Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Wash With Trouble

A day with a long list of jobs is almost a guarantee of something going wrong. As a matter of practicality, I started with laundry, hanging out the wash whilst my partner went to feed the sheep. It’s been a nice, bright and sunny day with a crisp and bone-biting northerly wind so you stay awake to enjoy it. I was in the middle of juggling pegs when my partner shouted for help.

In the hour or so since I last checked, our final ewe for the season went from nothing to lambed. And in trouble. On a day with serious wind-chill.

Shove over, I'm older with more insurance - Cilla (foreground)
 making her bid for the lamb
Around about this time last year I wrote of our ageing ewe Cilla trying to take a new-born lamb from it’s mother, and here she was, at it again. With a side-order of Idris the gander being an aggressive nuisance. Last year I had to handle it on my own – it’s so much easier with two. We led the ewe into the barn, got her settled in and shut everyone else out. Job done. Crisis over. Back to hanging laundry and feeding sheep.

Not too long after, I went back to check. Soay are outstandingly self-sufficient, but things do sometimes go wrong. The lamb had found a gap and gone behind a barrier – easy enough to fix, so I settled him back with mum and headed off to tell my partner. Naturally, we drifted by for another look – basic precaution, and Soay lambs are outstandingly cute.

We only have a small number of sheep, and we’ve only been doing this for about ten years, but sometimes you look and you just know something is wrong, even if you don’t know what. It took a while to figure it out, but the lamb was not suckling, which is high on the list of terminal bad news for a new-born.

Here, right where I'm pointing
I stood him up and pointed his nose in the right direction. How hard can it be? Lambs have been finding the teat and sucking for thousands of years. Junior would suck on anything except the teat. So I stepped back and my partner took a go. Pick up lamb, guide nose, contact with teat... Seriously, it’s not us, it’s the lamb.

Imagine a multiple choice exam, Just to make it simple we’ve made every answer A. There you go, try your best. This lamb just keeps ticking D.

Feed me, sucker.
Let the dribble and drool commence.
There comes a point where this is truly life-threatening. My partner drove to our local farm supplies store to pick up a pack of commercial ‘colostrum’ substitute (the extra-rich initial milk the ewe produces to help jump-start the lamb). We already had some that we bought just in case, but now years out of date – our Soay rarely need this stuff. So rarely in fact that this is the first time in ten years.

So, lamb has had a few feeds. He keeps standing and heading for the udder, but it’s those last few millimeters where his nose veers away from the teat. Left a bit, right a bit, bang on, go for it... what’s this over here?

And now the final problem. We think he’s actually premature. After a lot of staring and muttering, we’ve narrowed down one of the things that bothered us at the start: his head is the wrong shape. It’s remarkably hard to explain. Think of an inflatable toy that just needs a few more puffs of air to push the nose out to where it belongs. We have seen this sort of deformity once before in a pair of lambs born to a ewe who was very ill, but at least hers got the hang of suckling promptly.

On the bright side, the laundry is drying. We’re going to need that later. Hand-feeding a lamb is a messy business.

Just as I post this, junior appears to be suckling at last.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Milking It

Thug (aka Drang, aka the Purring Death) continues to visit. He dropped by on Sunday afternoon whilst we were out, sitting in the sun, watching out for the fox that has been killing our chickens. It was a nice day – perfect to set up the chairs, the camping table, have lunch, read a book...
Then Thug arrived, and all other cats vanished. As always with a cat, given three chairs, one of which was empty, he came and sat on me. Attention is required, and stroking, and my nose needed some firm adjustment upwards and to the left... no, upwards and to the right...
And then he moved on because my partner’s nose clearly needed adjustment.
What he really wanted was food. This option is not available. Adorable as Thug is, he is not allowed in the house due to his predilection for visiting violence on the other cats. Likewise, feeding is also not allowed, because it encourages him, so no food. Sorry. Being adorable is just not enough.
Thug jumped up on to the ageing camping table, but the plates were empty. Normally we would intervene – cats are definitely not allowed on the table – but encumbered with books, laptops and a joint curiosity over what he would do, we watched...
He inspected the tea-tray - nothing there except the milk jug. Small, glass, a bit of milk in the bottom...
He stuck his nose in, just enough to get a sniff. This has echoes of Tigger, a cat we had many years ago, and one of the first things he did was try to get his head in a large blue ceramic milk jug. He couldn’t actually get in, but Tigger had a purr designed to register on the Richter Scale, which reverberated inside the jug. Thug was working on a really small jug, so just the tip of his nose fitted in, and with no interesting sound effect.
So Thug did an Arthur. That probably doesn’t mean anything unless you’re old enough to remember adverts for wet cat food with a white cat eating from the can with his paw. Thug did just that, dipping a paw in the milk and licking it off. It would have taken him a while to get all of it but he chanced on an even better strategy – he tipped the jug over, into the tea-tray. Clearly if people will not put milk in a saucer, Thug will improvise.

