius. A wonderful bird's nest of a hat

The Mad Hatter's Parade at the Easter Market went off with a flourish, and cupcakes and little chocolate eggs were handed out with gay abandon.

Another winning hat. And definitely a winning smile!

Also, we have planted the two blossom trees where the elm once stood so tall and proud.
I'm convinced they have already grown three inches and will be in full flower by tomorrow morning.

And I have been happily curled up reading my friend's book, Goodbye Mr Smith, while eating a great deal of chocolate. It's an account of how she came to move here from Germany, and the wonderful friendship she struck up with the old man who was her neighbour until he died a few years ago. It is delightful, warm and vibrant and I can hear her voice in every sentence. I am enjoying it hugely.

Moreover, we have just returned from our favourite beach where the sun even shone for a brief and startling moment, and the dogs raced and chased and rolled in the sand in an ecstasy of happiness.

Rolling in unison. (As opposed to rolling in something horrible!) They've done it since they were puppies

Top Dog found a trophy which he carried to the end of the beach and then ate.

Top Dog likes seaweed

Alas, the silver beast is still sulking, and remains in lock-up, but my dear friend has once again donned her halo and angel's wings and flown to the rescue. Her little green car is parked in the yard and has declared itself ready and willing to convey us anywhere we choose to go - which has so far included the market on Saturday, a delightful supper party with its owner last night and the beach today.

Thank you friend.
Thank you, little green car.

The silver beast shall hear of your selfless reliability.
Perhaps it will think twice before giving up the ghost in future.
It could take one Mad Hatter's message to heart.

A hat apart

My friend's Dodo Hat bore this message on the back: 'Extinction is only a state of mind'

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Picture it in Your Own Words - Journey

This week's photo challenge is: Journey.

As the silver beast is currently hors de combat, I am practically unable to leave home at the moment, so not much journeying is taking place.

However, my much loved elm tree has just made it's final journey. A friend came and took it away last week.
A sad day.
But at least it has gone to a good home. It will be used to make something beautiful.
A fitting end.
A better end than firewood!

The elm tree goes on its final journey. A sad day.

Thanks to the silver beast's recent truculence, the last interesting journey I made was to buy two blossom trees to replace the elm.
Interesting journeys (ones that take us further afield than our local town) lead us past the wonderful chieftain as often as not. 
He watches high above the road, and I love seeing him.

Perhaps because when I do, it means we are off, off and away!

The Chieftain. Sculpture by Maurice Harron. Seeing him means we are on a journey

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

April's Fool

Malus Liset in all its glory

April has not started well. Despite the fact that it is - along with May - my favourite month.
You will have to forgive me, dear Reader, if I have a little whinge.

The north wind doth blow - even as they predicted -  and it cuts through you like the grim reaper's scythe. Moreover, it has, as expected, brought not snow, but hail which congeals in odd corners like rejected, frozen tapioca pudding.
And is just about as appealing.

That is not all.

Despite the promise of all his worldly goods, I am not at all convinced that Marie Walewska is in love with poor Napoleon. He seems pale and shell-shocked by comparison with his former self. He has lost the strut in his step since he lost his little Empress.

Marie Walewska is taking time to adjust

Despite her syrup-coloured eyes, Marie Walewska doesn't pamper him, and tell him that he's wonderful, or scold him if he leaves her side for a minute. She doesn't rush over when he triumphantly displays the smorgasbord I lay before them each morning, and pretend, as his loving wife used to do, that he has found it all by himself. She doesn't even flirt and seduce him as a mistress should. In fact, I think her chicken-heart secretly pines for Wellington and the faceless harem, even though it's dominated by girls twice her size.

 Wellington is as big as the Rock of Gibraltar, but blacker

But there is worse.
I have so far shielded you from my automotive problems, but I can do so no longer.
In these recessionary and impecunious times, the In-Charge and I share a vehicle, and I set out in this silver beast yesterday to collect my brother from the airport - dear brother of blog-repairing fame. Five miles into the return journey, the car coughed in a surprised sort of way and sighed to a halt. Twenty minutes later, during which we sat and watched the rain sweep sideways across the windscreen, it agreed to lurch another mile, and ten minutes after that it apologetically limped a final hundred yards before graciously staggering off the narrow back road onto the hardstanding outside someone's house.
Before you give the patient a round of applause, I would just like to point out that this is the third - yes, third - major breakdown of the year.

