Gandalf is a clever cat, but sometimes he is too clever for his own good. There is a feral cat that comes calling – literally. He also leaves his smelly mark in The Sandbag House kitchen because he uses the cat flap. It’s bi-directional so at night it is now set so that the princess and the wizard can go out. It does mean that although Mr Ginger Feral can’t get in, nor can they.
Not Gandalf the Grey cat. He has learned how to open it outwards and come in.
Princess Pearli, on the other hand, rarely deigns to use the flap – especially if her humans are in the vicinity – prefers to climb the ramparts and come in the window.
Then, in the deep dark of a night, The Cat’s Mother hears the cat flap. Ah! Gandalf is home. Odd: he doesn’t thunder up the stairs. Suddenly, there is a-thumping and a-crashing.
The Cat’s Mother hares down the stairs to discover that the clever cat forgot, when he came through the flap, to bring in his tail.
Although The Cat’s Mother is not very awake, she quickly realises that opening the flap to release the the tail is impossible, and that opening the adjacent door will distress the poor creature even more. Only one course of action –
The tail is out.
There was much tail-flapping and agitation until Gandalf wedged himself unhappily between his humans. As for the scratch on his nose: he wasn’t telling….
Let’s just say, that all’s well that ended well, but he has not learned his lesson, but has adjusted his technique so that his entry is now as grand as his name!
Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
This is the sixth in a series of seven, actually eight I now discover about the kittenhood our black feline, Pearli.
The princess and the rain
In the second year of Pearli’s human life, we had a particularly wet, cold winter. The cold and rain put Pearli into a perpetual pickle.
Like all pussy cats, she hates the cold and the wet. She indulges in all sorts of things to stay warm: In the middle of the night, she will beat the Cat’s Mother around the head until she’s invited to sneak under the duvet to snuggle up. In the early evening, before the Cat’s Mother adjourns to the kitchen to conjure up something for dinner, Pearli hounds her until she sits on the sofa so that she has a warm lap to inhabit. She starts off, curled up like a songololo, and once she’s warm, the Cat’s Mother is permitted to retire to the kitchen with Pearli remaining on the sofa, fending off the cruel, cold world. Once the fire’s lit, Pearli graduates from the sofa to the closest cushion and, again, starts off doing the songololo impersonation, and as she thaws out, unfurls herself. But it’s less the cold that thwarts her than the wet, especially when it’s rained for days, and the ground is waterlogged. Caught in a rain shower, on the way home from her usual morning tea date, she has been known rudely rush past, grumbling and muttering to herself, not stopping to greet. What a pickle if she’s in doors, and go out she must. She does, following a great deal of contemplation and protestation. Here’s a little taster of what goes down before she eventually braves the wet and the cold (with apologies for the Cat’s Mother’s poor cinematic skills!)
Next time: Pearli on the Ramparts
It has been a very long time since we had rain like this. This post was originally written in July 2015. Since then we’ve had consecutively drier years until this year which, although we’ve had rain, is still dry. We’ve just come out of a week of unseasonally hot winter weather with two days where the temperature was as high as 27 and 30°Celsius in a week where it’s been over 20°C each day!
You know, the old story, while the cat’s away, the mice will play? Well, this is what happened, in a manner of speaking, when
This is the fifth in a series of seven about the kittenhood our black feline, Pearli.
Monster Cat and the Tatty Ear
You know the old story that while the cat’s away, the mice will play? Well, this is what happened, in a manner of speaking, when the Cat’s Mother was on a business trip.
She arrived home for The Husband to say, “Pearli is not very happy…”
No, she wasn’t. Muddied and curled into a tight ball (on the bed in the guest room, no less), she wasn’t speaking to anyone.
The Husband seemed to think that she had had an altercation with Monster Cat and had come off second best. Monster Cat had been around for months, nay, for about two years, actually, and had been terrorising not just Melon and Pearli, but also other usually fearless felines in our neighbourhood. The Husband had tried to catch him; other Cat’s Mothers in the area have also had to take steps to protect said formerly fearsome felines from the vagaries of Monster Cat.
Monster Cat is large and is a Siamese cross – his looks belie his nature: he is very cunning and very bold. He has found his way, through the cat flap and into The Sandbag House, more than once.
One such occasion had some unhappy consequences for both Monster Cat and The Husband, who ended up with a burst blood vessel in his eye, from having rather aggressively chased said cat out of the house – in the wee hours of the morning.
Monster Cat is quick; not to be caught on camera.
So, returning to the day in question, the Cat’s Mother cleaned up a very irritated Pearli who, after a long sleep, seemed not too the worse for wear.