Thug is a bright cat. I fear he will rule the world one day. Now that he knows how to milk a jug, there will be no stopping him.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A Cute Lamb Syndrome

Say Ahh! No, not like you’re at the dentist. More like you’ve just seen something amazingly sweet and cute and adorable. So, say Ahhh! because this is the Easter gratuitous cute lamb blog written purely because our first lambs have just been born and because they are just so amazingly cute.
Pretty much everything new-born is cute. I’m sure there are creatures out there who produce plain ugly offspring, but once you get onto cats, chickens, sheep... everything is cute. But some are cuter than others and, for whatever reason, cute as the average lamb is, the Soay lamb has extra-added cuteness.
Wait, I know I'm cute, but is this my best side?
I have done pictures for this blog because you have to see this sort of cuteness. There is a degree of tradition that says the photos ought to have a cute girly holding the lambs, just to emphasise how much cuter the lambs are. Since we are currently out of cute girlies, you will have to make do with middle-aged bloke with beard. Now how cute is that?
Once you get past the initial ahhh! moment, lambs move on to higher levels of cute, with added gambolling and playful curiosity. Last night they were digging up the special SoftSoil(tm) Luxury Kitty-Poo facilities (mole hills), which is seriously cute and, even at a couple of days old they have the sense to not disturb the ones already used by the cats.
No, I'm the really cute one.
At present, the lambs are working on keeping up with Mum, but soon they will work on the next cuteness skill which we refer to as zoom. It needs more than one lamb to be properly effective, so having the twins is an ideal starter-pack. Once a few more have been born then we can have proper zoom - high speed, formation running, over the molehills, up and down slopes, around slow-moving ewes, over sleeping ewes. Zoom is the natural lamb expression of having legs. Sturdy, powerful legs that are functional within the first hour of being born. Legs that let a lamb keep up with the flock. Basically, legs that go zoom.
Either these legs really go zoom, or grown-ups are just very slow.
Lambs are the equivalent of an eighteen year old human male, with full testosterone-induced mental impairment, given the keys to the motorbike/hot hatch/Daddy’s mid-life crisis sports car – the only thing to do is find out how fast it goes.
So, lambs go zoom. And as with the sports car, we have trees to help them stop.
And finally there is the naming, but the twins are rams, and due for the snip, so no names for them, right? That was the rule/agreement/convention which we settled on when we started with the sheep. The ewes get names. The rams get names. The wethers are just known by their ear-tag numbers.
Ginge is also very cute and came to supervise
We only intended to start with a few, maybe as many as six, just to see how we got on, but there were twenty-six, the last of a flock in need of a home following the death of a Soay breeder. Rosie, Rhoda and Ruby were the ewes born that year, and the boys just had a number - we still have numbers Thirty-seven, Thirty-Eight and Forty.
So Bonny’s twins Ocean and Sea don’t really need names, and maybe they won’t be called Ocean and Sea... but lambs are so cute, they have to have names. Even the ones that don’t need it.

There you have it, the gratuitous cute lamb blog, the annually recurring outbreak of A Cute Lamb Syndrome, which will clear up by the autumn.

Monday, 27 March 2017

And Behind The Third Door...

