Category Archives: Farm, fur and fowl

A monthly(ish) ramble on whatever amused, irritated or intrigued me – taken from my old blog https://writeedge.blogspot.com/

Precious Rodents

Oatmeal caught a mouse this morning, summoning me to the kitchen with a proud come see meow that I initially assumed came from Piper. Instead, there was Oatmeal, presenting his mouse and, as per protocol, I assured him that it was indeed a very fine mouse. I know this doesn’t seem anything exceptional, cat-and-mouse is as old as children’s cartoons, but Oatmeal is no longer what you might consider mouse-catching material.

Oatmeal has three working legs out of four, and those three are not exactly operating at a hundred percent. Realistically, his top speed is shuffle, with a regular stumble, and something wildly unstable and short-range when he is spooked and wants to get out of the way. So, the first question that springs to mind on seeing him with a mouse is who did you get that from?

Ownership of rodents can be a fast-changing market. Cats can lose their catch to a chicken in an eye-blink, and the only thing that can take a mouse from a chicken is another chicken.

I didn’t actually ask Oatmeal because some subjects are just too sensitive. I gave him the benefit of the doubt – maybe it was just a very careless and inattentive mouse that mistook him for a piece of furniture. These things do happen. Many years ago, six-plus kilos of hunting tom-cat called Tigger nearly lost his mouse after he put it down and it chose to hide under this nearby big, warm furry thing. Tigger was not the brightest of cats but he did finally work out that he was sitting on his missing mouse.

In a similar vein, some twenty or more years ago we took on an elderly cat called Tinker, because the cat rescue really struggled to re-home twelve year-old cats. In all honesty, he was a truly unlovable cat and when he turned up his paws a few years later, both we and the other cats in the house were suddenly more relaxed. To be fair, his previous owner had loved and doted on him, only giving him up due to a dire change in personal circumstances, and I don’t think we measured up to expectations.

Like Oatmeal, Tinker was not fast on his feet, and certainly not up to much in the way of mouse-hunting. However, if one of the others happened to bring in a mouse and let it loose… Tinker caught the mouse, smacked it on the carpet three times and then went to sleep with the mouse as a pillow so that he would hear if someone tried to steal it. It was clearly such a precious rodent that we wanted to leave it with him, but they do start to smell after a few days.

So, let’s assume the the mouse belongs to Oatmeal, or that he at least came by it second-hand, in an honest transaction. (And even if he didn’t, these things are very hard to prove. Rodents don’t have serial numbers.) Regardless of provenance, Oatmeal is the one who brought the recently-deceased mouse in through the cat-flap (an impressive act of determination for a cat who struggles to walk) and presented it to his people. Wisely, Oatmeal had chosen to skip the stage where the mouse is released just to show how quickly and efficiently it can be caught again. Having brought it in, pre-deceased, and been told it was a wonderful mouse, I assumed that he was expecting the rest of the protocol – yes, I caught it, but there’s no way I’m eating that, hand me the kitty-nibbles.

That is the way it works – pesky rodent dispatched, treats required, even if it’s just the regular cat food. This fundamental sequence frequently led Tigger to lose a mouse because he would stop at the food bowl by the back door on his way to tell us about his latest catch, and how quickly he could re-catch it and… where did my mouse go? Mice can be so inconsiderate, hiding under the rim of a food bowl.

Oatmeal, however, stared at the saucer of kitty nibbles and then looked at me as if I was deranged, or at least working from a different rule book. He ate a few, probably so that I wouldn’t feel like too much of an idiot, before putting his mouse on the saucer, in the middle of the nibbles, and then eating it. Completely.

His mouse. His meal. A moment beyond price.

It reminded us of a rabbit which Ginge caught many years ago, when Oatmeal was still a solid six kilos to her three, but didn’t have the nerve to take her catch. She ate the rabbit, almost as big as she was, starting at the nose, with Oatmeal watching every mouthful, until only the back legs were left. Oatmeal waited until she was definitely done before crunching down the left-overs.

So, the mouse… my mouse, mine, all mine…

Not only did he eat every scrap of mouse, Oatmeal was clearly pleased beyond measure. The empty space where the mouse had been got purred at, and then I got purred at, followed by the rest of the world, and then he went back out through the cat flap.