Two days later, there was a repeat performance. The screeching and snarling could be heard from somewhere in the empty plot across the road.
Pearli hared home: she arrived covered in mud and, this time, faeces.
No, Pearli was definitely not going to inveigle the Cat’s Mother into allowing her to snuggle up in the guest room.
When the Cat’s Mother and The Husband cleaned her up – this time with, horror of horrors, water – she moaned and wailed.
“The Cat’s Mother is TOOOORTURING me!”
All clean, she recovered her “cattitude” and seemed fine, except for a poorly ear, which didn’t seem bad enough to warrant a visit to the vet.
Hmm, yes. Pearli should probably have seen the plastic surgeon. It’s healed, but the ear is now rather tatty! Or as some say, it defines who she is.
Our week began, that Monday, in the wee hours of the morning.
It’s Wednesday and you’re expecting another episode of Pearli’s Pickles. This week, though, I thought I’d tell a story that includes both Pearli and Melon. Just because I can.
The Huntresses’ Competition
Both Melon was, and Pearli is, a huntress of note, and give a whole new meaning to food-on-the-run!
Our week began, that Monday, in the wee hours of the morning. Simultaneous with a scrabbling around behind the headboard, a cat launched herself off a rather soft spot on The Cat’s Mother’s abdomen and into mid-air. The Husband, who could sleep on a washing line, was dead to the world.
“Humph!” he responded to my urgent, “there’s a mouse in the house!” and turned over…
I went to investigate.
Ginger Melon MP had caught a mouse and brought it upstairs: no doubt, and hopelessly, expecting coos of delight and pride from her humans.
I discovered that she and Tiger Pearl were both trying to corner Mouse: they were staring longingly into the too-small-for-them-space under the bed.
Having considered whether, realistically, there was anything I could do to corner and rescue Mouse, and bearing in mind that cats are far more effective hunters than I could ever be, particularly at 2.30 am, I got back into bed, bracing myself for the frenzy that would, inevitably, come.
Mercifully, for both the wee timorous beastie, and the somnolent humans, I soon heard a growling, a squeak and, aargh, a crunch! A sure sign that one of the cats had caught Mouse.
Melon had, and was telling Pearli, in no uncertain terms, that it was hers!
Then began the process of herding Melon, hopefully, out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden where she might eat her early breakfast, allowing me to crawl back into my warm med bed for some fitful sleep before the real beginning to the week….
This is the fourth in a series of seven about the kittenhood our black feline, Pearli.
This Week: Pearli and Big Bad Baby Mole
Pearli is a prodigious huntress. It’s a fact and it’s what felines do. I don’t enjoy it and, in her defence, if the prey is edible, she eats it. Even if she leaves evidence for the Cat’s Parents to clean up.
The other day, however, she found herself thwarted. A couple of days earlier, the Cat’s Father commented that Pearli didn’t seem to have caught any mice recently. Then, yesterday, the Cat’s Mother spied Pearli in a familiar stance on the lawn and went to investigate.
Only to find Big Bad Baby Mole.
Oh, Mum, what big teeth he has! And he’s shouting at me!
Ah, yes, but what Pearli didn’t spy were Big Bad Baby Mole’s big feet. As she watched, Bad, Bad Mole dug his way out of trouble!
Pearli’s in a pickle. But she doesn’t know it yet. She has, even as a tiny kitten, been a trollop. After a jaunt, she’d rush home and clamber onto the Cat’s Mother’s lap. Totally pooped.
After Rosie, the Cat’s Mother was, admittedly, a little paranoid. She was to be forgiven though because the little mite was not quite three months old. However, after Pearli’s being returned more than once by concerned neighbours, and then hearing concerned passersby, visitors to the village, commenting on such a lovely kitten, “Must be lost…”, Cat’s Mother was her wit’s end.
A collar had to be acquired. Fast. And one that was a) small enough, and b) could be written upon. No time to have fancy tags made. Besides they would cost all four of Pearli’s scrawny arms and legs, as well as the Cat’s Mother’s much less scrawny ones, at such short notice. The first collar was conventional and at a cost that spared the limbs. Pearli lost that one three times, but not before she’d been brought home several times, including by a gentleman and his son who found her up at the dam, about a kilometer up the hill, behind our house. On a very hot day.
After that, desperate times required desperate measures. Fortunately, Angel Jeweler makes wonderful jewellery, both of the real kind, and of the kind that a pretty kitty might wear, and she came to the rescue. Often.
Tiger Pearl, aka Pearli, is totally irrepressable and it’s rare that we get photographs of her mid-antic (as, happily was the case on this occasion).