Thug, aka Drang (aka the Purring Death), still drops by to say hello. It’s nice to see him, stroking is essential because he is a demanding cat. Mostly demanding with cute menaces. The important thing is that he is not, under any circumstances, allowed in the house, on account of his tendency towards violence against other cats.
Us getting in and out of the house becomes tricky when Thug is visiting, because he knows there are tasty snacks inside. The merest hint of a door opening and his nose is pressed to the gap. Fortunately, there are two doors, and Thug has learned the dangers of the Front Door, which is dangerously close to The Van. He knows the routine – stroke, stroke, cutesy noises, lifted into the air, into the van and get driven home, down the hill. Thug doesn’t appreciate being taken home, or not before he’s had a bite out of someone else’s food bowl. And perhaps a bite of said someone else. So the front door is the answer for us to get in and out the house.
At present, my partner is away, with the van. Thug is a bright cat and he’s worked it out – no undignified return home without snacks and some recreational violence. (As I type, Ginge is hiding somewhere between five and ten meters up inside an overgrown cypresses hedge, Oatmeal is watching the cat-flap and Piper is just keeping his ears down.) Thug followed me round to the front door, and pressed his nose to the opening gap.
The trouble is, Thug is fast. I can’t get round the corner to the other door before he arrives, let alone open it and get inside. My final trick, once all sheep, geese and chickens were settled for the night, was to climb over the yard gate, walk along the road as quietly as I could, use the sound of a passing car to cover walking up the path, and then try to get through the front door...
I made it. Just. I shut the door in Thug’s face. With the keys still on the outside, but that’s another story.

Thug will move on sometime in the night, but he will be back. No doubt about that, and probably before my partner gets back with the van. There’s only one answer - I need a third door.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Run Away, Run Away...

I’ve written about the downfall of the alpha male before. It doesn’t matter what the species, when that fight comes, the top beast versus the challenger, there is no first and second place, there is first and last. When the alpha male loses, he falls to the bottom – if he lives.
It’s just happened to Party Pants, our top cockerel, and now Neo is the bird. Just to be clear – this not just a little punch up where Party Pants walks away muttering I could take him if I wanted to. This is a cock fight – pecking, clawing, slogging it out until only one is left breathing. Or, with the aid of welly intervention, only one is left standing. And they have to be separated with a welly, because no-one in their right mind puts a hand down there. Not if they like the way the skin goes round it as a continuous covering.
Some years ago, we got a call from a neighbour. A young cockerel of ours thought the best trick for getting food and sex was to hang out with the neighbours hens. We got the call because the neighbour’s cockerel was a big bruiser who had just kicked the living crap out of ours. We carried the bleeding heap home, patched him up as best we could, sprayed the multiple puncture wounds with antiseptic and nursed him in a quiet dark place with glucose feeder and warmth for a day or so. Then he died.
Party Pants in his prime
So, this is Party Pants, the loser, battered and bloody but with no major penetrating wounds, on account of that welly intervention. The trouble is, his time spent at the top of the heap, high on testosterone-fuelled triumph, has erased the two basic survival skills that every young cockerel learns. Run. Away. Two words, two skills, but they go together.
Party Pants has clearly forgotten both. Take run. It’s not complicated. Run, don’t walk, don’t dawdle, don’t pause to inspect an interesting blade of grass, just run, and keep running, because Neo hasn’t had time to forget running. Neo is good at it. All he has to do is master a new skill to go with run: after. Interestingly enough, Neo has grasped it immediately, and run after so easily leads to catch up, and inflict violence, all because Party Pants hasn’t yet got back into the essential skill of run.
And then there is away. That matters. Not just over there, or perhaps if I stand in this corner, but away. Far away. So far away that Neo no longer wants to run after, because all those hens are his now. So far away that it’s clear that Party Pants no longer even thinks of dipping any appendages into the gene pool. Being top bird is all about possession.
Party Pants is in denial and needs to work on away. Particularly when he can not resist the urge to crow, the great chicken expression of come on, if you think you’re hard enough. (Or, Hey! I’ve got a great big tonka. Very difficult to tell those two apart.) The only concession to defeat: Party Pants is crowing quietly, with his beak between his knees. And frankly, in his current state, I bet his toes are whispering back: come closer and we’ll show you we’re hard enough.
In time, Neo will probably settle down and not need to re-iterate his victory. For now Neo has to assert himself, hence the run after with attendant violence. And he also has to assert himself with the hens, because when he’s not looking, or when Party Pants has managed enough away, certain girls are still hanging around with the old top cock. So Neo is asserting himself, frequently and persistently. There’s an old joke: a god and a mortal woman after a night of wild sex, and he says I’m Thor, and she says, You’re sore? I’m so sore I won’t... Well, you know the rest. If you could translate it into chicken, our hens would get the punchline before you could finish. For now, Neo is asserting; eventually the shine will wear off. If he would just stop polishing.

