Art for art’s sake….a slight detour.

I apologize in advance for some of the puns and some of the pictures. But please bear (or is it bare?) with me…..please continue in good humour (or humor if you’re in the USA) – I don’t mean to offend anyone.

Have you ever started off writing a blog post and then been reminded of something else along the way, so have taken a detour instead? It happens to me all the time. I just started writing a post about Nice in the south of France where, among other things, we visited the Marc Chagall gallery – or to give it its correct name the Musee National Marc Chagall….and it sent me on a tangent or a detour to blog about art, or my own attempts at art, instead.

Some museums don’t allow photography at all and others allow it as long as you don’t use the flash. The Marc Chagall museum fell in the latter category which was a good thing as my wife loves his paintings – they are very colourful, bright and child-like – and she wanted me to photograph a couple of them with a view to getting large prints made when we went home, to display on our lounge wall. Here – below – are a couple of Chagall paintings to give you, who haven’t seen his work before, an idea of how he paints.

Long story short – since we’d decided that they would look better printed on canvas than on paper – it was going to cost us around $300 to $400NZ for a print. So I rather foolishly suggested, as an alternative, that perhaps I could buy a blank canvas and produce my own “Chagall look-a-like painting”. My wife surprisingly agreed. So that’s what I did and here it is below…..it’s colourful anyhow.

The problem with that is that I’m not much of an artist. I loved to draw and paint as a kid (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), but since then have only dabbled now and then when I liked a painting by a famous artist but didn’t have the money to buy a print of it….never mind the millions of dollars for the original. So I’d have a go at painting my own in a similar style…..or as similar as I could manage.

I started off with one that even I couldn’t fail at (or so I thought) – a Jackson Pollock style abstract splatter painting. I used some old acrylic house paint and felt it was coming along quite well with blue and green splatters of paint, but when I needed another colour, to contrast the blue and green, all I could find was a creamy-white…..so on it went one “whoosh” of a splatter at a time. It didn’t quite have the effect I was looking for and looked more like……er….well, it looked a little like….how can I put this tactfully? Actually I don’t think I can think of a polite description – I titled the piece “love comes in spurts.” Enough said.

What a load of “pollocks!” – my attempt at a Jackson Pollock splatter painting.

Needless to say, it didn’t stay on our wall for too long before it was consigned first to the garage and later to the rubbish dump.

Another attempt slightly more successful was my version of Pablo Picasso’s picture of an artist, his model and for some reason a yellow bull and a pink horse….trampling on a light blue horse which was laying on the bed of the artist and model. I know…I know…..I thought the same thing. Why do I do bother?

Pick Ass Oh! – my attempt at Picasso’s “artist and model” series.

My friends are no help either, in fact they push me toward my artistic endeavours….or should that be artistic follies? This is almost 20 years ago, but one of my co-workers, with whom I usually discussed books we were both currently reading, told me that she had recently started going to “life drawing” classes and that I should go along. Initially I thought she meant “still life” classes – you know bowls of fruit, flowers and the like. I was quite taken aback when she explained that what it actually entailed was to sit in a circle around a model and draw or paint that person who would be sitting, standing or laying there completely naked.

After checking if the “model” is usually male or female and getting the reply that nine times out of ten it was a female, and she’s usually someone from the art teachers yoga class, I said “yeah, okay….I’ll come along and give it a go” trying my best not to sound too keen.

I wasn’t actually sure if I could, for want of a better term, handle it. I mean sitting there in front of a completely naked woman and to be expected to draw her without allowing my nervous, trembling hand holding the pencil to tear big holes across the paper as I quivered, stared and drooled! I know…I know…right now you’re probably thinking “for F##ks sake how old are you FIVE?” I’m pleased to report that once I was there, in the class, I was perfectly well behaved, totally in the moment and fully concentrated on my attempts at capturing the model on paper…..as opposed to kidnapping her in the carpark afterwards! ( I write this very much tongue in cheek….my cheek that is).

I really enjoyed the lessons. I know, you’re thinking – “Who wouldn’t?” But once you’re there you don’t actually see “a naked woman….or on one occasion….naked man” – you’re too busy trying to get the angles, curves and shading right. Our tutor got us to try different media and styles of drawing/painting. Sometimes we’d use a pencil, sometimes charcoal or chalk or pastels or poster paint or water colour. Other times we’d try to paint by using something as simple as a piece of cardboard dipped into ink. It was all very interesting.