Much to our horrified delight and pride, she learnt to use cat door at the ripe old age of eight weeks.
She is black lightening, through the rain, said cat flap, on to the couch and a pristine clean throw.
Until recently. She has, for some reason, decided that it is much more fun to come into the house through our bedroom window. One small problem: it’s on the gable end of our house in the loft space. The first time she appeared on the window sill she was rather nervous and wailed to be helped in – jumping back down was not an option.
The other morning, it was raining, and the Cat’s Mother found her, rather like Kilroy, trying to scrabble through the closed window. Nerve wracking for the Cat’s Mother who didn’t want her falling off the sill and bouncing on to the wet corrugated iron “afdak”*, and plummeting to the earth below. Fortunately, she held her footing and once the Cat’s Mother had opened the window, she happily jumped up to the top of the lower pane and in.
This morning was no different, except it must have been a hard night on the town. In she came, through the window at about 5.30am. No, like most girl children, she does not tell the mother what she’s been up to. Suffice it to say that she was exhausted and passed out on the chest of drawers at the bottom of the bed, on the soft mohair blanket and counterpane.
That was not it. As the Cat’s Parents were having our mandatory morning tea, she suddenly disappeared off the chest of drawers – with the mohair and counterpane. No thud; soft landing and one very bemused, sleepy kitty that was happy to have the Cat’s Mother scoop her into the warm bed for a comforting cuddle.
I began this post on a Wednesday in March. Now it’s nearly the end of November. Quite a year it has been, this 2017. The only thing to do, is to give it beans.
I began this post, I discovered when I had a moment to get back here, on what would have been my mum’s birthday. I had intended to complete it a week or so later, keeping a promise to the Fairy Godmother. That was a Wednesday in March. As I write, it’s November and nearly a year since the fire.
March seems an age ago. Gandalf was still a kitten. Quite a fan club has our Gandalf. Of our felines, he is The Queen of Tarte’s favourite. Then there’s Selma who spent as much time snapping Gandalf as she did my Sunday Supper cooking! A visit to Gandalf, never mind The Cats’ Mother, is a non-negotiable part of any of her visits to McGregor!
Then there’s his Fairy Godmother who journeys to Africa at least twice a year; her affair with Gandalf began with a chance sighting on Facebook. Well, as they say, the rest is history, and prior to her last visit, she decreed that she would be having face time with her feline godchild. Because the visits are frequently infrequent, she has a burgeoning social circle, so we all gathered at The Sandbag House. All because of her tryst with Gandalf!
The Fairy Godmother is due to swoop in again at the end of the month. She will discover that although Gandalf has grown up and given up doing the Charleston in his dinner, he has developed a few other habits. Perhaps – just perhaps – the consequences are a little less messy. They are equally annoying and endearing, but they do have serious implications for elements of the reptile population of our garden: he has a penchant for lizards, snakes and skinks. It’s Gandalf’s prodigious catching of the latter that on one occasion, seriously dented The Husband’s image.
That is an angry skink (aka a legless lizard) clamped to The Husband’s thumb. So much for his being thanked for coming to the rescue.
So, ahead of the Fairy Godmother’s visit which, ironically, may (rain permitting) coincide with the first picking of this year’s crop of beans, here’s the recipe for her salad, a dish that I made up because we simply had to eat beans, mini-tomatoes and basil:
The Fairy Godmother’s Mediterranean Style Green Bean Salad
Three or four handfuls of young green beans (probably 300 – 400 g)
A handful of cocktail tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on their size
A handful of black olives, pitted
(adjust the quantities for proportion and the number of people you’re feeding)
Half a bunch each of chives and basil
A dash or two of Vinaigrette
Top and tail the beans and blanch and plunge into cold water. Cool, but don’t let them get icy cold – the warmth helps the flavours to “meld”. Combine with the tomatoes and olives. Lastly, add the vinaigrette. Here, err on the side of what seems like too little: this salad benefits from standing a while to let the flavours develop and the tomatoes will add their own juice to the dressing.
Finally, chop the chives and add the basil leaves, toss and serve.
And while I’m giving it beans, I am reminded that blogpal Ark says that his “missus won’t eat them [beans] once they have swollen in the pods … they are too stringy”. Well, yes they can get stringy, and also could be a bit chewy. I’m too Scottish to let slightly overgrown beans go to waste, and equally, I’m not into vegetable death by boiling, which was my mother’s way of addressing virtually any vegetable: what follows is as close as I get to that (unless it’s by mistake). Although this dish is not pretty – the beans lose their bright green colour – it’s more than palatable and is a good way of dealing with a late harvest.