The silver beast is like some spoilt only-child.
It has  been showered with new things.
It has had all my money.
What does it want?

Brother and I conferred by phone with the In-Charge, who instructed us to consult the manual.  Incredibly, this was to hand in the car - you see why husband is the In-Charge and I am merely the Boss!
OK, I'll be scrupulously honest here. I did not consult the manual.
Have you ever noticed that all manuals are written in Double Dutch?
Dear brother consulted the manual and even more nobly, braved the bitter wind to dirty his hands under the bonnet, but it was to no avail.
Thankfully a knight in shining armour offered to rush, ventre a terre to the scene on his trusty steed, or rather in his little red Corsa (does that make him a corsair not a knight, I wonder?) He arrived an hour or two later, bringing the In-Charge, but it was still to no avail and we all returned home in the trusty - the TRUSTY - little red car.

As the In-Charge has black fingers (the mechanic's answer to green-fingers), I know the patient is ill indeed.
It has been left, forlorn and lonely, to have a good long think about its uncalled for behaviour until tomorrow.
Heaven knows what will happen then, but I am not expecting an apology and I daresay Saturday detention will be called for. Detention until further notice, no doubt, during which the beast will sulk until we buy it an expensive new present - a fuel pump or something.
The brat.

And now it is 4am, and just when I need him most, Morpheus refuses to clasp me to his comforting bosom.
Also, although it is still pitch dark outside, there is a bird singing.
What is there to sing about, I'd like to know?

April has not started well.
Despite the blossom - despite the blossom.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Pussy-Footing Round the Problem

Coco and McCosker, the first two kittens we found in the garden, so tiny we put a hot water bottle beneath them, and a cuddly toy beside them for company.

I was reading Isobel's blog last week, in which she quoted a Seamus Heaney poem, and threw the subject of unwanted kittens and puppies into the arena. It was done with her usual light touch, and left many unspoken questions hovering in the air.

It also reawakened a memory that has haunted me all my life.
Of finding a bucket of drowned kittens, their bodies, not as Heaney describes them 'sluiced out on the dunghill, glossy and dead,' but rather drifting in a kind of dream world, their fur fluffed out in the water, their paws stilled, their faces closed.
I still see them now.

I wouldn't be able to drown a kitten.

McCosker tried to drown himself. He learnt how to drink by bathing in it

But drowned kittens aside, it never ceases to startle and appal me how some people try to dispose of animals
How some people treat animals.
It makes me want to reach for a gun.
(And it's not the animals I want to shoot.)

Someone once rescued a puppy that had been thrown into the river here in a sack. They saw it being dumped and rushed in after it. And I was brought a kitten by a sobbing tourist, many years ago. Driving along a road not far from here, they had witnessed with horror someone hurling the small, inoffensive creature out the window of the car in front, presumably to perish beneath their wheels. The woman - her entire family - were, not surprisingly, distraught, not least because, on a touring holiday, there was nothing long term they could do to help.

We called the poor little mite Tattoo, for the scar her ordeal left above one eye.
She was, incredibly, only superficially hurt, and never looked back.

Tattoo enveloped by her new family

On another occasion my small son came rushing home from school, fierce, angry tears streaming down his face. He was clutching a tiny kitten to his chest in one hand, his school bag in the other.
A parent, collecting their child, had dumped three kittens underneath a bush outside the school gate. My son's fury was only equalled by his grief. The other two had scattered in fright and he'd been unable to catch either. They were long gone when I returned to the school with him.