By now, having seen my Chagall, Pollock and Picasso attempts you know not to expect too much of my “art” – a few of my attempts from the life drawing class follow…..you have been warned! Some of these we had to produce in a few minutes, others we had a longer pose to get onto paper…..he said, trying to come up with excuses.

So there you have it…the bare facts about life drawing. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge it. They have been automatically cropped by the computer to fit nicely side by side in the gallery above. As I said, various media and various styles. And yes, one of the drawings is of a pregnant lady. She was wonderful to draw….very curvy and very patient with the class….and it was extremely brave of her in that late stage of her pregnancy, when many women would have body image issues, to bare all. All in the name of art. Art for art’s sake.

Advertisements

What we did on our Holiday.

No I’m not going to bore the pants off you writing about our fun old-fashioned family Christmas. I’m writing about a British made, 2014 movie called “What we did on our Holiday” – which is one of the funniest, yet at the same time poignant, movies I have ever seen. There are 3 young kids in it who are simply brilliant. The primary adult stars are David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly and Ben Miller, sterlingly supported by Amelia Bullmore, Annette Crosby and Celia Imrie. But it’s the three children who steal the show and are superb. Their names are Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull. If you haven’t seen the movie – try to watch it on line or borrow it from a DVD store/library – it’s a real treat to watch.

Official trailer of the movie.

The story centres around the kids and Tennant and Pike who play their parents and live in the south of England. I should say at this point that the parents are on a trial separation and living in separate houses. BUT Tennant’s father, – Billy Connolly is about to celebrate his 75th birthday at his other son’s home in Scotland. In order not to upset Connolly, Pike and Tennant put on a united front to pretend that they are still together and that everything is absolutely rosie between them. Of course kids being kids – let the cat out of the bag.

The road trip from England up to the Scottish highlands is an eventful and argumentative one – with several amusing incidents. On arrival – finally, at Tennant’s brothers house – which turns out to be a huge mansion in park like grounds – we are shown that the relationship between the two brothers is a competitive one…..this is highlighted by the family football match on the lawn.

The birthday party for Connolly is oldest son Gavin’s (Miller) idea, who has to do everything extravagantly as a demonstration of his wealth and to show little brother (Tennant) who is the most successful of them. He has invited hundreds of guests and the party will be in a huge marquee on the main lawn. All Connolly is interested in though is spending time with his grand children – so he takes them off in a 4 wheel drive across the moorland to an isolated sandy beach until it’s time to return for the party.

It is revealed early in the movie that Connolly’s character is very sick with cancer and isn’t expected to see his next birthday – which is partly why there is a lot of fuss being made over this one – his 75th. The drugs he is on to fight the cancer are bad for his heart…..which is not as strong as it should be. This makes Connolly even more determined to get away to the beach with the grand kids and just watch them at play. They have some very deep and meaningful talks with him sitting on the beach. Some of which apparently is scripted and some ad-libbed. The kids are brilliant!

SPOILER ALERT!

They bury grandad in the sand and he pretends he’s dead. The kids become concerned and lean in close to check on him – he bursts out of the sand and scares them half to death. The chatter and play continues for a while and the kids talk about death with Connolly and he tells them that when he dies he would hate the sons to arrange his funeral as there would be arguments and things would be blown out of proportion and that what he’d really love is to have a Viking funeral. The body placed on a flaming boat and pushed out to sea. He tells the kids that they should try to enjoy life and be happy and content with their lot and not get drawn into petty arguments because “people are ridiculous and in the end nothing really matters”. After this he sits on the beach and the kids go off looking for crabs etc…..only to return to find that grandad (Connolly) has really died and is laying motionless on the sand.

Oldest grand daughter Lottie (Emilia Jones) – after checking grandad’s pulse, listening for a heart beat and checking that he is indeed no longer breathing – leaves the two younger kids to watch over grandad’s body while she races across country back to the mansion to alert the family of Connolly’s demise. When she gets there though everyone – the adults that is – are arguing. She realizes what a mess the adults will make of things when they find out that Connolly is dead, so she turns round, runs back to the beach and the kids decide to give grandad his Viking funeral.

