Category: Cats and pets

Robin’s nest

Robin’s nest

When we returned from living in Asia, we brought a Spirit House with us. It’s a bit of a leap for hard-headed Westerners, but most Asians believe we live alongside spirits, many of whom are malevolent. To combat these pesky intruders, houses are built on different levels as apparently ghosts aren’t good at stairs. And outside just about every residence and business you’ll find a Spirit House, neatly kept and with enticing food and drink, all in an effort to tempt the spirits out of your house and into their own cosy home.

I’m afraid we haven’t kept our Spirit House as neatly as we might, as we don’t seem to have spirits; only mice. The little wooden structure lay dormant until a few weeks ago when a pair of Robins started building a nest inside.

We watched as they brought sticks and grass to make a perfect cup-shaped nest. Then bewilderingly they vanished. We figured the location was too close to our back door and our comings and goings had persuaded them to find lodging elsewhere.

But suddenly they were back bearing grubs and worms, which could mean only one thing. It’s very dark inside the Spirit House, but Mrs Preen swears she could see three tiny beaks.

I suppose we are typical soppy Brit animal lovers, but we felt blessed to have them and would sit around watching the parents bring tasty tit-bits to the little ‘uns. A moments research revealed that once the eggs hatch there are only fifteen days before the chicks fly the nest so it wouldn’t be long before they were gone.

Last Sunday morning, at around 8.30, I was in bed sound asleep when suddenly Mrs Preen burst into our bedroom in floods of tears.

She had let our dog Rusty out into the garden and was pottering about in the kitchen when she heard the Robins tweeting in alarm and saw them dive bombing our dog. They were sending up distress flares.

Rusty had caught a fledgling and killed it. Bucket can’t catch a damn thing, she half-heartedly goes after squirrels and gives our mice a wide berth, but a little bird, probably on its first flight, just couldn’t get away in time.

I love our dog and I know nature is red in tooth and claw, but the death of that little bird left us feeling forlorn. It may be ridiculously sentimental, but we felt we had a duty of care to the Robin family and we flunked it.


Sparrows are back

Sparrows are back

I remember reading articles a few years back about the disappearance of that most common London bird, the sparrow. No one seemed to be able to account for their disappearance, but one day they were here in their millions and the next day they were gone.

I don’t know if it’s just my advancing age, but I never gave birds much thought in my youth, but I do now; they seem like little packets of magic. I grew up in rural Northamptonshire so can name all the common species, which always comes as a shock to my family as they only know me as a metropolitan type with little love for the countryside.

Just over a year ago we lost our cat Ziggy to some vile feline disease and we now have Bucket the Battersea Terrier. Sad as we were to lose Ziggy, it meant I was able to place a bird feeder in our small south London garden a few weeks ago. It hangs from a potted maple tree just outside our kitchen window and we waited to see who might stop by.

I don’t know where the little buggers have been hiding but we are now awash with sparrows. It’s quite common for there to be ten of them in the tree above the feeder, where they sit stropping their beaks, acting like meerkats keeping a lookout while a couple of them dive down to feed. These avian hoodlums are tough guys and the pair of blue tits that nest close by are given short shrift when they duck in to feed.

The winter has been so mild so far that birds don’t really need a free feed yet, but I’m happy to make their life easier as I have a guilty secret.

I’m ashamed to say, and this is genuine shame, that when I was twelve, I begged my parents for an air rifle. They didn’t like the idea, but I persisted and eventually got my way. And what did this vile twelve-year-old do? Why, he went shooting and killing sparrows in the family garden. I’m now a reformed character.

I mourned the apparent passing of these most London of birds and am delighted so many can be seen from my kitchen window. No guns this time little sparrows you’re safe with us, but watch out for the neighbour’s cat.


Barking Mad

Barking Mad

Do you think Brexit is Barking Mad? Are you against being hounded out of the EU? Do you refuse to roll over and demand Walkies not Porkies? Well the chances are you were on the Wooferendum March with Bucket, me  and a bunch of terrible puns.

It was the most English event I’ve ever attended. As English as rain on a bank holiday and guessing the weight of the vicar at a village fete. It was Mr Bean or for those with a longer memory, an Ealing Comedy: Passport to Pimlico with dogs.

All of which was odd because the whole point of the march was an attempt to reverse our current little England tendencies and stay in the EU.

Bollocks to Brexit
Bucket and me on the way

Leaving the tube at Charing Cross we made our way to Waterloo Place where the dog pack was gathering. The organisers had organised pee stations, with pictures of the Bad Boys of Brexit taped to bollards at doggie height.

