Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Mousetrap – my version

From ghoulies and ghosties
and long-leggedy beasties
and things that go bump in the night
may the Good Lord deliver us.
-  Old saying.

I’ve always adored cats, particularly since when as a 10 year old I read “Jennie” by Paul Gallico, the story of a little boy who while unconscious after an accident believes himself transformed into a cat and is taught to think like one to survive by Jennie, a wise female alley cat. (A wonderful story, I can’t recommend it highly enough)

I eventually got a grey tabby female when I was 17 and was heartbroken when she died as a result of complications after giving birth to too many kittens and probably because of my neglect born of ignorance.

I was only brave enough to consider it again 30 years later when I moved from a flat into a house with a garden, and in 2001 was overjoyed to get two 12-week old male kittens, Rusty and Banjo. This time I was in a country which encourages pet owners to learn about their pets and understand their needs, and I did all my homework. Neutering, chipping, vaccinating, worming, systematic flea programmes – all boxes regularly ticked.


But I never properly understood that when you take in pets there’s a catalogue of other living creatures with which you will be forced into contact and you simply can’t be squeamish. Except that I am, and John inevitably has to deal with unpleasant situations while I run away screaming like a prissy Victorian schoolgirl.


The boys – as I refer to them – have been known to 'bring friends home to play', in the shape of rodents or winged creatures of different dimensions, since the house backs onto a field. They may seem dead as they are roughly transported through two cat flaps held between the jaws of whichever triumphant feline has been lucky enough to catch them, but once in the warm and deposited on the carpet in front of a singularly unimpressed screaming female human, the victims' senses recover and their survival instincts return.

The rodents scuttle away as fast as their little legs will carry them, and should they be lucky enough to dodge the cat that bounds delightedly after them as the game is unexpectedly resumed, refuge is sought under a sofa, armchair or the fridge. The latter is the ultimate bunker, as it’s far too complicated to move said kitchen object, and there it stays long beyond the date it’s gone to meet its maker, until the smell forces us to prise it out somehow. Should the game be initiated without the knowledge of humans, then any hiding place is discovered by the same method – eventually.

With birds the scenario becomes more obviously dramatic, since anything less than a chicken in size has been forced through the catflaps at some point or another. Birds flap frantically around at ceiling level looking for a way out, with both cats using anything whatsoever – a piece of furniture, a plant, a vase, a picture with a substantial frame - as a means to reach the correct height to catch them, and the screams from the prissy female human are just an irritating distraction. If it is already too late for the poor avian and the humans come home to find it has perished, they can be assured that most of the corridor, the study and the sitting room will be strewn with feathers as one follows with horror the agonising trail of the struggle. Can these really be my sweet purring cuddly boys?

It’s cosy and heart-warming to see them curl up on the bed, all four residents of the house jostling for position on the same surface, trying to get a decent night’s sleep. Aaah. Then comes the unexplained little itch on the ribcage, followed by another on the arm, a third round the ankle somewhere. Too cold for mosquitoes, must be fleas.

FLEAS??  I thought the vet said that pet fleas don’t bite humans? Don’t tell anyone at work they’re fleabites. Yes but that means we’ve got fleas in the bed. And the female human threatens to scream in horror again.

I laugh as I tell friends over drinks about these extras I’ve had to learn to cope with. “They’re eleven years old now” I say “thank goodness there are no more surprises”. Mmm

“When did you last worm them?” asked John recently.

“Oh I don’t know can’t be more than a few months – I’ll get some worming stuff from the vet next week”.

But it wasn’t a few months, it was a year since I had wormed them, and I still shudder to remember it. It was inattention rather than neglect, and the worms thrived. I was having a very rare hypo one night, and at 2 a.m. found myself staggering to the bathroom to take a swig of honey because I had overdosed on insulin by mistake, and as I sat there half asleep with my head hanging, waiting for the glucose to kick in and make me feel better, I noticed that my ginger cat was unwell and was trying to tell me so.

I realised as if in a dream that he was about to be sick, but I still hadn’t enough energy to do what I would normally have done: pick him up and deposit him firmly in the bathtub.

Squeamish poorly female human therefore was forced to witness his unwellness, followed by what was to me, seeing it for the first time in my life, a scene from the film “Alien”. The unspeakable result was alive, with worms wriggling everywhere, to his obvious relief and considerable curiosity.