A rodent beyond price.

In August last year he was very nearly put to sleep as he was so ill, and then amazingly rallied before his next visit to the vet. He now has regular check-ups as part of the process of prescribing the steroids that keep him going, and one of the questions the vet always asks is how is his quality of life?

Well, he gets carried up to the Orchard to sit in the sun on nice days, and literally as I typed this sentence he tried to climb up my leg in search of some lap time, but that worry is always there, are we doing him an unkindness keeping him going?

The precious mouse answers the question quite emphatically – Oatmeal is doing fine, thank you very much. Just keep that prednisone coming, with the tuna wrapper, and the (lactose-free) milk chaser.

What a win-win precious rodent moment – it made Oatmeal happy, it made us happy, and the rodent… well, it stayed down. It’s amazing how fast a rodent can come back up if all is not well.

Got to go. Oatmeal purring.

Stop tapping that keyboard and stroke properly. Both hands. That’s it… and behind the ears.

# # #

This was written in response to the September #BlogBattle prompt of Precious.

Cats understand their people, their wants and needs, and file that information away for leverage in the future, except for yesterday when Oatmeal clearly knew that I didn’t have a clue what to write and obliged with some simple inspiration.

Timepiece~~by Mark Huntley-James

theonemillionproject

I hate being late, loathe the last-minute rush, dread the prospect of uttering that well-worn phrase sorry I wasn’t here earlier. In fact, I suffer from that common complaint, a chronic punctuality infection. This particular train of thought came about as I stepped off the ladder (roofing job before the weather turns on Wednesday) and remembered that this article is due today. In fact, it ought to have been done already.

That’s one of the challenges of chronic punctuality – it doesn’t stop me being late, just makes being late very uncomfortable.

Oddly enough, many years ago, I knew a chap with punctuality issues known as The Late Mister Dale.

Since moving to Cornwall over fifteen years ago, I have tried to chill and adopt the Cornish principal of dreckly. When will this article get written? I’ll do it dreckly. It’s akin to mañana, but without the urgency. Perhaps…

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A Tax Of The Furry Sharks

We haven’t had the warmest or driest of summers, and the weather for August is presenting more like September, but we have managed a fair number of days with chairs set up in the orchard. There have to be four chairs, one each for myself and my partner, and then one each for the cats. Strictly speaking, there are four cats, but only two of them insist on spending sunny days relaxing in the orchard, and only one of them can get there under his own power.

Oatmeal is not well. Seriously not well. He can walk back from the orchard, but only does that because his food is at the house, and it can take him an hour to cover the distance. Piper can do it in under two minutes, unless there are chickens chasing him, in which case it’s under one minute, with dirty looks for his people if the kitchen door isn’t open for the dash to safety.

Preparing the nose for action

So, Oatmeal requires transport. He rides up to the Orchard on my arm, which isn’t too stressful as he is down from the six-plus kilos of his prime and is now a very bony three kilos. He expects all the facilities to be ready when he arrives. The chair should have the towel on it, there should be water in the bowl, and food on hand, to be presented on demand and kept out of reach of chickens at all other times.

Above all, the service staff should be attentive and ready to respond promptly to the needs of the Compass Nose. When something is required, Oatmeal sits, quite neatly in spite of his serious leg problems, and points his nose in the air to indicate what’s needed. Unfortunately, the Compass Nose only ever points upwards, so the service staff have to become adept at interpreting the requirements.

This is your final warning

Piper, six and a half kilos of prime, podgy cat, makes his own way to the orchard and indicates his needs by walking on the service staff.

Now that everything is set in the orchard we can sit, have lunch out there, and supper if the evening doesn’t cool off too fast. Provided, of course, that the necessary taxes are paid.

The lunch menu is quite simple – home-baked bread, cheese, fruit, and just at present, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Supper can be more varied, but just lately there has been a definite theme of egg-related dishes since the hens are laying prolifically.

The taxation system is also quite simple. It is calculated in cheese or omelette and collected primarily by Piper. Oatmeal prefers his kitty biscuits, or perhaps this revenue collection business is really far too much effort. So, Piper gives meaningful looks at plates, whilst Oatmeal quests with the Compass Nose.