Only after they have built a makeshift raft from bits and pieces found on the beach and rolled grandad onto it, set it alight and let the tide take him out to sea………do they return home to tell the rest of the family that grandad is dead.

This naturally coincides with the arrival of all the guests for his birthday party and how the kids break the news to the family is hilarious! I’ll add a link to that scene for you to see for yourselves….below.

So there you have it. It is honestly one of the best movies for laughs, life lessons, scenes showing typical family disagreements, family bonding in a crisis – and brilliant acting especially by the 3 younger actors. The scenes I have linked may be spoilers, but I hope that they actually inspire you to watch the entire movie. I’ll definitely be watching it again. It’s fairly low budget but a great comedic script and exceptional actors.

After all that I can’t give it any less than 5 out of 5.

Amusing quotes about Christmas

If it’s been as manic at your home as it has been at ours over the last few days….getting ready for Christmas – mowing lawns and weeding gardens (one of the negatives of having Christmas in summer here in New Zealand) and tidying and decorating the house….and getting rid of a years accumulated rubbish….cleaning off the outdoor furniture for Christmas lunch in the garden – you’ll need to smile, chuckle even…..perhaps even a hearty Ho Ho Ho! Here are a few humerous quotes gleaned from the NET.

Santa Claus had the right idea. Visit people only once a year

Christmas is always a problem to the man who has to convince his kids that there is a Santa Claus, and his wife that there isn’t. 

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.  

You can just hear Santa saying Ho, Ho, Ho, when you receive your credit card statement in January

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. 

This Christmas I’ve decided to put mistletoe in my back pocket so all the people I don’t like can kiss my ass!

I try not to eat too much at Christmas lunch….I need to leave room for alcohol to tolerate the in-laws.

It isn’t Christmas until you push your body to the brink of diabetes and alcoholism.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but if the white runs out I’m happy with a red or a rosé.

When someone asks – where is your Christmas spirit – is it wrong to point to the liquor cabinet?

When you stop believing in Santa……you get socks!

It’s all fun and games until Santa checks the naughty list!

1 day of coal….364 days of fun…..I’ll take my chances.

here’s one for the feminists – A virgin birth I can believe….but 3 wise men? Come on! Now, if it had been 3 wise women…..they would have asked for directions, got there on time, helped to deliver the baby, brought proper – practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and there would be peace on earth.

Christmas – the only time of year that its OK to sit and look at a dead tree and eat candy out of a sock.

Dear Santa – please don’t mix it up like you did last year – I said I wanted a slim body and a big fat bank account!

Parental warning –  Dear Santa – I’ve been good all year……well most of the year……well once in a while – it’s difficult to stay positive….never mind…..I’ll buy my own stuff….you judgemental bastard!

And a few pictoral jokes……

Oh darling, when you said small gift, I thought you were going to unzip your trousers - vintage retro funny quote

Hope I haven’t offended too many people. Merry Christmas and a Hap….Hap….Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year…..OR the Good, the Bad and the unfortunate Ugly…of Christmas.

Merry Christmas every one.

Yes it’s time to bring out the hideous jerseys and grow weird things out of the top of your head.

Stop any child in the street and ask them what Christmas means to them…..and you’ll probably get arrested for attempted child abduction or molestation….it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. “Stranger Danger” has been drummed into kids these days, which means as a result, that we no longer have kids coming Christmas caroling door to door – as their parents are in constant fear of perverts grabbing them. If you were able to ask a child in the street – without their mother dragging them away while dialing the police on 911….111….or 999 depending on what part of the world you’re in – they would be more likely to reply either “Santa” or “Presents”, rather than “it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – the son of God, sent to earth to save mankind”.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly a one word answer is more likely from a child on the street, than an entire coherent sentence, particularly if it means that they have to look up and break their concentration from the video game they are playing on the latest iPhone….and secondly Christmas has been abducted by commercialism and the jolly fat man in a coca cola trademark coloured suit. A third reason, if we need one, would be that religion – at least the Christian religion – doesn’t seem to have the pull it used to have when we were all “God fearing”. The churches are all but empty these days except for weddings and funerals. BUT I’m not going to get into a long rant about religion and which one, if any, is right and which one is wrong…..because I don’t know the answer. If we’re honest no one does. We can claim to know…..but it’s actually a belief….not a known fact. That’s why they call it “Faith”. However, I’ll put the lid on that can of worms because it’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I remember the magic of Christmas as a child. Christmas eve was the only evening of the year that my parents could get me and my brother to go to bed early…..in the sure and certain knowledge that Santa would be coming, and the sooner we were asleep the sooner he could come and leave us oodles of gifts. We didn’t have “stockings hung with care” on the fireplace. Oh no, not me and my brother. We’d sussed out that you could get a lot more presents in a pillowcase than you could in a miserly stocking. So, we’d lay out a clean pillowslip at the foot of our beds and cover our heads with the blankets with the intention of staying awake to catch Santa in the act. Pretending to be asleep, snug and warm under the blankets, soon gave way to actually falling asleep and that was that… until morning…..usually very early morning – 6am even.