John was asleep, so it wouldn’t have been fair to do my dying fly routine. Weakly I stared at it all in disgust and sheer horror until the glucose did its bit and I was able to move, when I covered it with a bucket. After checking that little ginger was now clearly better, I went to bed with nightmares.

And yes, John cleaned it up for me the following morning… For my part, I went straight to the vet and purchased the necessary anti-worming stuff and diarised for next time.

The real drama came with larger creatures. A couple of years ago I went into the kitchen in time to see a very large mouse running across the sink, with Rusty monitoring its progress with great interest but no initiative. (“I caught it for you but you’re too late, it’s escaped. Oh well”). True to form I screamed the house down, but the subsequent visit by the rodent operatives found nothing.

And then a few weeks ago we gradually became aware that there were tiny black “things” all over the kitchen, and the drawer where I kept the carrier bags had shredded plastic remains in it. We have learned from past experience that rather than a rodent without a satnav, this is more likely to be a ‘playmate’ which got lucky and managed to disappear after being dragged through two catflaps. John bought a mousetrap, (which we judged to be the most humane method of dealing with the problem) and the vigil began.

A piece of cheese was temptingly placed in the trap, and the following morning it had been delicately removed with the spring still set. The following night another piece was placed further back, but he managed to rescue it from the jaws of death. On the third night we changed the cheese, but he wasn't fussy. Then we put the cheese in a tiny box shape so that he had to climb inside to get it – which like the trouper he was, he did, emerging unharmed. And so on it went, and by the end of a week we certainly had a victim, just the one: John’s thumb (nail still black). Where were the cats throughout all this? Blissfully unaware and uncaring, that’s where.

I was actually a bit sad when he was eventually caught – the tiniest field mouse you ever saw. But he only ventured out at night so there would have been no question of returning him to the field.  I was glad that the strong spring caught him squarely and he wouldn't have had time to know what was happening to him.

This constant confrontation with the local fauna is stressful, though I won’t deny it’s good for me to get used to these things. I tend to forget it all when I see the culprits curled up on my bed, purring and pleased to see me. I’m such a WUSS.


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's digital archive

First shots with my new camera



Saturday, 21 January 2012

Tales from Argentina - Tormo the Cranky Donkey

Until the age of thirteen I spent all my summer holidays on a farm in an idyllic setting, the hills of Córdoba, in Argentina.  It was run by relatives who sought to supplement their modest income by having paying guests.  The fees were ridiculously low, and it was customary to bring victuals with us from Buenos Aires to help with the meals – typically a side of beef or pork, a large container of honey or a truckle of cheese.
The location was remote; when you arrived at the nearest village, you enquired as to recent weather for the last part of the journey up to the farm, and whether the streams would be in full flood or the road muddy and impassable in anything less than a 4x4 vehicle. 

It was all part of the excitement of feeling you were almost there.  There were 14 streams to cross – or rather, there were some streams which you crossed several times.  Either they had sandy bottoms and you prayed you wouldn’t get stuck if the water was high, or they were stony but the road ascended steeply the other side, and you fretted in case your little car wouldn’t manage to cough and splutter its way onward. 

After an hour of painfully slow progress sloshing in and out of streams with everybody in the car counting them one by one, and noting whether the natural landmarks had changed – a tree burnt down, a large familiar rock submerged where last year it had risen, bare and dry out of the water –

we would finally glimpse our first view of the house and raise a cheer, late as it was and tired as we were.

After the polite and fond greetings had been exchanged with the uncles, aunts and cousins staying there, for the house was large and welcoming, I would race round the house saying hello to the dogs, then down to the stream and over the bridge,

where I would stop to throw a stick and watch it come out on the other side, then round the hill to the stables and corrals where the horses were.  After a brief chat with Don Aparicio, who was employed to look after the area and lived in a little house there, we lost no time in stroking the horses’ velvet noses, patting their backs and taking in their horsey smell once again.  It was pure bliss. 

In the distance over in the field I could see Old Tormo, the bad-tempered donkey, staring balefully, totally disinclined to come over to see what was going on, but there would be no time to seek him out (warily), because Aunt Marion didn’t take kindly to people arriving late for dinner.
The dining-room

Things would settle down in the next few days.  We would go off on rides in the hills, looking for waterfalls and natural pools in which to swim, hunting for fresh watercress in the stream shallows, and stones covered in glittering mica,

or eating the peaches that grew wild in the hillsides around the house. 