The Compass Nose, to the point.

In the period before the taxes fall due, Piper can be invisible, having wandered off to explore the hedges, check for interesting things under the apples trees, and generally be absent, but his finely honed senses detect the subliminal signs of plates passing nearby and as if from nowhere he is there, in the chair, appraising the taxable items.

The rule is simple – three pieces of cheese and he is done. Once the levy has been paid, he will stop trying to balance his weight, on one paw, on the nerve in your leg, and retreat to his own chair to let the tribute settle in. That said, we have noticed in recent weeks that the rule of three now applies to each diner separately.

That’s my bit, right there.

The supper tax is rather more complex. An omelette is easy and just like the cheese – three pieces, per diner, and then you are free to eat. Pancakes, though, are a different matter, and have to be paid in related food-stuffs. The clear winner, in general, is yoghurt because we often have diced melon, or something similar to go with the pancake, dressed with syrups, sauces and miscellaneous dairy products.

Take me home, driver.

On those occasions that cream is involved, the taxation rate increases dramatically.

We haven’t risked tuna-related meals in the orchard since last year when Ginge (three kilos of single-minded persistence) climbed out along the length of my out-stretched arm in her attempt to reach my plate and apply the basic sea-food taxation rate of one hundred percent. (When we eat indoors, that’s Squeak’s territory and Ginge doesn’t venture in.)

There it is, the taxation system, apart from transporting Oatmeal back to the house. He is generally very clear when it is time for his medication, although it’s probably the concealing snack that comes wrapped around the medication that is foremost in his furry mind.

There’s only three certain things in this world, death, taxes and cats.

# # #

This was written for the #BlogBattle August prompt of Tribute.

May, The Lambs

At this time of year I blog about the first lambs, if only as an excuse for gratuitously posting cute lamb photos. This year, the lambs happened, the photos were taken, and then… nothing.

Finally, I am catching up.

At the time, right at the beginning of May, things were a little busy. I was doing some gardening – a bit of weeding, planting a few trees, that sort of thing. I’d even hired a few tools to help: a one-and-a-quarter tonne excavator and a one tonne dumper. Forty trees is heavy work.

The books tell you that a pregnant ewe’s udder will fill just before lambing, but “just before” means somewhere between two hours and two weeks. Calypso was already drifting into week three and looking so wide we even wondered if it might be triplets, though that is very rare with Soay sheep.

Finally, on the Friday, Calypso moved on to picking out a spot well away from the other sheep, so this was it, lambs coming at any moment. Every time I went past on the way to where the trees were going, I checked on Calypso and confidently told my partner that today was the day.

On the move…

On Saturday, Calypso got serious about a spot well away from the other sheep, so this was really it. (The trees were going well, but the small and manoeuvrable trailer chose that moment to have it’s suspension collapse.) Every time I went past with another batch of trees, I paused and checked, and yes Calypso really, really meant it today.

Natural camouflage

On Sunday, as the last of the trees were headed for their new homes, Calypso held down that isolated spot, just to show what really serious meant. I had no doubt, and firmly predicted that the lambs (got to be triplets, or maybe quads, because how much wider can a sheep get without exploding?) would arrive today, or maybe tomorrow, unless she’s just messing with us and has Wednesday in mind.

By the end of the day, Wednesday was starting to look like the favourite.

On a whim, we went out to do a final check at ten on the Sunday evening, arriving just after the first lamb. Then we went back to the house to consult the books, Google, old photos, anything that might hint whether we ought to be expecting more.

At about half ten, we inspected again, just after lamb number two arrived. As ever, even a ewe that’s grown as wide as she is long, knows that twins are the limit.

Say hello to a pair of ewe lambs, Speckles and Spot.

Eyes In The Dark

About this time, ten years ago, our cat Bitsy died at the age of eighteen. He left behind a legacy of fluff, entertainment and a young companion called Holly. Honestly, I don’t think he liked Holly, and probably wished that we never took her on, but he was lonely after his brother died and driving us nuts at dusk when he wanted company to hunt the hedgerows, so we took on the “small and non-aggressive, non-dominant cat”.

Sometimes the description on the packet is misleading.