And Party Pants will re-learn run and away. Or get used to the pain.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Two Mega-Nits of Ram

I was never any good at Rubik’s Cube, but imagine one covered in wool, dripping wet, fighting back and now try to solve it in the dark, by lamp-light.
I’ve been away for a week and drove home Saturday afternoon, pre-warned by my partner that Pad and Earl, two of the rams, had got their horns tangled and were currently inseparable. My partner had tried to get them apart on her own, one ram clamped between her knees, trying to move the other. No chance.
All I had to do, after an exhausting week and a five hour drive, was disentangle two-times twenty kilos of testosterone-driven stupidity, in the dark, ideally without losing any fingers.
Just nod if you can hear me...
Our Soay rams have large, curved horns. Imagine something with a two-inch diameter coming out of your skull above your eye, curving backwards and round the back of your ear, down and forwards along your jawline and then, if you have the deluxe version, curving up and back towards your ear... Those horns are big beasts, and tough enough for a ram to batter at a telegraph pole just for fun, or smash a gate off its hinges when bad things like worming are about to happen.
Fancy a hook-up?
Now picture two rams who have twisted their horns together like a pair of corkscrews until the last minute when a jiggle and a shove has left them locked together. It’s a little bit like that early scene in the Hunt for Red October, a narrow passage and only one way in. By the time I got home, the pair of them had had hours of pushing and shoving, failing to find just that right combination of twist and push to get back out again. The other rams had, naturally, been helping – with two of the top males locked together the others took turns in battering them up the backside. Rams are like that.
We looked by lamp-light, we tried, got covered in **** but in the end, we gave up. We did try to get them to take some water because they had to be getting dehydrated, but they were both too busy: gotta shake loose that b****** that’s got hold of my horns.
So let’s try again tomorrow, in daylight, with an option on calling the vet to cut the ends off their horns.
So, Sunday morning, when vets are especially expensive, we looked at the problem again. Really, if it was just a pair of spiral rings to disentangle, it would be easy, but with the rest of the ram attached, not so much. First there is the matter of noses. I looked, I saw the way to undo it, if only the ram’s nose wasn’t there. It was obvious that the two spirals could be untwisted, but once the nose of one ram is firmly wedged against the head of the other the untwisting stops. Then there was a clearance problem – those horns are big and Pad’s horns curve an inch or less from his jaw, so only the thinnest tips of Earl’s horns can get through that gap.
I could see what I wanted to do, sort of, but I couldn’t just wave two rams around in the air. Look... if we could just float Pad at knee-height, and twist Earl like this...
The solution was an old, dead dining chair out of the barn. With Pad lying on his side on the chair, held steady by my partner, I could turn Earl upside down and lie him on his back. It sounds easy, but now factor in the furious wriggling, the surprise of a ram trying to pick my nose with his back hooves (still tingles a few hours on), the need to blow my nose to remove the sudden injection of mud, grass and sheep-s**t, and the problem becomes more tricky.
If only I could see what was going on. Forget the nose and the attendant eye-watering, I could either hold Earl or look at what I was doing, so the un-screwing of the horns had to be done by touch. So, just put a finger in that gap, test which way the curve runs, get finger out again quickly when one of the woolly b******s moves suddenly, and then try again. Those horns that shake telegraph poles and destroy gates are not actually round, more triangular in cross-section, and would easily purée my finger with their ridged edges.
I was so nearly there when Pad decided he didn’t like the chair. My partner was trying to hold him, hold the chair, check he wasn’t about to break his neck... and then I lost my grip on Earl. I’m not sure who was the most surprised out of the four of us. That final extra wrench was either the answer, or I had succeeded just in time to save the rams from serious injury. Whatever really happened, they were no longer linked.
We got them on their feet, and they went and hid under the bushes in the corner of the field. Together. The little ******s has been trying to get apart for the best part of a day, and now they huddled together for safety against the big mean people that just got them untangled.

