Cats and Books

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Where’s My Wabbit?

At least two of our cats are active hunting cats and routinely bring back rodents. When stray or feral cats like that move in, the first hint that they really believe the house is their home is bringing back the catch to eat it. Piper reached that stage ages ago, so bringing his own supper in is just part of the routine and, somewhere about three this morning, he came in with the latest something. No telling what without turning on the light, but he does try to tell you all about it. All of our cats have more than one name, so Oatmeal is also Flumph, because when seven kilos of fat, fluffy cat walks across your chest in the middle of the night, there are noises ending in emphatic mph! Piper is also known as Chirples, because when he has something to say, he does it with a stream of chirpling meows, and he always has a lot to say. This is nothing like the wailing of wait for me if we’re walking too fast when he’s following us across the field.
Piper getting a better view on the rabbit situation

(Before you read on, I have to warn you, some animals were hurt in the making of this blog.)
So, middle of the night, a short hello chirple sequence is easy to interpret – I’m in, it is/is not heaving with rain, my paws are dry/dripping with mud, do you want to stroke me before I sleep on your feet? (Or, should you care to step out of bed, I can wrap my soggy self around your shins and then tickle you between the knees with a very cold, wet tail...) In the summer, the conversation starts some distance out, an ongoing chirpling heard through the open windows, fading as he works round to the cat-flap the other side of the house, and then building again as he comes through the house. There may, or may not, be a hiatus whilst he has a snack at the biscuit bowl.
Then there is the middle-of-the-night extended chirple. That can go on for a while, ideally until one of us gets out of bed, and it means just the same as the short sequence but with the vital extra – come see this fantastic mouse I caught. Piper does like his people to observe and admire the catch. That’s what woke me this morning. Chirple, chirple, chirple... thud.
The thud is not good – I had no idea what it meant, but it could not be good. After a few rounds, I started to believe that maybe it was Thug (aka The Purring Death) at the window, trying to burgle his way in and have a bite of Piper. That did not gel with Piper telling all about a fantastic mouse... so I turned on the lights and went to see what all the excitement was about.
It was a bit of a let-down. There was Piper, lying in the hall in that ready-for-action, half-curled pose... and no mouse. But he was watching the gap under a bookshelf so no visible mouse, but a potential rotting corpse... unless it was dumb enough to come out and make a run for it.
Now it was my turn to talk. Do you want me to move the furniture? Are you going to catch the damn thing if I get it out? Can I just go back to bed and deal with this in the morning? What was that thud? The thing is, once Piper has told you all about it, achieved lights-on, and attention from one of his people, he’s done talking. You’re supposed to admire, congratulate, offer a scratch behind the ears, and then push off so that he can eat in peace. (And this is the moment to memorise the location for clean-up later.)
I went back to bed.
Chirple, chirple, chirple... thud. Seriously? How can I sleep through this? Chirple, chirple, chirple... thud. It still sounds like Thug trying to break in, but I know it’s Piper and a mouse going another couple of rounds. A serious mouse, putting up a fight... and in the red corner... no, wait... that’s just blood... Chirple, chirple, chirple... thud. Perhaps if I leave the light on, I can get some sleep. Chirple, chirple, chirple... thud. I mean, really... can’t you just keep the noise down? Chirple, chirple, chirple... crunch.
(This is the part where some animals get hurt...)
I’m not a religious chap, but there’s got to be something to give thanks to for that distinctive crunch. I know it’s horrible, but it’s also natural – it’s the sound of bones breaking, of mouse being eaten. A bit of a downer for the mouse, I’ll agree, but it means peace and quiet in a few minutes, it means no festering corpse under the book-shelf, and all I have to do is remember – tread carefully until the remains are located and disposed of (having taken note of where earlier...). If you want the truly horrible, it’s the cold squelch of mouse guts between the toes when you fail to note the location, or note and forget. (Call me callous if you must, but I’ve tried rescuing mice from the cats, and once you’ve been bitten a couple of times by the ungrateful little ****, leaving the cat to finish the job is the preferred option.)
I really wasn’t paying proper attention. That wasn’t a standard, middle-of-the-night extended chirple. That was the extended, Director’s cut of Chirple the Movie with all deleted scenes reinstated. With added thud. When I went to start breakfast I did remember, and went looking for the mouse remains. Instead, I found a rabbit trying to hide under the bookshelf. Of course, the gap wasn’t big enough, so rabbit could only get in up to its shoulder, back end still sticking out. Idiot rabbit.
I still wasn’t paying proper attention. I went to rescue the rabbit and found it wasn’t hiding, but resting, in pieces – mostly just the back end. Piper ate the rest. I should have worked it out at three in the morning. What goes chirple, chirple, chirple... thud? Piper playing with his food when it’s something a lot bigger than a mouse.
We have had several rabbits in the house – frisky little devils to hold on to and carry out across the field – but this one just went in the tub to go out to the compost heap. Job done. No rotting meat under the book-case.
No, not job done. Around about lunch time, Piper got up. Chirple, chirple, chirple... Chirple, chirple, chirple... poking around the house, checking out that book-case... As my partner said, Piper was obviously looking for his rabbit, so she retrieved it for him and put it out the back door.
Yes, Piper wanted his rabbit. No, he was not going out there with all those mean chickens hanging around. The final compromise was to put the rabbit just inside, on the door mat, where Piper ate it, growling at Oatmeal to make it clear exactly whose rabbit it was.
All he left was one foot, which somehow ended up in one of my shoes. Scrabble, scrabble, scrabble... thud. Oatmeal spent time tossing my shoe around the kitchen trying to get at the unlucky-rabbit foot.
So, I have learned my lessons. Firstly, the really extended chirple, and the thud, means come see, I caught something bigger than a mouse. Secondly, when Piper stuffs the remains of a rabbit under a bookshelf (because obviously it didn’t crawl there on its own) he expects it to be still there later. It doesn’t matter whether it’s me, or Oatmeal, rabbit thieves are totally unacceptable. And Piper has the will the voice to demand his rabbit back.
The one thing you can be sure of with Piper – he understands a party invitation that says BYOB. He always brings his own bunny.

