Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Feral Cats

I am grateful that my readers are so passionate about the subject of feral cats and the proper treatment of them.  But I have not been clear, I see now, and readers that are not familiar with this blog may not appreciate the situation here, so please let me clarify (not that I expect to change any minds).

I live in a desert.  It is probably a place that you can barely imagine.  In the summer the temperatures soar to over 50 Celsius (120 + Fahrenheit), in the winter they drop to below 10.  There is no rain to speak of.

The native population of humans love to hunt.  Most of the indigenous species - from oryx to desert mice are extinct locally.  One species that has survived the extermination sprees and has adapted to co-habitation, is the sand cat, felix margarita sp. These are indigenous 'wildcats'. 

Our golf course cats are unlikely to be pure 'wildcats', but they show characteristics of those species, mixed with some Arabian domestic cat signs.  

My use of the words 'feral cats' has no doubt conjured images of monstrous domestic cats that decimate local wildlife populations in places like Australia.  Cats such as these are a menace and should be controlled.

Some of our population was also made up of pets who live on the compound, and sadly former pets, who have been abandoned.  A few of us have tried to look after these cats, feeding them, taking them to the vet when they are sick or injured, and having them neutered and spayed.

One of the comments from the previous post maintained that TNR programs are also cruel and seemed to suggest that it is more humane to euthanise the cats immediately.  I can see this argument; however, cats are territorial animals, and believe me, there is an unending supply of them here in Exile.  We hoped that by maintaining a stable population of neutered and spayed cats, they would look after the newcomers and chase them away.

If 'all' the cats are eradicated, in a few weeks we will have a new population to dispose of.  The idea of an endless treadmill of catching and killing cats does not appeal.

We all know that the world is far from perfect and there are many many calls on our charitable natures.  Perhaps for some people, caring about starving animals is frivolous.  Perhaps for some people seeing a kitten die a wretched death from poisoning is 'ok'.  I am not one of those people.

As for the abusive comments ...  I can see that the subject is one that arouses passions - quite rightly.  I am happy to listen to your point of view, whether you agree with me or not.  I will not resort to name calling or personal nastiness, and I expect the same of you.  I have not blocked any readers nor deleted any comments, yet, but if you are unable to be rational and reasonable, I would prefer you did not read my blog.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

I am heartsick

Our neighbour, the golf club, is having a big tournament this weekend.

I suppose peacocks and feral cats are untidy.

A week or so ago, we had 16 feral cats, well-fed and loved.  So far, LG has survived.  My friend R, who gave her succour during her post-op recovery, is going to try to catch her and keep her at home in protective custody.

Last night there were 4 cats.

Two more bodies were found this morning.

There are almost no peacocks.

It seems poison has been laid to 'tidy up' the wildlife problem.

All of LG's kittens, including the ones in the photo from a week or so ago, have disappeared, presumed poisoned.

Macc and Ming do not go out of the garden so they should be safe and I will be keeping Wolfe indoors for the rest of the week, because she does go for strolls and loves to eat.

I am heartsick.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Big Toys and Road Safety

Thursday's newspaper had 'Road Deaths' as its leading article.  On the same front page, was a commercial press release, masquerading as 'news', about a wonderful demonstration of an F1 car for the public.   That happened on Saturday, closing down the city centre and encouraging more hoonism.

Today's paper had a report on the excitement, detailing the 300 km/hr speed achieved on what is normally a public road, and the many '360s' the professional driver performed for the adoring crowds.

I am a bit of a petrol head myself. I confess.

I am also appalled by the road fatalities here, one of the highest rates per capita in the world (and astronomical when you consider how much of the population is bus-bound and unable to drive).  The biggest cause of death on the roads is speed; closely followed by not wearing seat belts, driving dangerously, being distracted by texting or the video playing, and all fuelled by a fatalistic disregard for personal responsibility.

The young drivers have high-powered cars and love to decorate the road with skids and tyre burns from their antics.  They hardly need to be encouraged in their madness by 'professional' drivers setting a bar for them to emulate.

Marius and I did not venture to the main display, but we did witness the marshalling of the parade of private vehicles that preceded the main event.

Feast your eyes:


Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 Days Long

I've stopped leaping up at every unidentified voice now.  I oscillate between acceptance and hope.  Eventually I will possibly stop hoping and resign myself to acceptance, but so far, I keep hoping (pace Seneca).