There was a surprising number of snappers present and you could tell they really relished the moment when a bulldog unloaded a quite spectacular amount of urine over Boris Johnson’s head. This is where you need a large male dog, that lifts its leg and lets go a Niagara Falls of piss. Bucket is female and quite small, so she just made Dr Liam Fox MP a little damp. Good effort though.

And of course being English everyone was incredibly polite scolding their dogs if they got a bit snappy and apologising profusely. This is entirely unscientific, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say there were around 5,000 people on the march and slightly fewer dogs.

Making for Trafalgar Square we were suddenly caught in the cross-fire of a Brazilian demonstration. Brazil is in the middle of a very hard-fought election campaign with the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro stabbed during a recent election rally. His supporters were on our right (well of course they were) and those of his rival the Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad were on our left. In total I suppose there were about two hundred protesters, but I have to say they put us lot to shame.

We were all shambling along politely with our mutts, while they were screaming shouting, singing, gesticulating and generally tearing the lid off the thing. Us Brits, we’re just not good at being demonstrative, which is kind of a pity when you’re on a demo.

Walking on down Whitehall past Downing Street I came across Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor and fervent anti-Brexit activist, who had brought along his five-month-old King Charles Spaniel Skye.

I asked him if he missed being at Number 10. He poo-pooed the idea but looked a little wistful, I thought.

Our final destination was Parliament Square. There were various speakers including Campbell, actor Peter Egan and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy. Frankly, by now Bucket’s heart wasn’t in it and so opted for a poo on Parliament Square. I thought this might have been a pawlitical act on her part but on balance I think she just needed a dump.

So there I am bag in hand cleaning up the mess when out of nowhere a march organiser descends and says don’t worry I’ll take care of that and scoops up Bucket’s poop and departs. Bet you don’t get that in Brazil.

Dog talk: Bone of contention

Dog talk: Bone of contention

“From a dog’s point of view his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog” says Mabel Robinson, but I’m not so sure. When some canny (canine?) entrepreneur started selling videos that taught how to test your dog’s IQ, Jay Leno remarked: “Here’s how it works: if you spend $15 on the video, your dog is smarter than you.”

Cunning or not, Rusty came to us from Battersea Dogs and Cats five months ago and an unexpected bonus is that strangers, who would normally run from talking to a tall, middle-aged man like me are now more than happy to chat.

Having a dog is like having a baby, they render the owner, that’s how I like to think about my daughter, harmless. Obviously having a cute dog makes this easier. If you own a devil-dog that’s covered in tattoos, then people may not be quite so chatty. Bucket and I look at the dog first and if we’re not sure we look at the owner.

Last weekend Rusty and I were walking down our street just as a family (mum, dad and two kids) were knocking on a neighbour’s door. Bucket clearly thought they looked interesting, latched on to them and when the door was opened shot into house. Bucket is a four pawed, self-styled ice breaker. We didn’t know these neighbours before, we do now.

Out walking, I’m on first name terms with Max, Fat Otto and Scampi (in your basket) what their owners are called I have no idea. It’s like a Freemasonry of dogs but without the weird handshakes. Someone once raised the reasonable question: Do other dogs think poodles are part of a weird religious cult?

I find it strangely liberating and desperately un-British that people will start petting your dog without permission. I should say that Bucket is entirely promiscuous and is happy to be petted by anyone.

Apparently, the polite way to go about talking with other dog owners is to praise their mutt’s look, and general loveliness. To stir the pot a little I recommend saying: Blimey, that’s a great hairy thing you’ve got there. It usually gets results.

So long Ziggy

So long Ziggy

The grim reaper has just claimed our cat as his latest victim. Yes, I’m afraid Ziggy is no more.

Keen readers of this blog will have come across Ziggy before and will know he was not always an easy animal to love. When people or indeed pets die the convention is to heap praise upon them. Whatever their true nature, once dead they are miraculously transformed into the most loved, most kind, most cherished individual. I’m going to pay Ziggy a compliment and break with this tradition.

Ziggy chose us as his family while has was residing at Battersea Cats and Dogs. He was a kitten then, but right from the word go he had an independent not to say violent nature.

Prior to Ziggy’s arrival the odd mouse used to scuttle through our kitchen and despite getting the rat catcher in every autumn we couldn’t entirely get rid of the vermin. Ziggy was made of sterner stuff. One feline trip into our kitchen and the mice could be heard packing up saying yeah, we’ve had it good, but it’s time to move on.