I check under the car before driving away, because the cats regard that nice dark space as a good hiding place. Driving out today, I really checked because Piper was dancing around, a good sign that he’s just chased Ginge under there. He was not going to follow her into a confined space because she is Mistress of the Educational Nose Swipe. I bent down, I glanced, I saw fur in the gloom and said Hello Ginge. I was wrong. When I started the engine to hint that it was time to go, a rabbit shot out from underneath and made a break for freedom up the hill, Piper in hot pursuit.

He returned about an hour later, no chirple, no bunny. Nice try, but no wabbit.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Bee Plus

Another sunny day – they’re rare enough that we notice – and sudden squawking from the chickens around mid-day caught my attention, so I went to see what the fuss was about. As I approached the house, I heard a hum and had one of those moments: I know that noise... no... can’t be...
A swarm of bees flew round the corner, over my head and up towards the old cowshed.
It is years since I last saw one, and that was back when we kept bees ourselves. We had just returned from an outing, and there, above the garage, was a scene from a disaster movie. Or maybe a horror movie if you’re spooked by a two-meter-plus tornado of a few thousand bees above your head. Our actual reaction went something like WTF...? Oh, it’s bees. OH! Its a swarm. Oh, wow! Can we follow them? Can we catch them?
Then they disappeared down the garden, so we gave chase... as far as one of our apple trees, where they gathered as a giant pear-drop, bigger than a football. That was pretty much perfect in terms of trying to catch them. As is always the way, we didn’t have the necessary equipment on hand, so I went back out to buy a few things, and my partner kept an eye on the swarm.
As it turned out, it was swarm weather. It took me a while to get the things we needed from the bee supplies place (operated out of someone’s garage) because there was a queue of bee-keepers from around the area, all dealing with swarms. I got home just in time to witness our giant pear-drop of bees (literally thousands of them, hanging peacefully in the tree) melt away like a blob of butter over a high heat and head off down the hill. We tried to track them, but lost sight after half a mile or so.
I followed yesterday’s swarm as best I could, but after a brief hover over the cowshed, I lost them. The only way to keep track was to head round the end of the barn, and by the time I had done that, they were gone. Or course, they may have settled in one of the buildings, so we shall keep an eye out. We’ve muttered for years about re-starting bee-keeping, so if we have just gained a swarm, maybe we will.

For now, we will keep an eye on the cowshed and barn to see if we have a hive establishing there. Just a daily test to see if we are bee-positive.