Ratty was last seen, full of beans and energy, the morning before we returned to Exile.  My domestic assistant gave him and the other cats their breakfasts and then let them all out into the garden for an airing.  Apparently Ratty climbed a tree and skedaddled over the wall.  Indrani tells me that while we were away, he took off on adventures twice before, once for two days, but he always came home.

When I am feeling optimistic, I think Ratty is out on an extended bachelor jaunt, like he used to have before his accident in early October.  When I am feeling realistic? pessimistic?  I think he must have had a final 'neurological meltdown' and has gone off to die by himself, as cats do.  I worry that he may have been hit by a truck out on the big road, or he ate poison on the golf course, or he got swept up in a 'trap, neuter, return (somewhere else)' program. 

I've spoken to all the other cats on the street, including LG (his little sister) and none of them have told me news of Ratty.  I've looked in unoccupied gardens and through the fence, and I still call him from our garden.  I've spoken to the maids I see out walking their employers' dogs, and I listen to all the voices of the peacocks and children, hoping to hear Ratty.

If I find his body, then that is that.  I'll know he has gone.  And yes, I expect I will stop hoping to see him on my doorstep, but not yet.  I miss him.

LG is well and her fur has grown back.  Strangely enough, she is still feeding her kittens in a haphazard way, although they are nearly as big as she is.  They are devastatingly cute:

Soon it will be time to try to organise for more neutering and spaying as we have an abundance of gorgeous young cats on the compound.  They are flourishing because people feed them, which means they are healthy and will soon start breeding too.  In fact Seams' May brood are already big enough to be multiplying.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Holbrook Lamingtons

In my post Driving Home    I mentioned lamingtons.  There is a wonderful bakery at Holbrook, on the Hume Highway, roughly midway between Sydney and Melbourne, which is famous for meat pies and lamingtons.  

Many years ago, when we still lived in Sydney, both Marius and I worked full time.  With two small children, and restricted leave, we struggled to manage the holidays.  Our generous parents would help out by letting the children stay with them for a week or two at a time.  This meant that rather than having separate 'childminding-only' leave, we were able to take our holidays as a family.

Marius's parents lived about three or four hours drive away, which is easily manageable on a weekend.  We would deliver the children, stay over night and drive back to Sydney (and work) the next day.  My parents lived in Melbourne, which in those days before multiple by-passes and dual carriageways, was a twelve hour journey, making it impossible to do a return trip in a weekend.  We developed a wonderful scheme where we would meet my parents (and sometimes stay overnight) at Holbrook, famous for its submarine.  After we had handed over the children, we would head north to Sydney and my parents south back to Melbourne.

If we were not staying overnight, we would stop and have a picnic together in one of the lovely parks.  At Holbrook we discovered the Holbrook Bakery (now sadly competing with imitations) where we sampled the meat pies, sausage rolls and especially the lamingtons.

I am delighted to report the Bakery is still operating, and the lamingtons remain fabulous.  (A lamington is made from plain sponge cake, cut into 2 inch cubes, dipped in melted chocolate and then covered in dessicated coconut.  Avoid ones filled with jam and/or synthetic cream as they are decidedly inferior.) 

Just after Christmas last year, on the way up to Forster, we stopped for our picnic at Holbrook.  It is the perfect distance from Melbourne for lunch, if you leave between 8 and 9 in the morning.  When we pulled up outside the bakery, there were plenty of people milling about, dithering over the menu, but Prima and I walked up to the counter and ordered three  meat pies and (amazingly conservative) a half dozen lamingtons.  By the time we walked out of the shop with our order, the queue was out the door and onto the footpath.  Popular place.

On the way back to Melbourne, Marius and Primus stopped at Holbrook again.  They bought 2 dozen lamingtons and managed to eat a quarter of them on their way home.

It is lovely when some things remain the same as the shrine in one's memory.

Prima and Primus, at Holbrook, c 1992


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oh -- it's so good to be back in Exile


I have unpacked my bag.  A breakthrough.

I didn't sleep much last night, in spite of staying up ALL day and finally succumbing to the delights of my sheets at about 8 pm.  I slept and woke and slept and worried and didn't sleep and worried.  Not only about the still missing Ratty, but also about the not-so-well Prima.  Who would live 12,000 km away from their children?  I don't recommend it.

On Saturday Prima complained of dizziness and vertigo.  We went to visit her, bought some food for her and fussed as only guilty parents can.  She was a little better on Sunday when we visited and brought food again.  We delivered her to her friend's house where she is staying for a few nights while she is busy at the Uni. 

On Monday she tried to get in to see a doctor but couldn't get an appointment until Tuesday. 

