Cats and Books

Monday, 14 December 2015

Goose Step

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting thick... no, that's wrong... the goose was always thick.

Goose intelligence comes in standard sizes, S, XS, XXS, XXXS, and then the gander sizes, XXXXS, XXXXXS, XXXXXXS, XXXXXXXS... as exemplified by our gander, Idris, Avian Professor of Applied Stupidity at the University of Utter Muppet.

It's a by-product of their down-trodden up-bringing... unless that's just the first symptom. Geese do not have the greatest eyesight. I'm sure it's optimised for something, and they can certainly find a pile of grain in poor light, but what they miss is the stuff right under their beaks. Like goslings. Fortunately, the average gosling is physically robust, because the parents stand on them. Frequently. It's like something out of a cartoon – one big, webbed goose foot covering the gosling – just tiny toes, wing-tips and beak poking out, and screaming for help.

The screaming is counter productive. Geese are intensely protective of goslings. I have had Idris perform a vertical take-off, over a four-four high barrier, because one of his offspring was doing the frantic hey dad, look what I found... which sounds exactly like help, help, the bad man is threatening me. The trouble is, once dad is standing on junior, and the screaming starts, dad holds his ground looking for the bastard threatening junior...

Then junior grows up – whatever little brains it started with squeezed out by parental pressure. And, just when you don't think a goose can be any more stupid...

All of a sudden, Idris can't walk through the gate in the evening. It's the same gate, the same path to the shed where they go over-night, and I have the pot of grain in my hand as usual, and Idris just stops. Chocky and Honk (his missus and his bit on the side), are just behind, following his lack of leadership, another fine example of goose stupidity, because they are both definitely smarter than him.
So Idris paces left and right, checks-out the gate, then the adjacent gate which isn't open, tries the back of the stables, the gap that leads to food and the fox-resistant shelter... no... can't go through there... not like last night... or the night before... or before that... The only change in the scenario is the light level dropping as the winter evenings draw in... but the geese can find a pile of grain in near darkness...

So I have to go through and herd them forwards, because once Honk and Chocky start crowding him, Idris goes through, charges down the path, into the shed, threatens me with groin-level violence because the grain isn't down yet...

This all begs the question – why do we go to the trouble of keeping geese? And why do we traditionally (before the invention of turkey) eat them at Christmas? Exasperation? Frustration? Get through that gate you little ###### or it's the chop for you...

It's not fair to call geese bird-brained. Not fair at all. The chickens are quite smart.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Cat-flap to Nowhere

We have a cat-flap through the lounge door – doesn't everybody? It is a simple, practical solution to our single-source heating, multiple-cat household. In the winter, the multi-fuel stove in the lounge is the only heating, so naturally we like to keep the door shut to keep the heat in. The cats would naturally like the door open for easy commute between sofa and food bowls in the kitchen. So, we have a cat-flap. So much easier than the alternative:

Scratch, scratch, yowl... (Let me out into the kitchen.)

Scratch, scratch, scratch, yowl, meeewwwwww. (I've done eating. Let me back in.)

Scratch, scratch, yowl... (Sorry. Fancied seconds.)

With four cats, this can go on all evening.

During the summer, the door stands open, allowing heat, air and cats to move freely... except there's still that cat-flap, with a strange and inviting dark space the other side. Behind the door, filling the the 14.5cm gap, is a bookshelf, with a reserved space for the door handle to slot into. So really, that tall, wide dark space is very, very shallow.

Piper (the flea-transporter formerly known as Black and White) had to take a look. To poke his nose where no cat ought to go. Of course, the door moves and the gap changes. He got as far as his shoulders before deciding that today was not a good curiosity day.

Oatmeal was not so lucky. Piper is tall, long-legged and agile. Oatmeal is short, stocky and wide. His progress through a catflap is a complex negotiation of lateral inches for every forward inch. It takes time and effort, including wriggling, shoving and the power of brute force over blubber.

Oatmeal went beyond shoulders into the mysterious gap, and once those shoulders are through, there is no going back. It's just too complicated. But forward meant face-time with book spines, whilst dragging the door forward, shrinking the gap ever more, requiring a tight ninety-degree turn, in a confined space, through a cat-flap... and for a long time, going nowhere.