Late harvest green beans – for “the missus”
In a heavy bottomed-pot, sauté a chopped onion in butter and a little olive oil. Top, tail and french cut the beans – a little smaller than you might normally. Add them to the pot with a little water. Cover and simmer until soft- probably about 15 minutes. The liquid will disappear during the cooking. Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper. Add a little extra interest with some garlic (at the onion stage) and chopped fresh thyme.
And so…quite a year it has been, this 2017. As it draws to an end, for many in our circle, it’s been a year of inordinate challenge and change. Hardly anyone I know has not been confronted with big decisions and life-changing events.
The learning: to be like this couple and give it beans. Fizz and her husband were our first international Sunday Supper guests. They travel the world and have a decades-long love affair with Africa – even though she’s not too good on her pins anymore. Life-loving, gracious and an absolute delight.
The end of winter stirs all sorts of things, including Monster Cat. Why he is nosing around The Sandbag House and Magic Melon and Princess Pearli, only he knows.
Spring is in the air. We see it in the garden, notwithstanding the lack of rain, this winter.
Our strelitzia plants (aka the crane or bird of paradise flower) have more flowers than in the last three years.
The Wild Iris, too, are flowering earlier than I remember.
The end of winter stirs all sorts of things, including Monster Cat. Why he is nosing around The Sandbag House and, more to the point, Magic Melon and Princess Pearli, only he knows. Technically, they should hold no interest for him, but venturing onto their turf, he is. Mercifully, he’d not been around for a while. The last time we saw him was in the heat of late summer after Mr J, Street Guard Dog, had trapped him in the hedge. At the time, I called the Relevant Expert for help, hoping that, at last, Monster Cat would be dealt with. Alas, Mr J lost interest and Monster Cat fled, but not before I took this photograph of him in the depths of the hedge.
Perhaps Monster Cat was sufficiently put off by Mr J’s show of force because there’s been no evidence of his presence for some time. Until Tuesday. It was a public holiday so The Husband and the Cat’s Mother had decided to have an afternoon natter under the tree in the garden. No sooner had we settled when we heard what sounded like World War III. Up we leapt and headed in the direction of the fracas to discover fur flying. Princess Pearli was defending her turf and, yes, you guessed it: she came off second best.
So bad was it that Pearli permitted The Husband to retrieve her, after which Pearli was deposited in one of her favourite spots – soft and warm. The same Relevant Expert was then hastily summoned to address the nasty lacerations, shock and more importantly, loss of dignity.
Quite resilient, though, our Pearli and just a day later, was supervising some or other human activity in her realm.
Six days on, very much recovered, if not healed, she decided that she’d see to her own lunch and tried to share it with the Cat’s Mother. Warm mouse is not my idea of Sunday lunch, so she was rapidly removed, with her prey.
Monster Cat, however, is not the only pickle in which Pearli finds herself; she has a poetic pursuer. Mr Darcy has matured from an elusive kitten into a poet inspired by his surroundings.
Mr Darcy’s poetry is exquisite and, according to the Dowager Mother, influenced by “the romantic-pastoral style of Wordsworth”:
The golden corn it blows and blows
The silly thing it never knows
How hard it shall be beaten
And then it shall be eaten
Perhaps, though, this is a love that shall remain unrequited; alas, Mr Darcy and Princess Pearli’s worlds are such that their paths are unlikely to cross.
Meanwhile, the seasons wait for no-one. Human or feline.
…and the sun spectacularly rises and sets every day.
A favourite childhood memory is having Granny read aloud to us. In addition to her reading to us, and knitting madly at the same time, my memories include her reciting Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.
A favourite childhood memory is of Granny reading aloud to us. She came to South Africa once, for three months over December 1969 to January into 1970. After she left, we never saw her again, although she was an important presence in our lives until she died, at 79 in 1979.
She was a tall, regal woman who smoked cigarettes with a long holder; her tipples of choice were gin and tonic (to which she inadvertently introduced me at the ripe old age of twenty months) and the not-so-occasional Advokaat. She was a prodigious knitter and reader of stories. She could not cook.* Hardly surprising, given her upbringing and as she had been widowed with four very young children, and shortly after having been widowed, all four children caught diphtheria and one died.
To make ends meet, I had thought that Granny worked in the Morris Factory in Oxford – making bombs and that she had taken in young evacuees from London (sewed into brown paper for winter warmth), billeting soldiers in the family home.