Sometimes we came across rattlesnakes and tarantulas, and pretended we were very brave – which we weren’t.  There were pumas in the area too, and we were constantly warned about the behaviour of a female with young.  I only ever saw a puma once in the distance on that farm in the years I spent there on holidays, but as children we lived with the real fear that we would come across one which would be convinced we were after her cubs.  It stopped me venturing very far away from the house on my own.

Back at the corrals we would unsaddle and put the heavy saddles and reins back tidily on the wooden horses and hooks on the walls in the saddle room because there were always adults around to tell us off is we didn’t.  Then we would take our horse to the stream and using rusty tins left there for the purpose, wash the animals and rub them down, finally taking them to the field where they could graze.  And there would be Old Tormo, standing stubbornly in a corner, unwilling or unable to come over and join in.
(internet pic)

I had read the Ladybird series of beautifully illustrated children’s books, and by far and away my favourite story was Ned the Lonely Donkey,

...about a donkey who spent the days by himself in a field with no friends.  Lonely and sad (and the illustrations reflected this superbly), he wandered from one animal and bird to another asking them how he could make friends. 
None of their suggestions worked until a friendly magpie led him to a beautiful house in a wood where he told him there was a boy called Timothy who lived there.  His parents were always away and he was usually to be seen all by himself looking glum. 

Eventually the two met and made friends, and both were happy.  Subsequently Ned would sometimes meet up with the magpie in the woods for a chat, and would tell him all about his adventures with Timothy and how happy they now were.  The end. 

The way the story is told is somewhat sad, not to mention the pictures; invariably I would weep with pity every time I re-read it.

So here was Old Tormo, a lonely donkey with no friends, just waiting for someone like me to be a Timothy and keep him company.  The borderlines between fantasy and reality would become blurred, and unable to resist his naturally sad face, year after year I would go quietly up to him, making reassuring noises and carrying a mouthful of straw.  “Come, Tormo” I’d whisper “I’ll be your friend”.  He would eye me suspiciously, and as soon as I got to within 5 metres of him he would toss his head and run off, braying crossly.

Then one year a much younger donkey appeared, and Old Tormo became more cantankerous than ever.  He wasn’t merely put out by the competition, he was absolutely furious.  He kept to the far end of the field, only venturing nearer the saddle room when he needed the water trough.  Any attempts to approach him were met by his rear hooves kicking high up in the air.  We were warned not to venture too close and to keep to the other side of the fence.
One afternoon when we were down at the corrals looking at the horses, one of my cousins called us over to watch a drama that was unfolding.  Old Tormo had happened on the water trough a couple of minutes before the younger donkey had ambled up and started drinking quietly at one end.   
As soon as Tormo became aware of his rival’s presence, he gave out a harsh squeal, leaned over and bit him on his rump.  It must have been a vicious bite, because the younger animal emitted a shrill scream and instinctively attempted to bite him back.  Don Aparicio had appeared by this time and shouted at them in order to distract and separate them, but made the mistake of leaving the gate to the field open in his haste to sort out the dispute. 
Tormo veered off towards the gate and raced through it, scattering us all.  From a safe distance I watched in amazement as he did what no one could possibly have expected him to do.  Instead of racing up the slope to get away from us, he galloped into the saddle room, his hooves clacking noisily on the stone floor.
He stood in the middle of the room, snorting heavily, his head turning this way and that.  Then with astonishing skill he proceeded to drag a saddle off the wooden horse with his strong teeth.  Argentine saddles consist of the basic frame made from raw hide, with a series of layers of blankets, sheepskin covers and the sweat pad beneath; all in all a hefty unit.  


Old Tormo made quick work of one of them, dragged it into the centre of the room, stood on it, stamped on it repeatedly and urinated copiously upon it with his head pointing at the ceiling, braying raucously, deafeningly and triumphantly all the while.  We looked on with grudging admiration.  He had certainly made his point.
From that day onwards the younger donkey was moved to another field and Tormo was left in peace to enjoy what was left of his retirement as grumpily as he pleased. 
As for myself, I was never able to look upon my favourite Ladybird book in quite the same way again.


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

In Valencia and Chiva, Spain

Valencia from the sea

And lastly, two pictures not taken by me
of people I care about:
Verónica Minieri, a good friend who visited England in 2010
(her adventures are recorded in this blog under
'Vero's Visit', link in left margin).
She is now happily expecting her second child.

...and my train-mad great nephew, 2 and a half,
being taken on a train ride and experiencing one of the
greatest thrills of his life so far:
presenting his ticket to the guard. 
Taken by his mother, my niece.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

What sort of a morning have you had, Jenny?

