The Outreach Programme

Protect your plate. Shield your supper. Watch those damned chickens, like a hawk. This is the opening of the essential mantra for eating outdoors. A determined hen can do a vertical launch and have your food off the plate before you can blink. Of course, chickens aren’t the only threat and, as the summer fades and eating out becomes rarer, other meal-time predators come to dominate.

Breakfast is a challenge all year round as the small, black cat we call Squeak likes her lap-time and dances in a circle to get the best orientation whilst I hold my bowl of cereal above head height. To be fair, she’s not really after the food, but is still perfectly capable of arcing her tail over and using the tip to stir my muesli. No harm done, really, because doesn’t muesli have small black flecks anyway? And what’s a hair or two between friends? Or between my teeth?

All of the cats can be trouble when there’s food to be had, although the rarest offender is Ginge. I think perhaps we have a general understanding there – I don’t steal her mouse, she leaves my lunch alone. This works well since I really don’t fancy raw rodent and Ginge isn’t usually around at lunch time.

Unless there’s tuna. That changes everything. Or it is completely outside the scope of any understanding.

The essential summary of my existing food-boundary agreements, Squeak stirs my breakfast, the two toms Piper and Oatmeal loom close and stare hard on the understanding that when I’ve finished eating there will be something still on the plate, and Ginge has no interest unless there’s tuna, and we’ve not really explored that particular boundary very far since she’s so rarely around at meal times.

Simple. What could possibly go wrong? Even in the face of testing the limits of the tuna treaty, there’s still the tactic of holding the plate above head level.

Nothing is ever simple where cats are involved, and there’s another detail that needs to be factored in. Squeak failed her Basic Cat qualifications several times and frequently has to blag her way through simple acts of agility – yes I meant to land like that, no I didn’t just fall off, three attempts is normal for any cat. The toms are both too heavy to do anything clever – Oatmeal has the build and agility of a barrel and Piper has a distinct and growing bulge where his waist ought to be (no judgements here), so the above head height trick works. Ginge, however, is small, agile, the archetypal cat who walks along impossibly narrow branches and balances on the top of fence posts that aren’t big enough to take all four of her dainty paws at once.

When Ginge appeared out of nowhere (another cat skill) and took an interest in my tuna-related supper, I held the plate up high. In response, Ginge climbed up my chest and tried to reach, but couldn’t quite. Even so, she only needed a little more height, so perhaps climbing my beard…

No. No way. I’m not having that. Those paws might be dainty but it still tingles if she shoves her claws up my nose. I did the only thing I could think of and reached my arm out to the side, away from my face.

Idiot. That’s like a branch. The cat-equivalent of a multi-lane road that Ginge could walk along in her sleep. So, I held my arm out and up, but that made no difference. We’re still in tree-analogy territory here. Horizontal, forty-five degrees, what’s the difference? In the Ginge world, trees have branches and trunks, and she treats them as interchangeable. Yes, those slightly vertical ones might need a bit of extra claw, but what’s all the fuss about? Just walk, because that’s what those paws are meant for, as well as sending small rodents to meet their maker (some reassembly required). Up, down, underneath, it’s all the same, just one paw in front of the other… wait one whilst I scratch my ear…

The only thing that saved my supper was my sleeve, slipping and sliding on my arm and making for a very uncertain grip. Ginge didn’t actually give up and I think she would have continued exploring the possibilities until my arm got too tired. Eventually I had to accept that it was a no-win hostage situation. Either I gave her some of the tuna or neither of us got to eat.

So remember the mantra. Protect your plate. Shield your supper. Watch those damned chickens, like a hawk. Beware of the cat. Beware of the other cat… And finally accept that sometimes, no matter what you do, the enemy gets past every defence, so just pay the ransom and get on with supper.

Or get longer arms.

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This was written for the September 2019 #BlogBattle  prompt of Shield.

4 thoughts on “The Outreach Programme”

  1. “What can possibly go wrong?” Now there’s a statement that should never be uttered as it has supernatural conjuration skills in opening the door to disaster! Animals of any sort can produce witty anecdotal tales out of nothing. I was went carp fishing using sweet corn. Whilst landing a fish a rather large swan entered my bivvy and decided to chow down on the bait. After realising and being hissed at I figured who am I to argue!

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    1. For some reason, so many of my blog entries are about the things the animals do. The cats have a major advantage since they get to be trouble in the house and outside. (Although,at the moment, we have a chick in the bath, and more outside, to even up the chaos competition. The poorly chick had an hour or two run around with the others today before we brought it back in. Maybe tomorrow it will be fit enough to stay out and I can use the shower.) We re-homed our geese nearly a year back because they were becoming too much of a menace, and swans have an even nastier reputation than geese.

      As for “What can possibly go wrong?” – that’s sort of a semi-favourite of mine as it was a theme all through the second urban fantasy I wrote. It seemed like a perfect combo, the arch-villain who tackled every step of her plan by considering everything that could possibly go wrong and hence planning for it, and my hero’s boyhood friend and arch-arse, Mickey “Short-Cut” Twitch, who could screw up anything.
      The flip side is that here we have something more akin to the principal that every army plans for how to win the last war, so every time one of the animals does something truly inconvenient, we work out how to stop it happening again. Inevitably, the animals come up with something new.

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