Bitsy, taking a stroll

Holly is still with us, although we only ever use that name for the vet’s paperwork. Holly has various names, as did Bitsy, and as did his amazing fluffy tail, which alone would need another thousand words. When she first arrived, Holly became known as Small Cat since she was half the size of Bitsy, and perhaps because she had clearly failed to graduate in any of her Basic Cat Skills training courses.

A rare action shot

Bitsy, the Fluffy Master, taught her to climb trees, walk along fences, balance on the top of a fence post (although she never mastered scratching her ear at the same time), and generally fake it as a fully qualified cat. The faking it is the operative term, because Holly never quite got it right. As we used to say, anything that Big Cat can do, Small Cat can do eventually, sort of. Holly would produce something that almost looked right, even if she completely missed the point.

Holly, aka Little Missy Trouble

At every lesson, and every attempt, the words were writ clear…

No, Small One, more like this…

Yes, Oh Fluffy Master, like this?

No… no… oh, no…

Climbing trees is a prime example. When Bitsy and his late brother, Tigger, played tag they would race up and down our apple trees as if the trunks were just another piece of level ground. Holly worked up to climbing the three-metre high cypress hedge behind the house, but that was comprised of multiple trunks with regular and intertwining horizontal branches, so not so much a hedge as a living climbing frame which appeared to be uniform wall of green from the outside, rustling to the movement of the cat within.

No, Small One, come down smoothly, with grace, and flounce that tail, and…

But, Oh Fluffy Master, I can… wheeee! Ow. Ow-ow. Ow. Ow-ow-ow…

Holly proved skilled at falling out of cypress trees, and rattling down in a controlled tumble like the ball in a pinball machine, progress marked by the quivering foliage, until she finally emerged at the bottom, where she then failed that other essential cat skill, the nonchalant air which says I meant to do that, and didn’t I do it well?

Perhaps that was when she first practised dark glares, because embarrassment can do that to a Small Cat.

Bitsy completely failed to teach her to fight, which is probably just as well, and also a testament to his amiable nature. Holly ignored Bitsy’s refusal to teach fighting, and attempted to wrestle with him on a regular basis, pitching her two-plus kilos of incompetence against his five-plus kilos of zen-like judo mastery. Holly would leap, and grab, and wrap herself around his neck. Bitsy would shrug and dump a pile of frustrated black fur on the ground.

That is probably when she also gained the moniker of Little Missy Trouble. Being the epitome of unstoppable persistence, she would leapt again, grab again, and again, and eventually Bitsy would get irritated, reach out with one big, fluffy paw and hold her head to the ground.

Enough, Small One.

Yes, Oh Fluffy Master….

Stop wriggling, Small One.

Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master.

Still wriggling, Small One. And stop squeaking.

Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master. Promise.

And then leap again…

Perhaps she first started developing those furious stares and furious squeaks when her head was held down, because that sort of embarrassment can leave a mark on even the blackest cats, and trouble the most persistent of Little Missy Troubles.

After Bitsy turned up his furry feet, Holly took over the patch, made it her own, and firmly adopted the name Squeak, largely because in keeping with her stature, she has a small voice. Loud, but small, and perhaps a little bit whiny.

Without Bitsy’s guidance, and weary but superior glance, Squeak caught a rat, brought it into the house without killing it, and then let it loose. Clearly Bitsy missed passing on the basics, or Squeak wasn’t paying attention.

Yes, Small One, play with the mice all you like, but rats get it in the neck, immediately.

But I wanna play a bit, Oh Fluffy Master.

No Small One, pay attention now, mice play good, rat play bad. And stop smacking my tail.

Yes, oh Fluffy Master, but…

Wise as he was in the Way Of The Cat, it never occurred to Bitsy to mention that with rats, don’t let the little beast at your food bowl because it will only get bigger. In Bitsy’s world, no cat brought a live rat inside.

I did finally managed to catch the rat after it had chewed a hole in the cupboard under the sink, eaten half a bag of raw potatoes, and for the main course, devoured the internal wiring of the dish-washer.

Perhaps that was when Holly-the-Squeak started upping the intensity of the dark looks. For a Squeak to be out-squeaked by a rat has to be pretty embarrassing. Especially when the Fluffy Master told her not to.