He made it. Just. And discovered the last post delivery, a large parcel which his people had inconsiderately put down just inside the lounge, a final obstacle to escaping the mysterious space behind the door. A cardboard box... smooth... vertical... should I have mentioned that fat cats can't jump?

That's the trouble with the cat-flap to nowhere. Nowhere is a real place, not so much back of beyond but back-behind-the-door, and once you are there it is not so easy to return. Or manoeuvre. Nowhere is almost a two-dimensional space, and uncomfortable for a five-dimensional cat (the fat occupies at least two dimensions). The only escape from nowhere is the same determined scrabble and brute force that gets Oatmeal through the cat-flap in the first place.

Just think how different 'Alice' would have been if Lewis Carrol had had the added inspiration of a cat-flap to nowhere, and his very own Oatmeal, the cat that fills everywhere.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

First Past The Post-it

Confession time – I am of the bearded persuasion, a proper, bushy beard. Not a spectacular knee-tickler, but more than just stubble with delusions of grandeur. There are a few (lot?) more grey hairs these days, but the beard is still there and has only been removed for a few special occasions over the years – my first graduation ceremony, sanding down a plaster wall in my first house, removing asbestos-cement roof panels. Beards and dust-masks just don't mix.

The thing about beards, proper ones, is that they are nature's filter and capture system. I first discovered this with yoghurt – spillage gets caught, saving another shirt, and later, when I'm ready, there's seconds waiting to be sucked out. Soup is more problematic, but porridge works fine, and what might be called 'dry' debris is readily snared.

Pick apart any good relationship and there is a layer of routine, the everyday stuff that really holds it all together. In amongst that routine are the set-piece conversations that over time can become abbreviated to short phrases, single words...

The cat's been sick.

Now, fill in the blanks. The cat's been sick, dear. Really? Have you cleaned it up? No, I'm getting supper/watching my programme/I did it last time/it's really horrible and I can't even look at it. So, shall I clean it up? Yes, dear, supper's nearly ready/it turns out Sally is gay/well, it is your turn/you might want gloves, the really thick ones...

Amongst all the other routine conversations, we have the beard category. Oh look, another grey one. The fuzz is blurring your words – can't you just trim it a little? Or the really routine one – you've got crumbs/apple/porridge/something horrible in your beard... other side... up a bit... up a bit... you'd better go look in the bathroom mirror.

And then there are the things that you never want in your beard, such as dental alginate. Elastoplast on hairy skin is trivial in comparison. My dentist at the time, and her assistant, tried to remove the stray fragments – I think they were having way too much fun. In the end, we agreed that I would pick the bits out, later.

This train of thought was prompted by a rare treat – a long day, feeling tired, jam doughnuts on special offer... I am not a regular donut eater, and the interaction with the beard is complex. The jam always dribbles out, and the beard handles that as if it were yoghurt, so no problem. But... getting it back out again is not so simple. It requires water, perhaps even soap, and more than one attempt, and warmer water... I returned from the bathroom, believing myself clean, and discovered that my beard had a surface texture like the sticky-strip on a post-it note.

My beard has been likened to many things over the years, including velcro, fungus and a scouring pad, and our latest feral cat thinks it is a toy specially made for him, but this is the first time I have been a fuzzy post-it.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Hay! Deja Vu!

It's that time of year again – hay-making. We used to have our own hay cut and baled – cue a week of hard work, culminating in baling and then stacking those bales in the barn. Then helping the neighbours stack theirs... and so on. Last year, we decided to buy the hay in, which worked well enough, nine trips back and forth in our trusty van, ten bales at a time.

Ninety bales was not enough, so this year we decided to buy a hundred and twenty. A quick phonecall to the guy from last year and... no hay. Summer 2014 was a fantastic year, but 2015 has been cold and wet, leaving hay in short supply. Our previous supplier is only doing round bales this year, because the quality of the grass is just not good enough for it to be worth doing the small, square bales which primarily serve horse-owners – horses and sheep can be fussy eaters when it comes to hay.

A few round bales would get us through the winter, no problem, if only we had the means to handle them. Depending on moisture content, they weigh in the region of half a ton, and we don't have the sort of lifting gear or a tractor to cope. You can buy a trailer, specially designed to work with the round bale, but there are problems. Firstly, the price-tag – not cheap. Secondly, all the pictures we have seen, show it on the level, on ground that stays level. We live on a hill, and I can just imagine driving across the slope and have the trailer tip.