That’s sheep for you.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Ginger Yo-yo

The saga of Thug, aka Drang, aka The Purring Death, was drawing to a close. His owners kept him in for a few weeks to get him settle back in and our other cats relaxed again, even to the point of Ginge returning to a favourite night-time spot between the pillows, purring in my ear. It’s not perfect - Ginge and Piper have indicated their displeasure that their preferred point of access to the house through the fan-light window is now blocked, but it seemed like a sensible precaution,
As it turns out, an essential precaution. Thug is back, and he still doesn’t understand cat-flaps.
I had just got back from a day working in Plymouth, returning via Cornwall Farmers, and there was young Thug, eager and perky, just wanting to be loved. The fact that I had a van-load of sheep and poultry feed to shift was irrelevant.
In the end, we compromised – a certain amount of Thug-loving and then he got to follow me around as I carried 25kg feed sacks from van to store. That had to include heavy hints that I should open the back door, offer snacks, make sure the duvets were set right for wiping his paws – the usual. The hints got heavier when nothing was delivered. (This all suggested that an incident of scrabbling at windows at four in the morning a few days previously was probably Thug.)
In due course, the van was empty and, whilst Thug is a practising psychopath, he is also very loving and trusting (unless you happen to be another cat), so getting him boxed up and in the back of the van was easy. Then it was just a drive down the hill to drop him off.
The very next day... there was Thug, in search of love, food and a comfy bed. He was more wary about the van this time, but my partner joined the game. A bit of stroking and Thug was lured back into captivity and down the hill in the new Cat Taxi service, straight in to home, into the large bag of dog food for a snack. And I do mean in. For some reason, Thug is partial to dog food, and all the better eaten straight from the bag, leaving paw-prints on the inside just to show he was there.
After a few days respite... Taxi!
The incidence of Thug visits has dropped off. From time to time, I email his owners to give the Drang Report, which really ought to start with something like early heavy down-paws will lead to light outbreaks of violence later in the day. He still comes to visit, but for the last week my partner has been away with the van. No taxi service means that Thug has to walk home which has clearly taken the shine off things. OK, strictly speaking, Thug is not impressed with being driven down the hill. However, when he is hanging around, trying to get in, we can walk round the house and use the front door because he has worked out that the front of the house is the Cat Taxi pick-up zone. The reduction in visits is probably down to the lack of snacks and warm duvets to relax on.
Today, he was back again, wailing outside the window, wailing on the back door step, a terribly sad and mistreated moggy desperately in need of love. And other cats to bite. It’s nice to see him, I do miss him, but we have to keep discouraging him for the sake of the others. Ginge is still spooky, and insecure about her purring-gooseberry routine between the pillows, whilst Piper’s fur is just starting to grow back properly from the last time Thug bit him.
For now, we are all coping.

I can see Summer being a problem – doors and windows open, easy access for our visiting Ginger yo-yo.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

That Drang Cat – We Know Where You Live...