I know the whole black cat thing means that all of her looks have a certain measure of intrinsic dark to them, but Squeak does glare, and brooding, and serious scowl at the lightless end of the spectrum. Those dark looks earned her the the most recent name of Scowly-owl, and are at least something which she does well. The Scowly-owl can glower from the sofa, sulk on my chair, or crawl under a pile of blanket and leave one perfectly sour green eye radiating disapproval out into the world.

If Bitsy were still with us, I think the Scowly-owl could out-scowl him.

If she couldn’t, I dare not imagine how dark the embarrassment would make her stares.

Oh.

Gotta go.

Squeak is calling from the sofa.

Lap time is required, so again she almost learned something. Bitsy would never shout.

Pay attention, Small One, this is how you train your people to be properly attentive. Today, we practice the purr of submission…

# # #

This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Owl, because the day after the prompt came out, Squeak gave me the scowl from my partner’s lap, and I reflexively commented on the Scowly-owl.

Cocka-what-a-coup

Some years ago, at a particularly hectic time in our lives, we had a pair of chicks hatch who turned very poorly when only about a week old. We were struggling to care for them, had no idea what was wrong, and consulted our chicken-keeping neighbour to see if she had any thoughts. She very kindly offered to look after them for a couple of days, and brought them back from the edge of death.

Sadly, one still died, but the other, which she named Neo, did well, grew into a very fine cockerel, and somewhere around 2016, he beat the proverbial out of the alpha cockerel Party Pants and took the top spot for himself.

Neo and his challenger

Roll on to the Autumn of 2020 and Neo was showing his age, whilst three lively young lads hatched just over a year earlier were jockeying for position to challenge him. Before anything could be settled, avian flu arrived in the UK, protection orders were issued, and we suddenly had to confine our birds to their shelter, and segregate them from wild birds.

Four cockerels, fourteen hens and a war of succession all in twenty-five square meters did not promise a peaceful time for the hens, so we put the three young lads in the greenhouse to settle their hierarchy. This also gave Neo a final peaceful winter with his girls, because even with the eye of optimism, he was getting old and shaky, and only holding on to his dominance by force of habit.

On the first of April (someone’s idea of a joke?) the avian flu restrictions eased. Our birds went out for the first time in five months, although we left the lads in the greenhouse for the day just to give the hens a head-start on the world.

On the second of April we had two cock-fights. Not some horrible sporting event to entertain barbarians, but three cockerels settling who gets to be Top Bird.

Yes, I know the arithmetic doesn’t add up, but that’s because a couple of weeks back we got a call from friends who run a small holiday complex on an old farm. Their pretty-boy cockerel just died – did we perhaps have a spare? We hadn’t given youngster number three a name (apart from in my head where he was called Drumsticks) because he was the bottom of the hierarchy. Now he has a proper name, half a dozen girls all to himself, and no competition in the business of being the chicken eye-candy.

So, on the second of April, the dominant one of the youngsters, with the snazzy purple sheen to his feathers – whom we call Purple Cock – was randomly assaulted by Neo, probably for looking at The Top Bird in a funny way. That, as it turned out, was a mistake of epic proportions, but it’s remarkably difficult to have the necessary conversation with an old cockerel: listen mate, you’re getting on, slowing down, time to retire gracefully and let someone younger take over.

The victorious Purple Cock

Purple Cock beat seven shades of ow-that-hurts out of Neo, with us standing by to prevent serious injury. It’s not easy intervening in a fight like that – two cockerels hell-bent on flattening each other don’t care about collateral damage. In due course, we did separate them and Neo staggered away in the company of some of his girls.

Which is a problem.

Neo lost. Big time. Except Neo didn’t see it that way. Not in his head. And Purple Cock was mocking him by not running away.

Neo hunted down Purple Cock and got pulverised again. And again. And again. Much of the morning was spent breaking it up, even when Neo reached the point that he was so tired he couldn’t raise his head. Somewhere in that little bird brain, a whispering memory of his youth was uttering sweet stupidity – yes I know you can barely stand, you can’t breathe, you can’t see, but if you stagger around in small circles with your head between your knees, you can really lay a proper smack on that young upstart.