Which ever one of us awoke first we’d whisper very, very loudly to the other “Has he been yet?” And one of us would scurry to the foot of the bed, look over the edge and seeing the stuffed to overflowing pillowcases gorged with colourfully wrapped presents would confirm “He’s been….He’s been!!!”

We’d immediately leap up, grab our stuffed pillowcases and drag them into mum and dad’s room. One pillowcase left at dad’s side of the bed, one at mum’s side and me and my brother would jump up onto the bed and snuggle down in the warm gap between the two of them – excited and fidgety and eager to start opening presents. BUT, just to stretch the agony of waiting, either mum or dad…..usually mum….would get up and make a cup of tea first. Can’t have presents being opened without a cup of tea for sustenance, can we? It’s the British way!

And then FINALLY the gifts would be brought out one at a time…..one from the pillowcase on mum’s side…followed by one from the one on dad’s side, so we could all watch each gift being unwrapped and OOhed and Aahed over…..or more likely see the look of anticipation and expectation turn to the look of disappointment and dismay. It’s not that me and my brother were ungrateful little shits, it was more because mum and dad used to buy us “nearly gifts” – as in not what we actually asked for but nearly the same – similar but not – close but no cigar. Usually the decision to get the “nearly” gifts was made based on cost. There was never a lot of money in our house when we were kids, but we were well fed and cared for. So rather than buying the popular brand, they’d go for a cheaper knock off – made in China – gift that was meant to be similar but didn’t usually come close. This was back when “made in China” meant cheap and crappy – now EVERYTHING is made in China. Then there would follow the arguments….or should I say animated discussions…. about why this particular gift is “So much better” than what we’d actually asked Santa for. And whilst demonstrating how much better this toy was….a bit would drop off and so it would be consigned straight to the rubbish bin. An example of a nearly gift would be “Lego” building bricks – that we had asked for and didn’t get – and the “Chad Valley build a home set” that we did get, with flimsy plastic panels and plastic beams with little lugs to affix the panels to….which would snap or split the first time you touched them. OR the time my brother asked for an Action Man toy – a soldier….the doll for boys lol. BUT got some cheap Chinese copy with a squashed head and a leg that kept falling off.  OR, sometimes they would actually surprise us and really push out the boat by buying a top brand item…well made….lasts for ever….expensive even. BUT again not quite what we’d asked for. My bike was an example. All the kids on our street had “scrambler” type bikes with big 20 or 24 inch wheels and cow horn shaped handlebars that made them look like speedway bikes – they were so masculine they almost reeked of testosterone – and we’d race around a dirt track in the edge of the local woods on them until we were sweaty and covered in mud. What did I get? Well….the brand was Raleigh – a top brand and very well made, BUT it was a commuter type bike with tiny 14 inch wheels with white tyres (I mean WHITE! Who ever invented white tyres needs to be shot. They’re only ever clean looking before you ride the bike. After that they are forever dirty.), and a carry-rack on the back complete with a white shoe box size and shaped saddle bag, with a delicate little strap and buckle on it, to match the white of the tyres, seat and hand grips. Oh JOY! It looked very feminine! It screamed “Sissy on a bike – please beat me up!” It was orange which was all that differentiated it from the bike that a girl up the street had….hers was purple, but otherwise identical in every way. I was shocked, embarrassed and depressed – rather than elated and excited – what mum and dad were hoping for – and then dad tried to sell the idea of this new bike to me by saying “If you notice just here….the columns for the handlebars and the seat extend, so it’ll last you for ever, no matter how much you grow.” It really added to the whole experience.