The saga of Thug (The Purring Death) is drawing to a close. His real name is the arch-villain Drang, who usually works with his sister, Storm... Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Or if you did, no-one would believe it. So the arch-villain is a bit of hyperbole... but Thug is definitely Drang, and the sweet little tabby called Storm was very upset when her brother disappeared.
Drang lives about a third of a mile down the hill – how did we miss that? We thought we had canvassed the neighbourhood to find out if anyone was missing a cat, but that hit two practical problems.
Firstly, how do you describe a cat? It sounds easy, but you have to know your audience. If you are speaking to someone who doesn’t have cats, anything other than the word cat is lost, so asking have you seen a big ginger tom cat near your place translates as have you seen a cat... And the answer is no. Usually. With the cat-owned, you would think it would be simple, but that becomes a matter of perception and a surplus of contradictory detail.
Take Thug (or Thuggles to the support and service staff) as an example. We described him as a big, aggressive ginger tom, a lean-mean-violence machine who hates other cats. Even when talking to our neighbours, describing Thug made no mental connection with their affectionate, slightly chubby ginger tom who adores his sister.
Now, problem number two – geography. The first house I ever bought had a post-code that covered half the length of the street and probably contained fifty houses. I could walk from one end to the other in a minute and a half, maybe less. Out here in rural Cornwall, our post-code covers about twenty houses, spread along more than a mile of road. The house furthest from us might even be less than a mile away, as the crow flies, but you wouldn’t walk the direct route without stout boots, waders, perhaps a coil of rope, and a keen eye for a bull before crossing the fields. By road, it’s nearer a mile and a half.
Catching up with the neighbours for a quick chat does not happen every day.
During a recent visit down the road, we heard of the missing Drang... well, it could be Thug, maybe, can’t really tell. Even looking at photos took some serious staring... well, it might be Thug.
So, a few emailed photos went back and forth, different views, different angles... isn’t Storm cute. Thug certainly looked like Drang, and the neighbours were certain that Drang looked like Thug. We got him in a basket – not easy with such a large and energetic cat – and drove the suspect down the hill for a quick identity parade.
The neighbours took one look and positively identified Thug, who clearly saw that the game was up and confessed that yes, he was in fact the arch-villain Drang, and could he get another scratch behind the ears because those new people of his haven’t quite got the technique...
Drang, the monster recently known as Thug, is now re-united with his sister, and looked very contented on the sofa when we left. Our other cats have noticed, even if they don’t quite believe it yet. Ginge, who hasn’t dared come near the house for the last few weeks and had to be fed in the barn, appeared in the kitchen this morning. We all miss him... no, that’s not true... I miss him, even though I do appreciate getting a decent night’s sleep with him gone.

Thug has been returned home. Now we have to hope he stays there. And we can drop by for a cup of tea and say hi.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Full Facial

Thug was not supposed to be a permanent resident here, but for all practical purposes the Purring Death has moved in. There are little hints that give it away, like being here pretty much every night, and every morning, and sleeping the day away on the bed. He would be on the sofa, I am sure, but the lounge door is shut, with a cat-flap for the others to get in and out – Thug hasn’t learned cat-flaps. Yet.
The real clincher, is greeting him with hello Thuggles...
Oatmeal is not happy, Piper is afraid but has worked out that Thug doesn’t understand cat-flaps, and Ginge is just plain pissed about the whole thing. I’m retaining the title of Purring Death for the moment, but Thug has calmed down and only chases Piper because Piper runs away. Of course Piper runs because Thug is a monster that put him at the vet over and over again. It makes for a mutually reinforcing conditioned response.
Thug turns up, comes in through the window (which is open because Piper and Ginge like it that way), has a munch from every bowl he can find, and then just waits for one of his newly-adopted people to do what every cat expects: unquestioning and endless worship.
There is a theory that cats rub against hands because they see that as an approximation to another cat’s face. Thug actively intercepts hands, jumps up to reach, and generally makes it clear that his love and attention requirements are not impossible to meet, just very, very challenging. Hours of dedication are required.
Thug also knows that people have faces too, just out of reach, so the hand business will have to do... most of the time. Of course, after working-hours, when the people are enjoying their down-time, faces are accessible. Just sit on the chest and look down. If only we could teach him to look but not touch.
The night-time routine is variable – Thug drops by as and when it suits – but there are certain constant features. Sit on my chest – check; stick cold, wet nose on mine and shove like I need a touch of rhinoplasty – check; snuffle around in my beard and claim it for all Thug-kind – check. When faces are accessible, Thug is having none of this pretending that a human hand might be another cat.
Then there is the night-time special. It works better during heavy rain, because nothing says here I am like sitting on your people, cold and dripping wet. The way it goes is like this...
First, stretch out in that cosy valley in the duvet between my people. Roll around a bit (especially when wet) and then reach, hook claws in that beard thing, and then pull – either the beard gets closer, or I slide up the bed. Whatever. Now, roll around some more, really get those claws tangled in and nibble. There’s a nice bit of cheek just there, or how about sinking teeth into the chin... nothing too serious, no drawing blood... I just ate... I think it was cat... again.
As Thug gets into the swing, so to speak, I get my hands in there to stop him. Thug has shown himself quite capable of getting carried away. And once he’s at the beard, there’s the wonderful trick of working his front paws under my chin, finding my throat and easing the claws out...