In due course, we put Neo into the greenhouse to get his breath back and hopefully give him time to properly process ow that hurt. We’ll let him out again in a day or two.

Meanwhile, Junior League, the number two youngster, took advantage of the fight and spent the morning hanging out with the hens, the other side of the field and well away from all the excitement. Somewhere around lunchtime, he ran into Purple Cock, still triumphant, and kicked the living victory out of him.

Junior, hanging out with the girls

None of us saw that coup coming, especially Purple Cock.

Today, having had the night to contemplate the mistake and prepare for his comeback, Purple Cock has decided that victory is over-rated and that that dark corner over there looks like a perfect hiding place.

Life is full of surprises.

Now we need a proper name for Junior League.

# # #

PS

When I went to check on the sheep this evening, there were a pair of male blackbirds trying to hammer each other flat.

Off-plan~~by Mark Huntley-James

theonemillionproject

I’m pantser, not a planner. I don’t analyse, I just write. Except when it all goes to pieces in the middle of writing a book and a bit of structure is needed to dig my way out of a hole.

There has been a lot of that lately, with my currently book proving unusually troublesome, and at a time when my plans in general have been upended. Two years ago, set up with both life and writing plans that stretched over two years, I suddenly found myself struggling to write whilst sitting in various hospital waiting rooms. A year later, with diagnosis and treatment plans established, enter COVID.

That’s the trouble with plans – the vagaries of life can upend them in a moment.

All of this came together in my head recently as I had a breakthrough with a shambolic plot where everything was floundering, going nowhere, and completely…

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Greenhouse Party

Come in, come in… let me take your coat. It gets hot in here.

So, let me introduce everyone. The small, spindly one draped all over the place is Latah, and no amount of training or coaxing makes any difference. Just there is Ethel Watkins, been around here since… No, no, the shocking pink is Grushkova, a recent arrival here, and…

Look, I know the pink is startling, but if you’re going to make unkind comments about skin colour then you can take your coat and go. Grushkova is a perfectly decent early tomato and…

No, it’s not Russian. OK, sort of Russian. From Siberia. And Latah is from Idaho and…

Sorry? Proper English tomato? You do know that tomatoes were introduced here from South America in the sixteenth century, right? There’s no native tomatoes. I mean, seriously, the nearest relative is belladonna, and you don’t want that in your salad.

And yes, those are cucumbers. What is it with you and colour? Yes they are white instead of green, but they are very nice cucumbers and… yes, they are small, and they’re called miniature white, so you’ve got it all there in the name, small and white. Not big and long and green. Go on, taste one… see? It’s a very nice cucumber.

Sorry? Proper English cucumber? I know you’re think cucumber sandwiches, all part of the essence of the traditional English summer but seriously, you know that cucumbers were originally introduced from India, right? First recorded cultivation here in the fourteenth century, so they’ve been around longer than tomatoes. And there, behind you, the melons… originally from Africa and southwest Asia, brought to Europe by the Romans and…

Right. Yes. Got that. You prefer boring commercial green cucumbers. Here. Try one of these…

No, it’s not English either. It’s called Achocha, from South American, part of the cucumber family… yes, I’m pretty sure it is supposed to be green.

Right. The door’s there. Go out into the orchard. Pick yourself an apple. Proper English varieties out there. Proper Cornish varieties. Normal colours, normal shapes, nothing funny or foreign.

Originally from Asia, of course.


This was prompted by the #BlogBattle prompt of Exotic, and the strange things we grow in our greenhouse.

Image from Pixabay.


Hidden Treasures

I lost my steel rule today, exactly the same steel rule I lost last week, although today I also lost my five-metre tape measure and my ear-defenders. These are not high-priced items, but their value lies in their contribution to the project. In the middle of building a new box gutter between two roof sections, not being able measure or use high-decibel power tools is seriously inconvenient.

There’s an interesting thing that I’ve noticed over the years – amongst the vast array of highly specialised and expensive tools I could have in the workshop, the most valuable and heavily used are often the cheapest. That steel rule has seen a lot of use, and those tape measures are recent minor purchases to replace my old measure which had become so worn that the markings were getting illegible on the first metre or two.

Losing those simple but vital tools can bring a job to a halt.