After a lot of enquiries, we found a farm selling square-bale hay – collect direct from the field as they bale. As chance would have it, the farmer's brother runs the garage where we get our trusty van serviced – it's a small world out in the sticks. So, a hundred and twenty bales, ten at a time, stacked into the barn, in September. The month is important. Hay in June or July ought to be crispy-dry (unless the weather is really foul), but by September, with the shorter days, it is almost impossible to do anything other than hay with a high moisture content, and that means heavy bales.

We did it. One evening and then a whole day, driving back and forth, the last load after dark, all to be stacked properly on the following morning. No more than a few hours work, and done – stacked high and packed tight so that as the damp grass starts to ferment it gets hot, drives out the moisture and then stays good for the winter.

That was Friday. On Sunday, Piper, the newest feral tom to move into the house, was sleeping on the sofa. By mid-morning, when I went to check on the hay, Piper was on top of the warm stack, mewing at me because the food in the barn was not topped up. Just like last year.

The only differences this year are that when Piper subsequently comes in for a bit of lap-time, he brings the scent of fresh hay into the lounge, and when he is in the barn, he expects to be stroked before he eats, a bit of attention to remind the serving staff of their place.

He will still have your hand off, but now he's only playing....

Monday, 31 August 2015

Chase The Chicken

One of our hens is missing – she may have fallen prey to a fox, or just be off somewhere being broody. She does that every month or so, lays her eggs in some obscure spot that you can only find by following her, and even then she can apparently disappear at the last moment. She is the only hen that does this. The others are more than content to squabble over a nest box, but our missing hen is prone to unique behaviour.

The missing bird is called Cat Chaser – simple, direct and descriptive, the chicken who chases cats, a relatively unique trait. A broody hen with chicks will go psycho on a cat, but Cat Chaser learnt the behaviour from her mother and does it all the time. The point, here, is that it is supposed to be the other way around.

There is a game, of sorts, which we call Chase the Chicken. It sounds like one of those dubious rural practices undertaken since time immemorial, which it probably is. It's not an easy game for the newcomer, and made especially tricky by the variation of rules. Everyone plays, but none the same way.

Simple and obvious, is the cockerel – he plays chase the chicken with a basic aim in mind. Or not so much in mind as just towards the bottom of the sternum. Some hens just wait and hope the brakes work, but a significant proportion like to play hard-to-catch, and some of those birds can really run.

Lambs play chase the chicken – the aim appears to be to keep your nose touching the tail-feathers for as long as possible. Lambs play competitively, and with an inexhaustible enthusiasm – chickens treat it the same as anything else trying to grab a bite of tail, and run, head high, jinking and shouting to avoid that cold touch of lamb-spit. The passion for the game wanes in older sheep, but I have seen elderly ewes reliving their youth with a quick round or two, although sometimes it is just the chicken is occupying the grass they wanted to eat.
At sheep feeding time, there is an aggressive form of chase the chicken. To the uninitiated, it might look like the aim is to keep the nose touching the tail feathers until the chicken leaves the feed trough. In reality, it is there to make sure the thieving bird leaves the sheep feed alone.

In an unusual development, a few years back, we found hens walking over sleeping sheep, performing a sort of shiatsu massage. Perhaps this is part of chase the chicken... but neither side would comment.

Geese play, but they prefer the short round, full contact version – how many tail feathers can be removed from a passing chicken. They will chase, but only when in a bad enough mood.

People play, of course, but it is usually to avoid tripping over the chicken. The game lasts as long as the bird can anticipate which way the human will jink next and get there just ahead. Naturally, the chicken gets extra points if it succeeds in tripping the human, but generally loses on a knock-out if the falling human lands on the chicken.

Cats play, primarily a predator-prey type of game. It has a lot in common with the cockerel version, the high-speed chase, the sound of frantic squawking, the sudden silence when it's all over, because the hens are too busy catching their breath after all that yelling, and cats don't bother with the victory shout when they get that triumphant paw-to-tail-feather strike.

And foxes play. We try to discourage that.