But a bike, sissy or not, is still a bike. I’d take the bike on long rides well away from the village, in the hope that no one would see me on it. The only good thing good about that bloody bike was that it had a battery powered siren – rather like the sound of a police car – instead of a bell. This was just an added torture though, because even though I wanted to sound the siren – because it sounded soooo cool – I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was riding a girls bike! It was purgatory! And it wasn’t only confined to toys…it was the same with clothes. Winter in Britain is bloody cold and I’d asked for a duffle coat which for boys came in one colour – just like the original Ford motor cars – you could have any colour as long as it was black. So I was expecting a black coat with a tartan interior to the hood and plain wooden toggles as buttons. What did they get me? Exactly the same coat as a girl in my class at school was already wearing….kind of a blue and black herringbone pattern. It wasn’t that it was a bad coat….just that if a girl already has one….it’s a girls coat!

Enough of my reminiscing….and wallowing in self pity. I learned from the feeling of discomfort and disappointment suffered as a child….. and therefore inflicted the same on my own kids! No I didn’t….at least I hope I didn’t. I hope that we bought them…or I should say…I hope that Santa BROUGHT them what they asked for rather than us being “Nearly” parents. I must say, when you have kids of your own, Christmas retains that magical feeling. The excited anticipation of Santa’s arrival rubs off on us adults too and we actually….through our children….enjoy Christmas and all it’s crass commercialism. When my young sons went off to bed straight after dinner on Christmas eve to get to sleep early……I’d hide outside their bedroom windows and ring little bells…..pretending to be the bells on the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. It kept them awake for hours and meant that they’d be so exhausted in the morning that me and the wife would be able to sleep in for an extra hour or two.

These days though, our children have grown up and flown the nest and since there are no grand children (yet) to pamper, Christmas has sort of lost it’s magic. What I do enjoy most about it these days, is the simple act of gathering family and friends around the table for Christmas lunch. Togetherness….AND being that we live in New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere, which means that Christmas falls in the middle of summer…..we’ll be gathered around the dining table outdoors, in the garden, in the sunshine, in shorts and t-shirts…..table laden with food and drinking a nice cold beer.

However, having been born in the UK and having first experienced cold snowy Christmases, it feels alien to me to have Christmas in summer, which is why – even though Christmas day always falls on December 25th – it always seems to sneak up on me, catch me unaware and unprepared so my Christmas cards always miss the last mail for the year….always arrive in the northern hemisphere to friends and family there…late! AND having only mailed them yesterday I have inadvertently kept up this unwanted tradition – they will be late yet again.

New Zealand Christmas lunch in the garden.

I wish you…..and all in the WordPress family of bloggers, writers and readers, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous (as opposed to preposterous), New Year.

The difference between Cats and Dogs….and why cats make better bookmarks.

Are you a dog person, or a cat person?

I have always considered myself a dog person, having owned a pet dog of one sort or another since I was a little boy and actually looked upon “cat people” with scorn almost to the point of ridicule. Why would anyone want a cat rather than a dog for goodness sake?

That was then…..this is now. I’ve jumped ships. I’m now very much in the cat camp.

Looking back all my dogs – Lassie (how original right?) the mixed breed black dog with tan markings was my first and was a lovely natured, loyal, obedient, lively dog and a great companion for two young boys (me and my brother) growing up. Her life was taken too soon on a busy road by a car in a hurry – or a driver of a car in a hurry.

Next came Bess – a Welsh Springer-Spaniel – liver and white in colour. Another wonderful dog, and quite intelligent for a spaniel… (she learned to “heel” very quickly and so could be walked almost anywhere off the leash and would stay by my side). I used to walk her for miles through the woodland near our home in Yorkshire – treasured memories. She had a great temperament, so gentle – (we had a budgerigar in a cage in the house – One day it got out and the dog caught it. She just held it ever so softly in her mouth and presented it to me completely unharmed – except for a coating of doggy saliva that is).

Then, after moving to New Zealand and having two small sons of our own…..we thought a dog would be a good companion for them too. So we bought a black and white Springer/Cocker Spaniel cross from our neighbour. He (our first and only male dog) was playful and very friendly – a little over exuberant maybe – even to the point of annoyance – but also…..I don’t really want to use this word, but honestly I have trained other dogs with ease – this one just wouldn’t learn…..he was STUPID. (This is where Forest Gump pops up in my head and says “stupid is as stupid does….that’s what my momma used to say”). I’ve heard some experts say that there are no stupid dogs, only stupid owners……that may be true in 99% of cases ,where the dogs may have had a learning capacity greater than that of a Turnip, but our dog was definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Which is why we named him Baldrick – after the character from the Black Adder TV series.