Unlike last week, the missing steel rule wasn’t so critical yesterday, and I still had the eight-metre tape measure as a substitute for the five, even though it’s a bit cumbersome and awkward for small measurements. The really disastrous absence happened to be the ear-defenders as I needed to run some remarkably noisy power-tools.

Three lost tools, or if not actually lost then seriously hidden.

The steel rule is a shade of grey, and I was working outside when I lost it last week, with plenty of places of a similar shade of grey where it could be perfectly camouflaged. I got by, using the tape measure, but there are times when the only tool for the job is the steel rule. I spent time hunting for it, looking in all the obvious places where I may have set it down, but there came a point where it was more important to get the job finished and make do without the steel rule. As I worked, I even considered the fact that I was going to be shopping in nearby Launceston in a few days time and could buy a new steel rule. Perhaps I ought to get more than one in preparation for losing it again – they cost two, maybe three pounds each, unless you really want to push the boat out and pay a fiver.

At the end of the day, I decided to have one final search. At ground level there was the spot where I had the power tools stacked up, but that wasn’t it. I looked behind a small waist-high retaining wall because it’s a perfect place to put a tool down only to have it tumble off the back, and then all the odd nooks and crannies where I might have put it down. Finally, I climbed the tallest ladder that I had out, to look down on the whole work area, because there’s a whole mess of roof, beams and joists where I might have laid a steel rule.

From my high vantage point, I saw it clearly. There is a white electrical utility box set into the wall that protrudes by just over an inch. I know it’s just over an inch because the steel rule is an inch across and there it was, lying on the rim, which has a modest downward angle making it easier to see the missing tool when standing on the ground. Not only that, but it was at about chest height for all of the occasions I had walked past it in the preceding hours.

So, not so much lost as hidden in plain sight. So plain, in fact, that it shouldn’t have been hidden at all.

Today, at the start of work there were three things missing, and I could only conclude that I had failed to put everything away as darkness fell last night. I was sure that I had tidied up properly, really, really sure, but after the steel-rule incident last week, anything seemed possible. So how hard can it be to find three missing tools? Whilst the steel rule is that unobtrusive shade of grey, my ear-defenders are bright red, and the tape measure is bright yellow – hard to miss, really. Perhaps some part of my subconscious took that as a challenge, because I managed to miss all three during a twenty-minute search.

Fortunately, I have two pairs of the ear defenders, same make, model and shade of red, and the second pair were easy to find in the back of my van.

Then I found the ones that I had lost, hanging up exactly where I left them in the workshop last night, right beside where I was standing when I realised that I had lost them. Sadly, there was no sign of the other items, but now armed with the essential ear protection (and a spare pair) I could get on with the job.

In due course, I reached the point where I needed to cut some small pieces of timber. I did the measurements with that clunky eight-metre measure, headed to the chop saw and there, on the bench, exactly where I had been using it to measure small pieces of timber yesterday, was the five-meter tape-measure.

I looked there. I really did. I’m sure…

Some hours later, standing at the same bench, I glanced at one of my plastic tool boxes. Laying along the bright yellow compartment in the lid, in the plainest of plain sight, was the steel rule…

I put it all down to advancing middle-age, because I never used to lose things so often and so clearly in plain sight. Sometime in the last few years I appear to have lost my youth, but I don’t suppose there’s any point in going looking for it. Of all my lost treasures, I doubt that one will turn out to be in plain sight.



This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Conceal.

Tea Is For Tramadol

In a long-forgotten time, somewhere around my childhood and quite possibly the twilight of traditional tea-time, the rules were simple: tea was drunk from a cup, on a saucer, whilst vulgar mugs were for coffee and cocoa. Of course, back then, tea was also drunk with milk and sugar until I egregiously broke with tradition and stopped using sugar. I think I was about eight, or nine, so a bit of a revolutionary when I was younger.

Sacred tea-time was dealt another blow when I went to university and I stopped putting milk in my tea. That wasn’t so much revolutionary as the end of civilisation as we know it, and it stained my mother’s tea cups. At some point, when visiting my parents, my mother took to putting my tea in a mug, probably one with a dark glaze that didn’t show the tannin stains.