And now we have the new variant – chase the cat. Cat Chaser is an ordinary-looking, average-sized white hen, trying to prove the current theory that chickens are the evolutionary descendants of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Voice Recognition

I am not very good with visual things – arguably a problem for someone trying to be a writer who invents worlds, aliens and spaceships, but I get by. At first this seems odd give my strange super-power of recognising actors... hey, the guy on the left, we've seen in him something else... wait... episode five... Raiders of the Lost Car Keys... As super-powers go it lacks something, but my wife finds it amazing.

How about a concrete example – an actor called Barry Corbin. If you Google him, he's been in lots of things, but I have only seen two or three. We just happened to be watching re-runs of the MASH tv series, the first time I had seen it since I was a kid. There was Barry Corbin in his forties and I just knew we had seen him in something else... oh yes... a much more recent role – the same guy in his seventies. The face was different, the hair was different but the voice was the same.

Confession time – I am a Babylon 5 fan. We both watched it the first time with our old VHS doing its best with the dire picture quality (our house at the time was in a really poor reception area). Now, down in the garage, there is a box of commercial VHS, almost the complete set because 'The Works' were selling them off. We boxed them up because they were getting a bit frayed and then the VHS machine died. In the house is the complete DVD box set, less shelf-space, better picture quality... you get the picture – we do enjoy Bablyon 5. I could start writing lists of the reasons why I like it, but let's go with the odd one, the voices. Not metaphorically but the actual, people talking sort of voices.

The cast, both regular and guest, was packed with the most wonderful voices. The obvious pair to pick out first are Peter Jurasik and the late Andreas Katsulas – two powerful voices, not pretty voices but commanding, expressive and deeply memorable. There is no mistaking that the one-armed man from The Fugitive is the voice under the latex and make-up of G'Kar.

However, it is the guest stars and supporting roles where the voices really come out. The first time I saw W Morgan Sheppard, and heard him chanting alien babble, it made my spine tingle. He doesn't have a pretty voice, but one that grabs you, a demand to sit up and take notice. A year later he was back, almost unrecognisable in a different configuration of latex, but quite unmistakable with that voice.

I am in danger of writing a list at this point because Babylon 5 was simply packed with fabulous, powerful and utterly memorable voices. Just writing this more examples pop up in my head. I am hopeless at remembering peoples' names, but perhaps the point is an inability to associate names and faces. Voices seem to be different, or at least the ones that make an impression.

And the reason I started down this train of thought... Faran Tahir and that familiar conversation: I know we've seen that guy in something else. Well, yes we had, but the real point is that I had heard him in something else, a beautiful voice that just sticks in my mind.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Wonkylibrium, A Bed-time Story

This is a tale of six orphaned chicks. The four members of the Junior League lost their mother at about three days old (A Positive Crisis), whilst the younger pair (known as the Junior-Two League) were not strictly orphaned, just abandoned at four weeks. Junior-Two League's Mum is still around, hanging out on field corners, flying with the boys, doing worms, all the usual stuff – but you can't call out social services on a delinquent hen.

In spite of deaths in the family and unfit mothers, all six have done well, but with one glaring difference – the Junior League just don't get perching.

The Junior-Two League were taught perching by their mother – not a deliberate training, just necessity. She stopped looking after them, stopped providing the centrally-heated duvet, and returned to the main perch to sit with the other birds over night. Showing great skill, determination and a desire to be warm, the Junior-Two League worked out how to get up on the perch. Both chicks are barely knee-high to a grasshopper (provided your grasshoppers are nine inches tall) but they made it. Mum took care of them for a night or two, but then there were all those distractions and cockerels like old Mosaic to flirt with, and new-boy Party Pants to check out.

The Junior-Two League have their own perch now, just to stop the big birds from picking on them. Every evening, as it gets dark, they work their way past the other chickens and get themselves safely off the ground for the night. It's amazing what they have achieved after a couple of harsh lessons from their bad-girl Mum.

The Junior League are different, coming up on three months old, and the sort to eat grasshoppers for breakfast. The sort to fight over the last, terrified grasshopper... These are the big chicks, the junior thugs on the block, but they don't have a damned clue about perching. Their idea of a safe place for the night is pick a bit of floor and huddle close. Seriously? These are supposed to be chickens, not penguins in the Antarctic.