Thug is no longer truly the Purring Death. He is a monster, an adorable and adoring monster. And when he wants something, Thug is more than a little bit in your face.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

An Eye For Trouble

Oatmeal, he of the peeing response to medical intervention, has eye trouble again. It seems like no time at all since he was urinating on every piece of clothing to avoid the eye-drops, and now he wants another round.
As always with cats, trouble comes when you are busy, or after office hours when the call-out charges on the vet are so much higher. This time was Friday evening – I had just got in from two days away, clutching a bag of high-calorie, low-health snacking options to wind down after a busy week. Our poorly cockerel, Wobbly, was very much on the mend, all cats present and correct... except Oatmeal. He was behaving strangely, but as always with cats, they suddenly do that just to confuse people.
I went and said hello anyway, because Oatmeal likes that. Normally, he doesn’t wait for his retarded people to initiate a greeting. He is there, in the way, around your ankles, just exuding hello. A black-hole is a gravitational well that even sucks light in; Oatmeal is a beige-hole, an attention-deficit well that sucks in every scrap of loving and fussing in the immediate vicinity.
Instead, he was huddled, with both eyes shut. In fact, tightly shut, and when we carried him into the lounge, he wailed in response to the brighter light. Cue a call to the vet. A brief debate over the after-hours costs...
So, we had a half-hour drive to the main branch of the vet, which I completed in twenty-five minutes. Not actually unsafe, but my partner who has been known to experience motion sickness, did indicate loudly, several times, that Oatmeal would be much happier if I took the corners more slowly.
Oatmeal hadn’t met this vet before, but he knew the drill. When the door of the carry-cage opens, do not, under any circumstances, step out. If someone unkindly removes the lid, brace for trouble... maybe this one is OK... hasn’t done anything bad... hey leave my tail alone... put my tail down... yikes... not that again... it can’t be sanitary... I have to lick that clean later.
Now that the full veterinary credentials were established, and Oatmeal’s temperature confirmed as normal, it was time to inspect troubled eyes, so Oatmeal tried a new tactic: reverse. Just keep going backwards and never mind the edge of the examination table. And when the ground suddenly angles up, just keep reversing.
In fact, he reversed most of the way up my front, a bit of a tail-to-beard moment. My thoughts were evenly divided: catch him if he goes sideways and that can’t be sanitary, he hasn’t licked it clean yet.
Eventually we found a combination of steadying hands that defeated the reversing strategy, stopped the slo-mo somersaults and let the vet get a good look at Oatmeal’s eyes. Fortunately, this time, there was no obvious infection but clearly something wrong. We were facing the dreaded eye-drops again. After a discussion with the vet, with perhaps excessive emphasis on my issue with wet ankles and an increased usage of the washing machine, we had a treatment strategy – a shot of long-lasting antibiotic that would be excreted through Oatmeal’s tear-ducts to bathe his eyeball in antibiotic as a precaution, and an anti-inflammatory for the pain.
We drove home more sedately, but really, it didn’t seem to make Oatmeal any happier. Although within a few hours the drugs clearly did.

Oatmeal has recovered, but he still has an eye for trouble: carry-cages, towels brandished in a menacing way, or the sort of wet-weather gear that primarily protects ankles from cat pee.