In spite of the demise of traditional tea-time, and those cup/mug rules, we do still have tea-cups around the house, somewhere, and I’m sure I could find one if I went looking. They hide, you see, lurking at the back or in dark corners of the cupboards, probably forming self-help groups where fine china can grumble about how much better it was in the good old days. What we definitely do have is saucers. Lots and lots of saucers, although we could do with a few more, because sauces are useful. Tea cups have been supplanted by the more aggressive mug species, but their long-suffering support act, the saucer, has found new niches in the domestic eco-system. However, the saucer is also becoming rare.

In the time between the twilight of tea-time and now, there was a decade or two where saucers were easy to come by – church jumble sales and charity shops always had stacks of random crockery, and saucers could be re-homed in significant numbers, whilst angry cabals of tea-cups grumbled in boxes out of sight, bitter that they couldn’t even claim to have been left on the shelf.

That has all changed – the jumble sale has become the car-boot sale and charity shops have gone upmarket (at least around here) and only nice crockery is to be found. Saucers are not allowed out without their cups, and even then only in matching sets offering safety in numbers and the possibility of swaggering all the way to the dishwasher.

No matter, we still have a supply, although every attempt to establish a breeding program for saucers in captivity has failed. For now, we have saucers to stand plant pots on, to put cat treats on, to test jam for setting, to… well, saucers are just useful, and we really could do with more, especially at present, when every spare saucer is needed for Oatmeal.

That’s three kilos of furry feline called Oatmeal, not the stuff for making porridge. A year ago, Oatmeal was nearer to seven kilos of fluff, but in March this year he was diagnosed with a serious bowel problem which has been managed with high doses of steroid, which he will happily take with three grams of cream, twice a day, on a saucer.

Start counting – that’s two saucers, per day.

Then there’s the cat biscuits, delivered wherever he is currently sleeping – in the house would be ideal, but Oatmeal has made it clear that outside is his preference. Currently, that is under a fuchsia bush, whilst a week or two back, he was under a fern on the edge of the lawn. Wherever he chooses, the location is highlighted by the technicolour array of our recycling bags arranged and rigged to keep the rain off him. So, add another saucer, per day, with a few slugs on the underside.

In the last month, Oatmeal has clearly been struggling and, not to put too finer point on things, he has trouble pooing. It causes him enough discomfort that he puts it off until things are truly desperate, which only makes the problem worse. Our vet has prescribed tramadol for the pain, which is a brilliant idea, but has one tiny drawback: flavour.

Prednisone in milk or cream is absolutely fine, but tramadol… no. We’ve tried tuna, sardines, Marmite (well, you never know) and all have failed, and it makes no difference what colour saucer we use. When Oatmeal doesn’t fancy his medication…

Here, puss, puss, puss, try the tasty tramadol.

Pah. Tastes like poo. Smells like poo. Here. I’ll spit it out. You try it.

Come on puss, just swallow…

Look, I can spit it out the side of my mouth too.

Here, puss, I’ve wrapped it in some tasty meat…

I can spit that down inside your shoe.

How about this. I mixed it with sardines.

A challenge… I can ignore that. I so can ignore that. See? This is me ignoring. Hah! Gotcha.

The tramadol option appeared doomed until we discovered Royal Canin Pill Assist. It’s brown, it’s squidgy, it passes the Oatmeal taste-test, and when placed on a pile of cat biscuits on a saucer of any colour, it gets picked off the top in preference to all else. Honestly, given a choice, I think he would probably just live off Pill Assist. He generally swallows them whole, but every so often, he bites into one in passing, enough to get a taste, but then it is too late, it’s already on the way down, and all he can do is give me that frozen what did you do look before clearing up the biscuits that don’t look, taste or smell like Tramadol.

We do have more than five saucers, but it does become a challenge, and then there is Piper, seven kilos of black and white cat who knows that saucers mean treats. So, add another saucer, or two, and then there’s Ginge, half his size but capable of consuming just as many treats. That saucer supply is looking shaky.

It’s just as well that saucers are washable.

So, saucers are for Tramadol and Oatmeal is a high and happy cat.

Mug of tea, anyone?


This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Tea,  inspired by a lifetime of drinking tea and the trials of medicating a sick cat.