Jenny, an office colleague, wrote this recently, and I'm grateful she's letting me use it...

Woken up at 7 by small child climbing into bed and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Kept awake by small child singing Peter Rabbit, Old McDonald, Roly Poly, Alphabet song, and showing me his scarecrow.
Also repeatedly told me he'd seen doggies dancing yesterday.
Then after farting loudly he told me he'd done a poo.
So far, all normal....

Then small child puts fingers in mouth and says "yuk".
Runs round landing for a while, comes back in bedroom.
Keeps lifting foot up and poking it. Tells me nappy is wet.
So I put the light on...

Small child's nappy has collapsed under strain, and has left a trail of poo lumps everywhere he's walked. Many have footprints in.
Also has poo all over feet, over hands where he's tried to wipe it off, and face where he's tasted it...
Small child given bath. Floor cleaned.

So after taking him to nursery, and getting self organised, finally leave for work about an hour late.

See a hitchhiker at the side of the road, and feel kind...
Hitchhiker gets in car.  I realise a couple of minutes later that he smells.
Tells me he can't drive because he's just had a brain op.
Tells me he's a lot better now cos the world doesn't look hazy and he doesn't feel so bad anymore.
Tells me he was delusional. Tells me that he was extremely violent.
Tells me it's OK cos the shiner on his eye (which I hadn't noticed) was actually from rugby.

We're on the motorway now, and I'm eying up the oddly elongated shaped bag he's carrying, wondering if it's a gun.
He shows me the scar on the back of his head from his op.
Then he holds his hands out in front of me, grins and says -
“Look at my handcuff scars!” 

Apparently it’s from where they handcuffed him to get him to hospital two months ago......
Drop him off at next junction with great relief.
Open windows to ventilate car.
Listen to radio news in case of stories of escaped criminals.

Get to work and realise no one here actually believes this really happened.
So thought I’d write it down in case I’m dreaming.


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archives
Fuerteventura, Canary Islands


Friday, 6 January 2012

Pollyanna says...

I read enough blogs to know that many bloggers like to remind themselves regularly that they have reasons to be cheerful/ grateful/thankful, and the more I read the more I like this positive attitude. 
I watched the film Pollyanna over the Christmas period (a fairly recent UK TV version) and found myself smiling through a lot of it, mainly because it’s the teasing name by which I refer to my oldest and closest friend, Michèle – about whom much has been written (and photographed) on this blog.  She’s relentlessly cheerful and positive, even driving me to grumble occasionally that she can just leave me alone to be grumpy once in a while.  And yet… right now she has a very big reason to be cheerful and thankful for the fact that she’s relentlessly cheerful and thankful, as I’ll tell you.
My reasons to be positive right now are:
1.   My blog.  I’m loving every minute I write in it, whether it’s a story or a chatty post.  I’m grateful that it’s read from time to time, and apologise to those who find my posts too long or too full of unnecessary information.  The object is not to improve the stats, but to acquire readers who like what I write, or who agree with what I say, or enjoy the pictures I upload.  Even if it takes years. 