I’m not sure how these “memories” became “fact” for me, so I am delighted to have been given the real ones from one of Mum’s sisters, Susan. Having seen the original of this post, this is what she wrote about Granny, whom the three sisters referred to as Flossie:
“During the war she went into the war factory in Cowley. All women who did not have very young children were called up to do whatever was local and needed. The factory was called MPRD – metal produce recovery department. (It had made bodies for cars in peacetime). Their jobs were dismantling crashed aeroplanes for recycling. She absolutely loved it – it was a whole new world to be with lots of people – all women on their own mostly – and they had a lot of fun.
“Flossie was a star member of the dramatic society and continued with that after the war. She and her sisters used to make up plays and act them – and become the people in them!
“She and her sisters had had quite a sheltered life with a governess and servants but after their mother died (at the age of 42) the younger two, Bobby and Terry, went to boarding school and I don’t know what happened to Jilly who was 5 when her Ma died. Flossie was 18 and took over the parish** visiting so had never had much fun…
“… They worked very long hours 7 – 7 and 7 days a week in the early years of the war….
“We all became very self-sufficient children and most of us were ’latchkey’ kids. But times were different then and there was always someone about to keep an eye out on children.”
“It’s been interesting talking to Jane [the middle of the remaining (now two) sisters] over the years as we remember very different things from those times. Flossie absolutely adored babies and very young children (like you were before Jim and Ula [my parents] were back in SA) …
“We never had evacuees in the house (though they gave most of us head lice) but we did have a soldier billeted on us for a bit, and after he left we had an air force officer – and he certainly helped out with the finances. Everyone was hard up in those days but equally, apart from food there wasn’t much to spend money on. As clothes were strictly rationed and very utilitarian, one didn’t feel out of things – we were all in the same boat!!”
Back to Granny: in addition to her reading to us, and knitting madly at the same time, my memories include her singing “Scarlet Ribbons”.
and reciting Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat***
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Now knowing about Granny’s love of amdram, I have an insight into why her reading and singing were so particularly memorable.
I’m not sure whether the subsequent love of this particular poem was prophetic or not, but as I have mentioned before, I have long had a love affair with cats and began collecting owls long, long before the current fad. They became, for many years a lucky charm, particularly after a competition at school (although I’m not sure that it really was a competition), about legends and symbols. My contribution was a pencil-drawn picture of an owl on the branch of a tree, with the moon behind it. I’m sure it was inspired by Lear’s poem and the ubiquitous illustrations that went with it. Anyhow, the teachers seemed to think it was prizeworthy and had it framed. It was presented to me during morning assembly; this was the only time I ever walked across a stage in my academic career – until I graduated from university. I have no idea what happened to that picture although it hung in my parents’ bedroom for years.
My first cat was, like Melon, a ginger; his name was Comfrey. He, and the drinking of copious quantities of tea, precipitated The Son from another Mother, bestowing on me the appellation, “Witch”.
My second pussy-cat was a tortoiseshell, and a rescue, acquired after Comfrey had decided that he would rather live in his old territory. He moved in with the new tenant of my old flat (using cat food as a bribe, the Cat’s Mother had to negotiate that agreement). Calico was my companion for the next ten years, moving to two new towns in two different provinces, watching me marry and then divorce. She must have approved of The Husband because she went to kitty heaven not long after we had got together; she must have known that he had set his heart on me…and that all would be good in my world.
Owls are much in evidence in the house… on top of the CD stand, in a tablescape in the guest room and on a newly-acquired teapot. Some of them, like the glass one in the bottom right picture, has travelled with me for twenty-five-odd years after I bought her bought from Ngwenya Glass on a visit to Swaziland in about 1991. She’s made from recycled glass coca cola bottles, and that, long before recycling was “in” and Ngwenya had become a “brand”.
Others have been with me so long, I have no idea whence they came.
The garden is not “owl-free” either:
All these owls are made by a local craftsman, Fabian, who learned his craft from, Koos Malgas.
So, whether having had cats as constant companions all my adult life, and my sometimes ill-disciplined fascination with owls, can be attributed to Granny and Edward Lear, I don’t know, but they are all enduring reminders of both!
When I first wrote about Granny, it was based on my memories and of what my mother had told me. In the last few weeks I have, happily, learned more about her. This from Aunt Susan, the youngest of the four daughters and whom I last saw in 1991 – the year after this photograph was taken, and the only one I have of the two of us.
*I know this because, before we left the UK for South Africa, I was, at three, shipped off to Granny so Mum could pack unencumbered. I have a few memories of that visit: other than black doors with handles I couldn’t reach, cold, white sheets and burnt gravy that Granny could not disguise – even with tomato sauce (ketchup)! The latter fact was also corroborated by cousin Jonathon (Susan’s son), on a brief visit to Cape Town, some five years ago.