The problem was on plenty of occasions Ziggy treated us like vermin. You would pick Ziggy up at your peril and probably receive a juicy bite for your trouble. He was kind of sneaky too because as my wife pointed out with Ziggy is was often: lick, lick bite. Two licks to draw you in and then BAM, he’d sink his teeth into your fleshy parts.

For all that we were suckered in by his feisty nature; the fact that on one occasion he dragged a whole rump steak through the cat-flap still wrapped in plastic. He’d clearly nicked it from some neighbour’s kitchen table. He ate it pan-fried.

Then there was our neighbour who understandably got upset with Ziggy regularly arriving at her house at 3am and throwing a bit of a party with her cat. She was forced to install an electronic cat-flap to keep him out. Ziggy quickly learnt that if the owner’s cat went through the flap there was a three second delay allowing him to scuttle in behind.

I met this neighbour shortly after Ziggy’s demise thinking she might be glad to see the back of the cat demon, not a bit of it, she was in tears.

Ziggy died of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) a horrible cat disease for which there is no cure. We knew he was on the way out but still it was a shock when I discovered him, looking surprisingly peaceful, laid out on the bathroom floor.

We considered burying him in the garden, but decided it was best if his mortal remains were disposed of by the vet.

I took him on his final journey which was endearingly and somehow fittingly surreal. I put him in his old cat carrier, which he used to hate as he knew it meant a visit to the vet. It’s a short trip to the surgery, but it was raining so I jumped on a bus for two stops.

An old lady perhaps guessing I was going to the vet asked me if there was something wrong with the little fellow. I said no he’s fine, just dead. She jumped back horrified, it was almost as if she’d been bitten.

So long cat, we miss you.

Posh Pigeon Update

Posh Pigeon Update

My short blog on London’s ring-necked parakeets has sparked some comment, particularly whether they are a menace to our indigenous birds.

Kate commented: “Unfortunately they take food and nest sites that native species like robins, blue tits and sparrows need.”

James said: “I have noticed a HUGE decline in small birds in the back garden since the arrival of the parakeets.”

To try and get beyond anecdotal evidence I turned to the RSPB to see what they had to say. Here’s what I learnt.

There are various reasons why parakeets do so well here:

  • They originated in Lowland India and the foothills of the Himalayas, so obviously don’t mind a bit of a nip in the air.
  • There is a plentiful supply of food for them in London from berries to bird-tables.
  • Their breeding season starts very early; often in January so they have an enviable supply of nesting sites with little competition from our indigenous species some of which don’t lay eggs until June. They are hole-nesters in competition with owls, woodpeckers and starlings.

The RSPB is concerned about the interlopers’ effect on our native fauna, but are not currently calling for a cull. This may change as their population rises and their numbers need to be monitored.

Despite being incomers the ring-necked parakeet is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, though it is illegal to release them into the wild.

So in short, it looks like the RSPB, along with most avian species, is sitting firmly on the fence when it comes to the Posh Pigeon. It also means I’ve probably not moved this debate on any further.

Blue Planet II

But here’s something animal related that is unequivocally good; Blue Planet II is currently the most watched programme of 2017. Yes, a show about animals presented by someone in his nineties has scored 14 million viewers. According to The Guardian newspaper this made it not only the most watched programme of this year but the third most watched of the past five years, behind only the football World Cup final in 2014 and last year’s Great British Bake Off final.

As the camera goes deeper towards the ocean floor, seven miles down last week as I recall, the animal life gets more and more strange and everything starts to look like a 1970s prog rock album cover.

London’s Posh Pigeons

London’s Posh Pigeons

Posh Pigeons, London Pests or Parrots, if you live in the capital you must have seen or at least heard these green screaming banshees. Not sure what I’m talking about? London is now home to thousands of ring-necked parakeets.

When out walking the dog I usually hear them first as they shriek from tree to tree, then catch a flash of green as they speed past. I don’t know if they’re just trying to warm up, but they seem to fly faster than indigenous birds. Their numbers are booming, but why? Could it be global warming? Whatever the reason there seem to be a plague of them about town.

So, I hear you asking where the hell did they come from? This is where the story gets a little murky. Some claim they are the descendants of birds that escaped from Isleworth Studios during the filming of the movie ‘The African Queen’ which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. But that was made in 1951, and I’m sure I never saw the little pests when I first moved to London.

Another bonkers theory is that Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair during the 1968 Summer of Love.

A more likely explanation is that they are just escaped pets, which have somehow adapted to our rigorous climate.

Some would like to wring the necks of these ring-necked parakeets but not me; they don’t seem to bother other species and with winter on its way, they add a little tropical colour to our sometimes monochrome city.