Our tickets were restricted - no changes allowed - so we were compelled to fly out on Monday night or forfeit them.  Prima said she wasn't that bad and we should go.

On Tuesday the doctor sent her for blood tests and an ECG and told her to come back today (Wednesday); he also told her to go to Emergency if she got any worse.

This morning, after my fitful sleep, I got up at 4:20 am and rang her.  She was in the waiting room at the Hospital, armed with a letter from the worried doctor and her test results.  The doctor  wanted her to have further tests, and possibly be admitted.

So - do I buy a ticket for this evening's marathon flight back to Melbourne, or wait?  Such is the agony of the absentee Mum.

I called her brother who promptly scooted down to Emergency to hold Prima's hand.  Champion son.

Eventually it was decided not to admit her.  She has been given a probable diagnosis of viral labyrinthitis, recommended rest and told to come back if she gets worse.  She is being cared for by her competent and careful friends and says 'not to worry, not to come' unless things go pear-shaped.

My rant is not about all the above, difficult though it has been.  No, like any sensible mother, I thought I would look up 'labyrinthitis' to both reassure myself and provide ammunition for more worry.

I typed in 'labyrinthitis':  the first website listed was the NIH one in the US, which I have found reliable for other conditions.  Perhaps you would like to look and see what is on the web page for me, because when I clicked on the link, I got the lovely message from those who know better than I do, that the site was banned because it contains 'pr*hibited m*terial'.  Infection of the middle ear - dangerous stuff, clearly.

Maybe I am incredibly naive and innocent that I can not see the glaring problem with the word or the site.  Such a delight to know I am being taken care of by those who know better.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All the Peacocks You Will Ever Need

This morning Marius and I landed back in Exile (also known as the sandbox, the litterbox and by other more or less affectionate names).  A fourteen hour flight and an eight hour time change do not make for bright sparky people, even if they travelled in comparative luxury and were able to 'sleep' for some of the duration.

Our flight was half an hour late landing because the pilot had to make a 500 kilometre detour around a storm.  Even so, we had plenty of turbulence and lightning, with the seatbelt sign on for at least half the journey.

I am not unpacked - except the frozen food including b*con and party pies for the upcoming festivities.  We brought back two jars of Commemorative Vegemite, 2 kg of coffee from Timor, four packets of Twisties (oh we are sophisticated!), a packet of Freddo Frogs, three water pumps, six ocky straps, a new tarp for the swing and a barbecue cover (the last one was too big), a pair of secateurs, two flags, a cap with an Australian flag on it, and a pile of books and magazines.  Sorry, I am delaying.

We hoped to find our four-and-a-half cats safe and well.  We have found three-and-a-half (LG of the doorstep being the half cat).  LG was on the doorstep, as expected.  Macc was howling inside the front door as we lumped our cases up the steps.  Wolfe was lurking by the backdoor, avoiding Macc.  Ming maowed from upstairs (she is always frosty when we first return).  Who is missing?  Ratty.

I have heard nothing from the three guardians who were watching him for me.  I haven't been able to raise ANY of them.  I don't know if Ratty has just been AWOL since this morning or if he has been missing for longer ...  I've been out twice, stumbling in my jet-fog along the golf course fence calling him.  No answer, or not from the one cat I am looking for.  Plenty of peacocks.

Far too many peacocks in fact. 

This chap has been on our doorstep, probably stealing LG's breakfast.  He was waiting again when I came out this afternoon on my Ratty hunt:

If you look at his neck, you can see missing feathers, which I suspect is the result of competing with other youngish males. 

It is warmer than when we left - 20 when we landed where it should be below 10.  The peacocks must think it is springtime, mating time, because here is my best effort (under difficulties this afternoon) recording a fan:

He was displaying to another cock, who also had his fan up (no photos of the second chap).

The sequence runs from full display, to hind view, and then the gradual drooping of tail feathers.  There was no characteristic rattle and dance, nor any mesmerised females.  I think they are practising competitive tail-wagging.

I have just managed to contact one of the guardians.  Ratty was here yesterday for breakfast but has not been home since.  I hope this means he is not far away.  I will let you know when we find him.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Rose

Last Thursday, we came back to Melbourne.  Marius dropped Prima and me at the airport at Newcastle and we flew home in an hour and a half, while he and Primus drove the buggy back down the Hume Highway, arriving some 12 hours after we did.

We do not consider ourselves royalty who -- perhaps it is a modern legend? -- are reputed not to travel all on the same plane, rather, Prima had an appointment in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon and wanted me to accompany her on the flight.