The lovely honeysuckle painting in the header is being used with the permission of the artist, Ann Harrison-Ray, for which I thank her very much.  (Do take some time to browse through the lovely pictures on her site.)   I’m grateful that Joyful of Snap That and her brother in Canada have brought to life the image I had in my head about the blog’s new look.  I’m delighted with what they did, and I thank them warmly for the time they spent on it.  A thank you goes too to Rahim Shabbir here in Bristol for making it all appear on the screen.  He works in IT here at the hospital, has enjoyed getting involved, and hopes to further his knowledge of working with blog design.
2.  Blurb.com. I have for some time been involved in another project which has nothing to do with the blog – transcribing the letters of Aunt Winifred, a great aunt who travelled to Argentina in 1912 and stayed there till 1919.  During that time she wrote weekly letters home to her family in Oxford, commenting about the events of World War I, her daughters, the books she read, the world around her, and her beautiful garden.  She was also an instinctive and gifted sketch artist, so her letters abound with amusing little drawings.  
Sadly, they had to return to England in 1919 when her husband was drowned in a river which was in flood after heavy rains, dragging rocks and uprooting trees in its wake.  He had been hurrying back home to his wife and babies riding on horseback by night and did not realise the danger posed by the storm. The detritus killed his horse too. 
One of her two daughters, now in her nineties, asked me to make the letters up into a book, and over the holidays I’ve had the most absorbing time uploading them onto Blurb.com, with Aunt Winifred’s scanned sketches, some photographs and notes from the web on the events to which she refers, and about the books she read over those years.  It’s reached 220 pages, and I’m so looking forward to handing over to her daughter the finished product – who thinks I’m going to bind typed pages together, and has no idea that one can self-publish to quite a high standard.  I know I’ve said it before, but it’s the best present you could give anybody.  I’ll take pictures of it for the blog when it’s finished.
3.  New camera.  I’m a spoiled brat and no mistake.  My partner John has given me a new digital camera for Christmas, a big step up from my current one.  It has a video facility, and I can’t wait to start practising with it, and with the macro lens which is on its way.  The camera is said to be particularly good for sports shots requiring very fast shutter speeds.  I’ll see if I can make the cats streak across the lawn...
4.  Great Nephew.  He is now a two and a half year-old little boy who is train mad.  His Gorgeousness jumps about with delight when he is taken to a railway station, and he nearly swooned recently when it was arranged that a train driver should wave at him from his cabin while the train was stationary.  He was standing on his grandfather’s lap at the window of the car and said doting relative reports that he had to hang on to him tight or he would have fallen out in his excitement.  It was wonderful to catch up with him just before Christmas, particularly as it was obviously his first Christmas of absorbing the magic.  Look at this picture taken by my niece...

5.  Food consumption over Christmas.  I was so engrossed with my aunt’s letters that I hardly stuck my nose out the door for nearly two weeks, and I certainly couldn’t be bothered to brave the rainy, windy elements to go out in the car looking for chocolate.  The distraction factor also played its part, and consequently I didn’t eat much over the period, except of course on Christmas Day.  Strangely, the less I ate the more restricted I felt, and I had to go very carefully anyway.  I’ve lost a few pounds – nothing dramatic, but I’m pleased to learn that when distracted by other issues my brain seems to stop nagging me for the pleasure foods I normally crave.  I loved being at home, and I strongly feel that the day I retire I shall gradually lose weight naturally.  With the help of the band of course.

I leave the most important – and the best - to the last:-
6.  Selina.  Michèle’s younger daughter Selina is 25, and last October she was involved in a very serious car accident near her home in Argentina, as she was on her way to college.  It was a head-on collision, and by a miracle the driver of the other car walked away without a scratch.  Selina however suffered multiple injuries and remained in a coma.  
The reaction among those who knew and cared about her was dramatic.  Her three brothers and sister rallied round, and with her parents almost set up camp in the canteen of the hospital in Buenos Aires to which she had been taken.  For the first few days there were a couple of hundred people milling about the hospital, all waiting for news, as one painful life-saving operation after another was performed upon the young girl.  Michèle and her older daughter Nicole (my god daughter) remained by her bedside.  
I asked Michèle in a phonecall whether the crowds of visitors and well-wishers were unintentionally adding to the stress, and she replied that on the contrary, they were buoying her up and keeping her going throughout the nightmare.  Only two people were allowed with the patient at any one time, so the canteen had to suffice.  But they came and stayed for many hours, they prayed and showered affection and support on the family or just kept them company, while Nicole kept us all updated on FaceBook.  
When Selina had undergone the surgical interventions required for her recovery, she was moved to a rehabilitation centre in early December, and since then the task has begun in earnest to bring her out of her coma.   The signs of recovery are all there, and she is gradually responding more, particularly in the last few days.  
Loyally supported by Nicole, Michèle has been everybody’s rock.  The rehabilitation centre’s rules are that a family member lives with the patient 24 hours a day to aid with recovery, and she has being singing to Selina, reading her stories and taking her around the grounds in a wheelchair several times a day.  The family made her birthday in November a special day with birthday cake and guitar singing, and in December they decorated her room with a Christmas tree. 

Her eyes are open; they can tell that she perceives what is going on around her, and not for a minute has my wonderful friend doubted that the recovery is going to happen.  Michèle is like an express train going at full speed hardly looking left or right, and yet she’s aware of the possible difficulties looming ahead.  She’s keeping a journal of the extraordinary journey on which they all find themselves, and marvels at the qualities this event has brought out in herself and those around her.   A true modern day Pollyanna.  

God bless Michèle, Nicole – and specially Selina.
Selina in 2011, by photographer unknown


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

Andes foothills in Salta

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Entre Ríos



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