The current compromise is for me to put them on top of a nest-box. I have a perch for them, but that is currently not working. Bedtime is a complex, dynamic equilibrium of burrowing to be the one who gets the sweet-spot under the sibling feather-duvet. On the floor it doesn't matter, but up on top of a box, this jostling heap of chicks moves sideways, and they don't watch where they're going. As the song goes, the little one said roll over...

That's on top of a box. On a perch is much faster. Shuffle, shuffle, splat...

So, the bed-time routine: Put the chicks on the box. (They can fly, they can jump, but they just haven't got the message, so I pick them up and put them on the box.) They jostle, they wrestle, they perform the wonkylibrium, and I pick up the one that fell off the edge and put it back. They jostle some more... and I pick up the loser...

I wrote their school report in my head. "Proven problem generator. Fully adept at fouling up the same task repeatedly. Rises to new challenges, and falls off. Intellectually challenged and lost every time." It helps to pass the time.

Eventually, I get bored, or they settle down and stop falling off. In comparison, the Junior-Two League watch the whole performance from their perch.

Chickens. Can't live with them, can't kill and eat them... Wait. Back up. Chicken sandwich, anyone?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Positive Crisis

Wot? No blog in April? I've managed to do one a month for fourteen months, and then... We had a positive crisis in April.

You need a string of disasters to properly appreciate a positive crisis – it's just like an ordinary crisis, or a negative crisis, except that everything goes right at once. It's just as tiring as the bad sort, just as demanding.

We were in the middle of re-painting the kitchen on a place we let out. Near enough to deal with as a 'day job', but far enough away to precluding 'nipping home' to deal with things. We also had Amber, our best broody hen, sitting a clutch of Light Sussex eggs. The chicks started hatching on the Sunday, so we went decorating Monday and all was well. Fine on Tuesday, no problem Wednesday, and Thursday we moved Amber to the greenhouse and a fresh nest box. Everything still going fine, chicks emerging from under her to have food, all looking good, so we went back to decorating.

It was a bit of a worry – would the chicks be OK? Normally, we monitor closely for the first few days, but this was Amber the Superhen, in the greenhouse, safe from our cats (who mostly know not to tangle with a broody hen), so what could possibly go wrong? We were late back, another worry, but the chicks were absolutely fine. Well, almost fine. Standing around, cheeping, wondering what the hell mum was up to. It never occurred to us that our ageing super-broody might just drop dead.

Plan B swung into action – we had other broodies and had previous success in fostering chicks. Not this time. Not only were these orphaned bundles of joy rejected, but one hen hurt several of them.

Plan C... our neighbours raise chickens and offered to foster for a day or two whilst we got ourselves sorted. Problem over, except for the smallest chick that wasn't eating or drinking yet and needed checking every hour or two, day and night... So now only one of us could go painting, with the other on chick-minding duties.

And finally, our former alpha-cockerel You (evening count... two black, four brown, two white... and You), who has been looking droopy for a while, went into sudden decline and died in the night.

String of disasters complete...

And then the positive crisis. Four in the morning, littlest chick started pecking at food! Not fixed yet, not actually eating, not drinking without the aid of a dropper, but a huge step forwards and the prospect of getting a full night's sleep in the near future. Then, just after breakfast, I went to check our borrowed cat-trap – we have been trying to catch Pure Black, the latest feral tom moving in to the barn, and check over any of the others careless enough to walk in. Instead, I found Black&White, one of our long-term resident ferals waiting for breakfast, meowing insistently, hissing furiously, and so desperate for breakfast that he was waiting until I put the food down rather than running away and coming back later... except that the food bowl was still in the trap as bait... and Pure Black was inside.

Welcome to feline DefCon One.

For a bit of peace and quiet, I tipped cat biscuits into the lid of the tub and put it down for Black&White, who hissed some more, meowed briefly, and then ate. That was a startlingly sociable reaction. A minute or two later, my wife came past on her way to feed the sheep and, as I told her what had happened, Black&White came out, wrapped himself around her ankles, then mine and demanded to be stroked...

Our positive crisis was complete – way too much going right at once. Pure Black with wife to vet for check-up and testing for a microchip; wife to painting; me to supervise chicks and slow-mo cat fight as Black&White immediately tested his new privileges and explained to Oatmeal that he was moving in...