Finally we come to our last dog, Millie a Jack-Russel Terrier with the typical brown on white markings. She was the runt of the litter, only half the size of her siblings and so my wife took pity on her and, despite my insistence that we were n’t having any more pets, she was soon sleeping in a shoe box, (that’s how tiny she was – I could hold her in the palm of my hand) by the side of our bed. Another lovely, well trained dog with a friendly manner – except she didn’t like very small children – as a result of being poked around by a couple of little ones when she was a pup (no, not our kids). The problem with runts of the litter is that they are not generally expected, in nature, to live to adulthood. Millie did however, but not without a whole raft of medical problems that cost us into the thousands of dollars to combat. She was 12 years old when she died – 74 in dog years according to the latest way of calculating dogs years Vs humans. (15 dog years for the first human year, 9 dog years for the 2nd year and 5 dog years for every human year afterwards – it used to be 7 dog years for 1 human year….things change – must be inflation).

After her death – which was extremely upsetting for us all, we both agreed – No More Pets!

We went away on holiday (that’s the same as a vacation – for our cousins from the former colonies) – leaving our home in the capable hands of my wife’s brother and his son who would house sit for us and keep things ticking over while we were away. On our return I found, much to my dismay that our home was now “open house” for 2 very young kittens who had come through the fence from next door and had had the run of the house almost from day one of our holiday.

“Right” I said “Not having this….we are a cat free house!” – What a grumpy bugger!

I then set about putting barriers across the back doorway too high for the kittens to clamber over. This of course worked for a couple of weeks until they learned how to jump…..something that animals of the feline persuasion do extremely well. In the end I softened my attitude and allowed them back in…for a while….and would then pop them back through the fence to go home. The two kittens, one male and one female -(we didn’t know what names the neighbours had given them so…) – my wife named them Scarlette and Tiberius. Well, Scarlette, as a name, I could handle…..but Tiberius? To me, he became Tibbs or Tibby and as an ardent Dog man, I hate to admit how fond I became of him. He quickly became MY cat….my wife would claim OUR cat….but he was definitely mine – Shhhh don’t tell her.

20170606_132912
Scarlett on the left and Tibbs on the right. 

From being a 3 month old he pretty much took up permanent residence at our place, (we’d been buying food for them both for some time already), though his sister would go back and forth from us to the neighbours. Tibbs would come when called in at night and slept inside – where ever he wanted to. In the mornings he’d come into the bedroom and jump on to the bed and nuzzle me, purring like a motor boat – as if to say ‘Good morning…great to see you!’, before settling down to sleep on my chest. He had a routine. After breakfast he’d go off exploring for a couple of hours before coming home again to check on me, to have a cuddle and some more food before finding a nice sunny spot to settle in the garden…..sometimes joined by Scarlette. They were really good mates together.

20170402_135609
Tibbs using Scarlette as a cushion. 

As I said Tibbs never went far and always came home every few hours, so one day when he’d been missing all day, and didn’t come when I called him in, in the evening – naturally we were worried. Fortunately the next day he turned up, bloodied but otherwise ok. He’d obviously been in a fight, bits of missing fur and tooth marks in his skin attesting to that. After that night, he stayed close to home for a few weeks.

Then after he’d been living with us for about 9 months….it was the 4th January 2017 and we had a houseful of family staying over Christmas and New Year….he went out into the garden about 10pm and that was the last we saw of him. My wife was very upset and I, someone who over the years had often said “I can’t stand cats!” – was devastated. It was crazy. I’d had pets die before…dogs…budgies…goldfish, even chickens, and had been upset, but this was gut wrenching. I was beside myself. I think it was the not knowing what had happened to him that was the worst. Was he alive being looked after by another family, or trapped in a shed somewhere, was he dead….if so had he suffered?

A few weeks prior to his disappearance, Scarlette had given birth to her first litter of kittens. 3 little bundles of fluff. We’d not seen them, but we’d been told by the neighbours about them. The day after Tibbs disappeared, Scarlette came visiting and brought with her the cutest, prettiest looking kitten ever. Now bear in mind that this is someone who “doesn’t like cats” who’s writing this….so the kitten MUST have been extremely cute.