Before we left, I whispered to Marius 'If you have time, please drive past our house again and pick me a rose.'  When we passed by on the way up, it didn't occur to me to get out of the car and approach the gate, touch the fabric of our house; rather my heart was pounding suficiently with the emotion of seeing the place for the first time in over ten years.  It was only when we were all talking about it later that it occurred to me that I could have a souvenir, as it were.

I love roses and when we lived in Sydney, we planted over 70 of them.  My criteria were simple:  they had to be fragrant, disease-resistant and repeat flowerers.  Many of them are from the rose breeder David Austin, and carry wonderful Shakespearian and Chaucerian names.  The front rose garden that is just inside the fence once bloomed continuously, with only a brief pause of dormancy in July (our winter).  I always wanted to have enough flowers in bloom so that if a passer-by plucked one, it would make no difference to the display.  I often offered a rose to someone walking home from the station after work if I was out 'dead-heading' the bushes.

When Marius finally arrived back in Melbourne, after dropping Primus at his place in the city, it was quite late, and my single pink rose had been out of water for many hours.  I've been pressing her under a pile of books and plan to take her back to Exile with me. 

Here she is:

After the sorry post earlier about home and dislocation, I confess I feel happier now.  Not sure if the rose has anything to do with that, or whether it is merely the space and time between me and our beautiful house. 

Tomorrow night we fly back.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Driving Home

The idea of 'home' is so fraught for an exile.  Where or what is home?  There is that trite expression: home is where your heart is, and like all such expressions it touches on truth but doesn't really mean anything.  Well not to this lost soul.  My heart is where Marius is, always.  But then, there are the children, like any mother, they hold pieces of my heart fast in their grip.  There are my parents, the dog and the relatives ...  and there is place. 

As you may remember, I was born (oh and pprobably will die) an exile.  I have come to the conclusion that it is a state of mind as much as anything.  I've lived in five different countries for long enough to let each one claim a part of my sentiment for place as home.  I have been separated from the city where I grew up for more than 30 years - and I have no proper access to return there.  The only landscape I have known all my life is in Lincolnshire, where my grandparents and Aunt lived.  They are all dead  and my access to that landscape is now only as a visitor.  Some how the landscape and feeling welcome in it is important to me.

As I write this, I am in Forster, staying with my mother-in-law.  Marius and I helped with the design and construction of this house, twenty five years ago.  We used to come up for weekends with our babies:  returning here is always emotional and full of physical memories.

We drove up from Melbourne in a marathon 15 hour run.  We took lots of breaks along the 1,200 kilometre journey.  We haven't driven up for about ten years, always flying to Newcastle and hiring a car to complete the journey.  Now we have a little car which I bought in July last year (so our children could finally get their driving licenses) and Marius was itching to give it a run. 

The road has changed dramatically even in the last ten years.  All the little towns on the Hume Highway have been bypassed except Holbrook, that bypass is still under construction.  The last time we came, we had to drive through Albury, now that is bypassed.  (This one is close to my heart as I did the original computer model for the bypass in 1985, in a previous existence.  Great to see something built at long last!)  I will write about Holbrook separately and the famous lammingtons. 

When we came to Sydney, we discovered that our e-tag (well Dad's e-tag actually) works on the motorways of Sydney, enabling us to cross this huge conurbation in under 40 minutes - a previously torturous trip which could take two hours.  There is only one section of non-motorway road linking the south and north of Sydney, and it happens to be less than a kilometre from our house.

We deviated slightly off the sign-posted route, driving past the golf course, around the corner and stopping here:

Our house.  We bought it in 1990 as a wreck, a delightful Federation cottage which the estate agent expected us to pull down and replace with a huge slice of 'wedding cake'.  We didn't.  At the time my father said 'you must have vision' and shook his head.  We restored the old lady and eventually built an extension to her, turning her into a lovely comfortable family 'home'.   That word again.

We lived at that address for ten years of hard labour.  The day we flew out to Malayasia, we painted the fireplace grate and finished the mortaring around the back step.  We never lived in it 'finished'. 

One day, we might have the chance to live there again.

I realise I haven't told you how it felt to drive up and take a few snaps from the car window and drive away again, without getting out.  I have to trust you to imagine how it felt - the house which friends and family poured bits of their hearts into, friends and family who are not living.  A place crammed with memories and dreams. 

Our tenant moved in the week after we moved out.  She has lived there longer than we have.  She pays her rent and keeps it tidy.  It is a sound investment, a heartbreak, a place only.  Bricks and mortar and terracotta tiles:  home.