Writing it down, it doesn't seem much, but that was our positive crisis – a whole day wiped out and aftershocks that kept rumbling on. Three weeks later, sitting in the greenhouse and watching a second batch of new chicks (courtesy of our youngest broody) have their first proper outing, there was finally time to write it down. So many good things happening at once is exhausting.

Now, our late lambing has started. So far, so good. One small positive crisis after another.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Virtual Cat-Basket

Oatmeal the cat has discovered string and, as with most things, his approach is off the norm. Cats chase string – that's a given, a part of nature, the spawning ground for a profitable business in cat toys. The obliging human tugs the string/ribbon/clever-elasticated-cord, the cat leaps on the end as if it were prey. Cue biting, patting, tossing and general balletic exuberance as if the string were a devious, fighting member of the local rodent population. Then, the cat releases its prey and the obliging human starts all over again.

The most obvious question at this point is what does the human get out of it? The fun seems to be mostly on the cat's side. Tug string, wait, tug string again... ad nauseam.

Now turn to Oatmeal. He doesn't chase string, exactly – he catches string. Once he has it – game over. He holds on, pins it down and waits for the other player to let go. Forget the exquisitely choreographed display of cat agility. The uncharitable view might be that Oatmeal, with his generous figure and short legs (and weighing in at over 6kg) doesn't have agility. However, when he has a mouse (most probably stolen from Ginge, rather than a DIY capture) he tosses it about and performs his own version of Muhammad Ali – float like a bucket and sting like a tree. What he lacks in agility, he makes up in enthusiasm.

So back to the string. He catches it, pins it down, out-waits the human and then... he takes it back to his basket. Our cat is a beige retriever. Fortunately, we have plenty of string, aka baler twine, and we cheat by rescuing string he has already caught. But I have never heard of a cat taking string back to its basket.

Except that Oatmeal doesn't actually have a basket, except in a virtual sense. Currently, his virtual basket is the corner of the corridor from the bedrooms to the rest of the house. Not tucked safely out of the way, but perfectly positioned to trip up the unwary human heading for the bathroom in the middle of the night. For a while, he used the stack of sheep feed sacks against the wall of the corridor (it's a relatively rodent-free place to store 150kg of feed), but we kept taking bags away to feed the sheep. Before that, it was the laptop-case, and before that just a random patch of carpet in the lounge.

The virtual basket is fragile. Adding an old towel, or padding, or something to define the edges destroys it completely and he moves on to a new one.

So Oatmeal has a virtual basket, which can be something as well defined as a bag, or uncertain as a patch of carpet. It doesn't matter. So long as no-one else interferes, the basket is good and safe, and wherever the current virtual basket might be, that's where captured string will be taken.

Of course, I don't have a virtual basket. I just always sit at the same end of the sofa, sleep on the same side of the bed. And that's my seat – I always sit there.

Perhaps the only strange thing about Oatmeal is how often he changes his virtual basket.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Practical Mouse-keeping

A cat is a predator, and even well-fed, domestic moggies like ours head out and slaughter the local wild-life, albeit without the volume and determination needed when living off the land. What a cat will catch seems to depend upon the cat – the late Bitsy was a connoisseur, seeking out the rare, the exotic, the down-right ridiculous. Bitsy brought in a rabbit, a live jackdaw (through two cat-flaps), a woodpecker, a squirrel, even taking a bird in flight... the list just goes on. It was as if he had a book describing all the things a cat could catch and was determined to try them all – he often didn't get the killing/eating thing, leaving us to escort the latest catch back into the wild. On the other hand, his brother Tigger was almost exclusively a small-rodent cat, although he did get deeply confused when a recently caught mouse tried to burrow under him for safety.

Of our three current residents, Squeak is another mouser, but does not go out very often now – something to do with Oatmeal and their on-going feud. Oatmeal himself is a ratter, we believe, although he does do small rodents as well. Maybe. We now have doubts about that.

How do you tell who caught what? I know Ginger is a mouser, because I have seen her catch them, and eat them, and before she moved into the barn, she was living off the land. Now, as we head towards Spring, the rodent supply is picking up. Last night, I was in the kitchen when she came through the cat-flap with a small, bouncy mouse – pretty much the same variety that Oatmeal had apparently caught earlier in the day. It made a break for freedom which lasted several tenths of a second. Damn, that cat is fast...