My wife…as she does….named him – yes the new kitten is a him – Hector. And, like his uncle Tibby, Hector  – once he’d weaned off his mother, kind of settled in with us. He’d go for a wander next door to check on his bro’s, but would usually be back in a few minutes.  Other days he’d stay at the neighbours overnight, but mostly spent his time at our house. The youngest boy who lived next door used to come around and collect Hector…who they called Hemi….and take him home to their place. Half an hour later Hector was back with us. Time passed Hector grew and Scarlette had another litter of kittens and so Hector went down the order of cuteness as far as the kids next door were concerned. The new kittens took priority and Hector was no longer wanted.

Long story….already pretty long…but, long story short we had a chat with the neighbours and officially adopted Hector/Hemi to be OUR cat. We took him to the vets, got him “fixed”…..sorry Hector – I feel your anguish and your…loss. AND now I’m going to have to sit with my legs crossed for the next hour wincing in sympathy, just at the thought of it. We bought him a nice collar with name tag and phone number on ….. that’s our phone number not his…..I mean, we spoil the cat with treats but didn’t go as far as giving him his own phone. He settled back in with us despite having him go under the vets knife and except for his tendency to test our love for him……I’ll explain shortly…..everything was going very nicely.

We live on a very busy main road – to the front of the house – with orchards and fields to the back of the house. Scarlette seems to have done a good mothering job in teaching her offspring about keeping off that main road and heading the other direction into the orchard instead. At night I close our big double gates to make the gardens secure for the night…..this, if I am not careful, is where Hector tests our love for him. If he sees me walking down the driveway toward the gate he’ll lay in wait until I have closed one side of the gate and will then run hell for leather out of the open side and lay on the footpath inches away from the busy road and traffic. He’ll lay there and and turn to look at my frantic face as if to say “Well….aren’t you going to rescue me?”.  A couple of times I have walked slowly over, bent down and picked him up….bringing him back on to our property and safety….and telling him not to scare me like that ever again.

Obviously almost giving me a heart attack wasn’t enough for dear old Hector so the next time he was laying beside the busy road and I ever so slowly moved toward him….he thought “lets see how much the old bugger can take” and jumped up and wandered slowly across the road…..somehow dodging the cars hurtling past. He got to the centre of the road all calm and collected and then completely lost control and bolted for the shrubbery on the far side. I was so caught up in watching what HE was doing that I found myself….almost trance-like standing in the middle of the road among the traffic. Regaining my senses, I too bolted for the far side, but restrained myself from diving into the bushes after him. Not only were there bushes and shrubs on this side of the street, there was also a wire fence separating me from him. I got down on all 4’s and peered through the hedge. Hector was there, but wouldn’t come when called and wasn’t quite within reach. I had to go for the secret weapon….the wife!

The idea being that if she couldn’t nag him out no one could……just kidding dear.

Once I’d explained what had happened my wife spiritedly volunteered to go through the wire and shrubbery after Hector. I sort of half supported and half pushed her through the hedge until she was all the way in there except for her feet….which I was gripping onto for dear life. “I can almost touch him…..just a little further” she uttered, and in a flash she had gone….I was left on one side of the hedge my wife’s empty slippers in hand and she was on the other side…..somewhere, barefoot…hopefully with the cat now safely in hand.

Moments later, a rather grubby and scratched face appeared and then some hands and arms came through the branches and leaves – holding a very scared Hector. I took him from her and holding him tightly to my chest – I could feel his heart beating like a machine gun – I got him safely home and gave him some food. Only then did I think of my dear wife…battered and bleeding from scratches….and by now barefoot….on the wrong side of the hedge on the wrong side of the road.

She appeared in the kitchen just at that moment grunted “thanks a lot” at me and then made a fuss of the cat. So all’s well that ends well…..and I’ll make up the bed in the spare room shall I dear?

For the next few months all continued to go well….we got into a routine, as we had with Tibbs. Hector sleeps indoors….meows in the morning to be let out, so we unlock the cat flap (we have to lock it at night to keep the rest of the neighbourhood cats out), and off he goes to return a couple of hours later for another feed or a cuddle or a nap. Like his uncle before him, he doesn’t usually wander too far from home and always returns every couple of hours to check in with us. AND like his uncle he jumps on the bed and nuzzles me in the morning….not every morning, just when HE feels like it. He’s his own man. There is no doubt that it’s he that is in charge and this is definitely Hectors house.