For years and years, when we first moved here, we would find unwanted kittens dumped in our garden, or inside the gate. Coco and McCosker were the first - who we found two days apart, and who clung to each other when re-united. There were four once, in a sack left outside my henhouse door where I'd be certain to find them. One tiny black tarantula of a creature was shut into a box made of field stones outside the back gate. It was the day of Prince Edward's wedding to Sophie I happen to remember. It rained all day, and every time I went outside I heard this plaintive crying. We called him Pink, because the aforementioned Tattoo took him under her wing like a mother.
('Tattoo was the mother of Pinkle Purr,
A little black nothing of feet and fur,
And by and by, when his eyes came through,
He saw his mother, the big Tattoo...'
A A Milne)

Inky black Pink with Top Dog and Dottie

On another occasion three little boys came to the front door one summer's day carrying yet another tiny kitten. 'We found her on the bridge,' they said. The bridge is old and narrow and bears all the traffic passing through the village.
I asked whether they had tried this house, that house - everyone I could think of who liked cats. 'We've tried all of them,' they replied. I didn't think their kind impulse would stretch much further.
So Pushkin arrived. She is now Senior Cat and is sitting on my lap purring as I write.

I could go on and on. There have been so many.

When I was a child in the West Indies, it was common practice to put unwanted puppies in dustbins. One in each dustbin down the street - or probably down someone else's street. It was seen as giving the hapless creatures a 'chance of life'. They weren't wheelie bins, remember and there would have been food scraps. Maybe whoever dumped kittens in my garden thought the same.

Would it have been better if they had drowned their 'litter' in a bucket?
It would have been better if they had prevented the litter in the first place.
Not difficult to do, these days. And there are plenty of charities to help with the cost for those who aren't financially able.

To my mind it's about taking responsibility. Which brings me back to Isobel's post.

Life was tough in years gone by, but I don't think I would have been inundated with unwanted felines during the deep watches of the night back then. I don't know whether country people had a more 'robust and practical' approach to their animals then or not. I suspect they did. I suspect they needed to have. My mother spent her summer holidays on a farm as a young child. She remembers seeing the matriarch of the farm knocking new-born kittens' heads against the wall. The idea fills me - and filled her - with horror, but rather like pulling chickens necks, I suppose it was quick and clean, when you knew what you were doing. She was a kind, good woman. All her family and her animals were loved, well fed and cared for. She was, I suppose, taking responsibility, at a time when that was the only option to prevent over-breeding, in-breeding and uncontrollable proliferation.

Now, conversely, when it's so much easier to take responsibility, so many don't, and now that none of us need get our hands dirty, need even contemplate having to drown kittens in a bucket or dash their brains against a wall, we have become increasingly squeamish.

Pushkin was delivered to the front door.

And woolly in our thinking.

I don't know about you, but personally I rate quality far higher than quantity. I would rather put an animal down than see it suffer. Like my poor little Empress last week. Like my first dog Alfie, who developed severe epilepsy. Like Pink who developed HIV when he was only a few years old.

It's always heartbreaking, but as far as I'm concerned, it's the one thing we can do for an animal that we love but cannot mend, or an animal that no one wants. I really don't buy into animal charities - who in all other respects I wholeheartedly support - putting animals through endless treatments for illnesses or accidents when it would be kinder and better to put them to sleep and spend those much needed and hard-earned resources on the endless queue of fit and well animals needing help and a home. And what about the innumerable puppies and kittens they receive?

Ireland ships untold numbers of unwanted dogs to the UK and Sweden. Surely the UK and Sweden have enough unwanted dogs of their own? Can the organisations that ship these animals out of Ireland guarantee that each and every one goes to a loving, domestic home? I don't believe all of them can, in which case they cannot know what potential suffering those animals might yet endure. As far as I know, cats aren't shipped anywhere, but the cat rescue services are overrun with cats that no one seems to want.

If people won't neuter their animals, then dealing with the endless litters will become a greater problem than ever - an unsustainable problem. Perhaps it's kinder to be robust and practical. And we're lucky enough to live in an age when that doesn't have to entail brutality.

I guess kindness is the key.  The third essential qualifier to the robust and practical approach.
Together those three make for something stronger than sentimentality.
They make for love that puts the animal's best and long-term interests first.
Tough love, if necessary.