And then Ginger put it down for a proper look – presumably when one has a fine, fresh mouse, the experience has to be savoured. However, Oatmeal turned up, stared at the mouse for a short while, and then stole it, growling at anyone who came close to his ill-gotten gains.

So now we are not so sure. Is Oatmeal a mighty hunter, or a thieving bastard? Was that mouse earlier in the day a personal triumph, or pilfered? And that rat he brought in – it does seem suspicious that Ginger is the one who goes hunting where the big rodents hang out (and our rat population has plummeted).

Ginger did not seem too put out at losing her catch, and the food-bowl was there, nicely topped up. Meanwhile, Oatmeal defended his 'catch' as if it was the most precious thing in the world. And as if it was all his own work.

We have seen this before. Tinker was an elderly cat we took on from the rescue (Cats Protection), who spent most of his time asleep, but when an escaped mouse ran past him he caught it, smacked it on the ground twice and then went to sleep, using the newly-deceased mouse as a pillow. Or Trudy, our grumpy little tortoiseshell some years back, who suddenly started catching things. We were so impressed, until we discovered that she was mugging Tigger and stealing what he caught. Actually, we were still impressed – Tigger was twice her size, half her age and had a full set of functioning limbs (shame about the brain.)

That's the world of cat-and-mouse: if you caught it and really want it, best to eat it before some thieving bastard takes it off you.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Hands Reach Further on 52 Weeks

Christmas has come and gone, and the writer is getting fat. I like my food, and disapprove of diets, but... there's more of me than there used to be. Enough to push my Body Mass Index into that pesky obese category. Not by much, but something had to be done. I look down, surveying all that lies below and surely there used to be feet down there, or at least toes. Something really, really had to be done.

The something has been the 5:2 diet, or intermittent fasting. Over the years (and in spite of my fundamental disapproval) I have joined my wife in one diet or another (My wife says not, I say I caught the tail end of it). Apparently, trying to diet whilst someone in the house is eating chocolate biscuits doesn't work.
Quite by chance, we happened to watch a documentary presented by Michael Mosely, and the wonders of the 5:2 diet. Now this 5:2 business is supposed to be more than just about losing weight, and there are all sorts of claims about it making you live longer, appear younger... but really, all I need to do is shed a few pounds.

OK. Maybe more than just a few. Let's not get too specific.

The full-blown version of 5:2 is to eat nothing on two days of the week; the more user-friendly approach is a quarter of the recommended calories two days a week. So that means 500 calories for my wife, 600 for me, which has evolved into 750 calories, because that just takes the edge off it.

There is a down-side. The diet days can be a total write-off in terms of getting things done. I find that physically demanding activities are fine to start off with, but I steadily run out of steam and, by the afternoon, I have no energy left. Equally problematic, is trying to do anything that requires mental effort – as those blood-sugar levels drop, so does my concentration.

The thing is, after all those horrible, unsuccessful diets, this 5:2 business has actually worked. Not only have I lost weight, steadily and consistently(ish), but I am now down to roughly what I weighed when I was twenty. The trouble is, those two days a week are still not very pleasant and I really have to ask my self, is the possibility of living a bit longer worth spending roughly 28% of my life waiting for the other 72% when I can have a proper breakfast?

The short answer is no. The longer answer... seriously no. Now that my weight is arriving at a reasonable level, I am going to start experimenting – just how many calories on the two days gives me a tolerable maintenance level? I know the original idea of the 5:2 system is to make your body 'younger' and live longer, but unless someone can give me a cast-iron guarantee that two days a week waiting for the other five is going to add a lot of years to my life, and those extra years are going to be happy, healthy and active, is it worth it?

There is a fundamental problem with all of these plans to live better and longer – life is a lottery. I can eat all the right things, do all the required exercise, and get hit by a bus tomorrow. Or I can drink to excess, smoke like a chimney, still get hit by the bus, and survive... Unless it is all governed by my genes, in which case I need to drink more, take up smoking and dance in front of buses.

Against my natural inclination, I will stick to the diet in some form or other, if only to get the occasional glimpse of my toes without looking like the victim of a yoga class. Forget the living longer, I just want to enjoy living now.

On the positive side, we have both lost weight, waist-lines have shrunk, lower extremities have come into view and hands reach further when we hug. I'm sure I read somewhere that hugging makes you live longer.