:: Blogtober is a blogging challenge whereby bloggers are encouraged to post every day for the month of October. My post topics have been taken from suggestions by friends and family. In general, expect my posts to be shorter, more random and of inconsistent quality! ::
This post was inspired by my Dad who suggested "Pets".
We are a petless household. Autocorrect just asked me if I meant "peerless". Ha! No. Definitely not that. We have no fuzzy, feathered or scaled creatures to heap love and care upon. This has been mainly a pragmatic decision as family life has been quite complicated to date. Throwing another dependent into the mix would have seemed rash.
I also sense that I am not amongst real animal lovers, here. No one nags me for a puppy each and every birthday and Christmas. If they did with any sincerity, frankly, it would be a slam dunk. "Hello, dog/cat/whatever!" With the notable exception of Spike and his arch-nemeses, the fluttering fiends, the boys and Ben don't dislike animals, but they are mainly indifferent. Neither Spike nor Oscar has ever been a very enthusiastic zoo visitor. If you ask them what their favourite animal is, they struggle to answer, as if you had asked them what their favourite brand of toothpaste was.
Our closest animal encounters to date have been with cats. A very persistent neighbourhood ginger tabby inveigled his way into our home on multiple occasions, a few years back. He was old, painfully thin and seemed in search of food, companionship and a folded towel to sleep on. After the first couple of visits, I put a paper collar on him and sent him back out into the streets. I got a call later that day from our next-door neighbour to say he, "Sly", was hers. Bloody London.
Sly was ancient and quite poorly. His owner was out a lot, and happy that we could offer him respite. So he often took refuge with us and, at the end of the day, we'd scoop him up and carry him next door. Dear Sly. He was so tolerant of the interest the boys took in him. He'd been around the block (literally, having lived with about 3 different families nearby) and was happy to be stroked the wrong way, accepted experimental tail tugs and was unfazed when he found himself eyeball-to-eyeball with a 4 year old. Despite his frail state, Sly was a devious food thief but, as he was on a special diet, we became practised at spotting his white and ginger paws appearing over the table top.
Our timeshare didn't last long because Sly's health quickly deteriorated and his owner had to have him put to sleep. We were all sad. He was well-known locally, and a memorial was posted on our neighbour's garden wall. The boys gathered and laid flowers, along with pictures they had drawn of Sly.
My BFF is a cat lady. At one point, it seemed that each time I visited her she had acquired another - I think she topped out at five, or maybe 6? She took her cat mother responsibilities very seriously and even managed to train her smartest and best cat to use the toilet. Honestly, this woman. She can do anything she sets her mind to. These days she applies her considerable talents to larger-scale, creative projects and bringing up my wonderful ungodchildren, but the memory of her cat using the loo reminds me of her capacity for excellence. Since, then she has down-sized her cat family to three, primarily because her partner, poor man, was heinously allergic. I'm happy to say a combination of drugs and exposure seems to have made their co-habitation viable. We cat-sit most August bank holidays when they travel and we run away from the chaos of the Notting Hill Carnival. Spike spends his time stalking the cats and asking me to "tsk, tsk" so he can pet them. I spend my time clearing up protest poos and neuroticising about their whereabouts (they're house cats and I'm worried they will escape). After a day or two of having cats around, I miss them when we go.
My first animal friends were fish. I had an unhappy goldfish or two in a small plastic bowl, who keeled over after a short innings - probably from boredom. I expect the highpoint of their day was watching me eat dinner at the breakfast bar, poor things. After this standard fairground goldfish set-up, we graduated to a proper tank. I sensed these were happier fish and I felt more connected to them. My favourites were a Koi carp, orange with white cheeks, called Yo-Yo (acknowledging his frequent rapid ascents and descents of the tank), and a tiny shimmering tench called Squiddly-Diddly (because he was). Squiddly was not your typical tank fare. We had caught him on a fishing trip, having initially mistaken the piscine scrap for a piece of weed. I feel bad now, for yanking him out of his lovely big pond and slish-sloshing him home in a Bejam bag. They were loved and well-cared for, though, until we woke one morning to find a sodden oval of carpet, and the fish nervously back-and-forthing in half a tank of water. They were re-located to a friend's pond, which seemed a suitable reward for the pleasure they had given us.
A number of years later, we acquired a gerbil. It belonged to a friend of mine whose family ran a business from home. I think the gerbil's nerves had been shredded by constant, over-enthusiastic cage-bothering. It was frenzied and aggressive and I felt sorry for it. Its owners obviously did, too, and suggested he might be happier with us. So we took Honey home.
Honey, or "Rambo" as he was sometimes known, was allowed to live peacefully. I kept the cage clean, his food varied and nourishing, and discouraged him from gnawing the bars of the cage by keeping him well-stocked with toilet rolls. For a long time, Honey embodied a rodent Jekyll and Hyde, occasionally allowing me to run my fingers between his ears and down his back; sometimes launching himself at me, all horrow show fangs. I grew used to having a gerbil hanging off my finger by his teeth. Eventually, his cortisol levels returned to something approaching normal. In the evenings, we would close all the doors in our corridor and let Honey run around, knowing we could get him back in his cage without having to make a blood sacrifice . He lived for ages, to the point that I would peer into his cage, daily, thinking "Is he dead, yet?". He rarely was. We had him for 4 and a half years before a huge growth on his ear compelled us to do the kind thing.
The animals that meant the most to me weren't mine; they belonged to my paternal grandparents. But they were very much my childhood pals. There was Fred, a Bassett/Beagle cross who was cheerful and dopey. Ceefur* occupied the position of elder statesman cat. Cat siblings, Benson and Kizzy, were like feline yin and yang: Benson, an affectionate fluff ball, and Kizzy, tetchy and aloof. They also had a rabbit called Arfur* and Elvis, a budgie (which surely died out as species in the mid-80s, as I've not seen one since).
Fred and Benson were my favourites. If you provided a lap Benson would be on it, purring deeply, shedding handfuls of black hair and dribble on you. Fred and I would jostle for position in front of the open fire, and then think better of our victories when sparks popped out. He had the most textbook, doggy "woof" and he was inexplicably terrified of the sea urchin carapaces that my grandparents collected. I tried (and failed) to resist the temptation of teasing him with them. Like Sly, he was prepared to suffer a thousand indignities in the name of love (see main photo). He got his revenge though: he was a terrible farter. I loved him so much.
Occasionally, Spike announces that he wants a very specific cat called Jasper, but the next week he will be adamant that he most certainly does not want a pet. Oscar wants a wolf.
So we will remain petless. For now.
* "C for cat", "R for rabbit" !
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