Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Saying Goodbye - vale Oscar Bin Laden

I had to say goodbye to my little furry friend Oscar yesterday.

Oscar Bin Laden the Terrorkitty was only 10 years old. A fiendish kitten, he came to us after the death of Ollie the Wonder Cat in 2000.

Like Ollie, he was a Persian Himalayan cross – a lovely big grey and white cat – but the similarities ended there. He was, in fact, Ollie's Evil Twin, straight from the Dark Side. A leg-stalker par excellence, he was the bane of Miffy's existence, pouncing on her and tormenting her at every opportunity, right up until the day he died – yesterday, 25 October.

He wasn't all evil, though. Very much a people cat, Oscar would follow me around like a fluffy grey shadow. In the kitchen he had his little vantage point on top of the bread bin and loved to watch everything that went on (he was a terrible stickybeak!) from there. In the garden, he was never more than a foot away, batting at the evil weeds as I tried to pull them out (just helping, honest!) or simply just being a companionable presence. He sat beneath the washing line whenever I hung out the washing, and sat on my arms whenever I tried to use the computer. He sat on my chest if I tried to watch TV, and often sat on my head while I tried to sleep. He did a lot of sitting.

And he talked, Lord, did he talk, at all hours of the day and night! He was, in fact, quite a student of English, and could say “hello” with spooky clarity when he wanted to get your attention.

He could be naughty, annoying and utterly obnoxious at times – quite a lot, in fact – especially when I was tutoring. He would leap onto the table, sprawl over my students' books, and refuse to budge.

'Hey, kid, need help with your homework? You've come to the right place.'

As for keeping him neat and tidy – forget it! His luxurious coat was a nightmare. Go within three feet of him with a brush, and you risked losing an arm. So much easier (and safer!) to take him to the vet for a haircut every year when the warmer weather arrived. That cat simply would not be brushed. He could out-stubborn anyone I know, even as a kitten. He stood his ground against the dreaded 'get off the table' water-squirter from a young age, when the squirter bottle was twice his size. He just sat there with narrowed eyes, daring me to squirt him. One day he took a big swipe at the bottle, whacking it right out of my hand. Feisty little bugger.

But when I was going through some of the darkest days of my life, and couldn't get out of bed for days at a time, Oscar never left my side. He would curl up next to me, at neck level, and put his paw in the palm of my hand, or rest it on my cheek, and sit that way for hours. He loved human contact.

I'm going to miss him.

Friday, 1 October 2010

My Mallacoota Magpies

'Look sharp, Doris - here comes the Sausage Lady!'

They wait for me now, several times a day. They sit on the feeder box, peering through the window, and when I appear they shuffle about on the side of the box to attract my attention. Sometimes they sing. Occasionally Mrs Hoppy grooms her bloke's feathers. Yesterday's conversation was, I'm certain, something like this:

“Come on, Hoppy dear, you need to look your best.” (Doris picks affectionately at Hoppy's head, tidying an unruly feather).

“Leave me alone, Doris. Women find the ruffled look very attractive.” (Shakes head. Doris hops aside, a bit indignant).

“Well at least sing, dear. They like it when you sing.”

“I'm not singing, Doris. You can sing all you bloody like – I'm too hungry to sing. Ooh, ooh, look, here she comes. Look sharp, Doris.”

Mr & Mrs Hoppy are my greatest fans. I keep a stash of cooked sausages in the fridge, and they're big fans of that too. This morning, Hoppy was sitting wonkily on the feeder box, so I dutifully hacked off a few bits of sausage and went out. Doris, who must've been putting on her mascara or something, arrived late and almost flew into the back of my head in her hurry to take her place next to hubby and get her share of the goodies.

They happily take food from my hand, but they have very different ways of doing it. Hoppy is a bit rough, and stabs at my hand greedily. His missus is gentler, daintier and more precise. She also has far better table manners.

Hoppy stuffs the whole bit of sausage in his beak, almost choking himself in his hurry to get it down. Perhaps, disabled lad that he is, he's had to gobble his food quickly to stop others stealing it from him. Life can't be easy for a bird with a gammy leg.

Mrs Hoppy, on the other hand, takes her time with her sausage morsel. She bashes it on the ground to kill it properly, then rolls it in the dust to season it. She whittles away at it with her beak, taking small mouthfuls until it's all gone. Then she carefully, fastidiously even, wipes the sides of her beak. Meanwhile, Hoppy has managed to stab and scoff two or three more bits, and the pair of them fly away home until they get peckish again. And then - it's back to the Sausage Lady to do it all over again.

I have to head home tomorrow. I'll miss them.

Smooth operator Hoppy: 'So, babe, do you come here often? Love those sausages.'