Regardless of what time Hector gets me up to let him out, I always make a fuss of him, stroke him and tell him how special he is….after losing Tibbs suddenly like that I just wanted him to know that he’s loved. (I know I don’t sound like a former hater of cats). Then one morning off he went, 4.30am – through the cat flap into the first dim glow of what was promising to be morning. All through the morning – no Hector….nor the afternoon…nor the evening. I took to the streets checking for any signs…alive or dead…and calling his name. I even checked the shrubbery over the road. Nothing. Evening gave way to the full dark of night. At midnight I climbed into bed – worried sick and fearing for the worst. My wife reminded me that “You’re the guy who doesn’t like cats, remember?”….but by now Hector wasn’t just a cat he was family. We both lay there in the dark, silent…wondering.

Then around 1.30am…a distant Meow….then closer, another….louder. The rattle of the cat flap and a loud MEOW! We leaped out of bed and rushed to the back door and there he was, a little scruffy and musty smelling and minus his collar, but otherwise alive and well. I have never felt so relieved!

20180727_125139
Hector playing with a younger sibling 

He’s back to his old routine. Doesn’t wander far, eats here, sleeps here, gets cuddles here…..plays here, or next door, with his mother and younger brothers and sisters. Yes they have quite a collection of cats next door now after 3 litters of kittens. Some of the kittens have been found new homes but it still leaves around 6 or 7 of our feline friends on the other side of the fence. Of course most of them find their way, at some point during the day, over to our place to play with Hector, to eat his food, drink his milk and of course to dig and shit all over my vegetable gardens. Oh the joy of cats!

I had planted enough garlic in my garden to provide us with a couple of garlic bulbs per week for the whole year…on maturity. Why do cats like to crap in garlic beds? They have dug and shit…shit and dug so much that I’ll be lucky to have a dozen bulbs left come harvest time.

In order to foil their evil plans to do the same to my strawberry beds I have built supports around the garden edges and netted the entire strawberry beds in bird netting – in a bid to not only keep the cats from digging the plants up, but also to protect the ripening fruits from the thieving birds.

The cats and kittens really love the nets. It seems that they make great hammocks….wonderful places to just hang out (literally) and enjoy the spring sunshine.

SO….The difference between dogs and cats. Over all and despite the angst caused by the permanent disappearance of Tibby and the temporary disappearance of Hector, cats in my humble opinion, are far less trouble than dogs to look after. All they ask for is food, water and a cuddle – when it suits them. They clean themselves, take themselves for walks, cover up their own “business” and let themselves in and out via the cat flap. If they are hungry and there is no food out, they will prepare their own meal of rodent or bird (Rat or Tui anyone?- don’t worry, it’s  New Zealand joke).

Following a dog around with a plastic bag in hand, waiting for it to “go to the toilet” – lets face it, leaves a lot to be desired.

They, cats, like human companionship….but only when it suits them and they are not desperately fawning when their laughingly called “owner” (ho-hum) appears in the same room – unlike their canine counterpart, who even if their owner has only been out of sight for five minutes, behave completely deranged when they reappear. Wagging their tails almost off in sheer delight. Man is, without doubt, in charge when it comes to dogs…..but cats definitely rule over men. (When I use the word “man” or “men” I don’t specifically mean a male of the human species –  I use it in the way that we, “the older generation”, used to use the term “mankind”….before we got our wrists slapped and were told it now has to be “humankind”…or even “personkind”)

DSC_0107
Hector aka “He Who Is In Charge”…..but cute with it.

A dog maybe mans best friend and man is, without a doubt, the object of a dogs undying affection….even it seems when the dog has been mistreated. A cat on the other hand may be a loved companion of man (or woman), but man to a cat is just…meh…you can cuddle me when I say you can cuddle me and not a moment sooner…..now where’s my dinner and don’t just give me bloody biscuits!

 

Oh and by the way….the reason that cats make better bookmarks than dogs is that usually, but not always….they are smaller, so fit inside a book easier….and have the ability to lay still for ages. It makes them “purrrfect” bookmarks.