Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hebe, Spook and the Bunny from Hell!


Now is the Winter of our Discontent

The cats are incarcerated.  Despite the fact that this is of their own volition, it being just too bitterly cold and windy for even Spook to brave the outdoors, they blame me. Every look, every gesture, every clawing at the furniture with spiteful claws, is aimed at punishing me for the horrid weather. In the afternoon when the tail end of a nasty cold has left me so exhausted that I retire to bed for a nap, the cats accompany me spreadeagling across the kingsize mattress, sequestering my hot water bottle and pushing me, with my knees up, into one tiny corner. There we three doze, as much as you can doze with Hebe pressed behind my back, snoring and groaning and Spook, a deadweight across my feet which is bound to result in a nasty cramp for me at some stage, emitting occasional nasty smells - Spook that is, not me.

Snow play

At least I know where Spook is when he is not outdoors, disappearing off and exacerbating my OCD about locating him, or sitting on the back wall psyching out the Hated Neighbour's rabbit.  And this brings me to the crux of the matter.  Hated Neighbour, as you may remember, moved in a few years ago refurbing the house (the first of the neverending procession of house rebuilds near me) and trashing the beautiful, if slightly old fashioned, garden the elderly lady who had lived there had tended with loving care. The Hated Neighbour who ripped out all the shrubs at the end of his garden destroying all our privacy.  The Hated Neighbour who installed outdoor lighting that is like having car headlights full-beamed right into our house when he turns them on. The Hated Neighbour who, after being asked not to dump his stuff on our shared wall, immediately put three watering cans on it. (This to block the entrance I had left through our trellis so I could get onto the wall to maintain both it and the climbers the previous owner had mingling together with mine over the boundary.)  The watering cans placed there supposedly to stop my cats leaping through into his garden and beating the hell out of his nineteen year old daughters' rabbit.  You are asking yourselves "Why would someone rip out all the boundary shrubs on all sides of their garden to create an open plan effect if they wanted to deter feline visitors?".  This is a question I frequently ask myself and I have no answer.

Greenhouse with watering cans on wall

So on top of my OCD about Spook slipping out between the houses onto the road I also have 'Bunny Worry'.  Before the Great Garden Trashing took place and every bit of greenery removed by "the man who doesn't like plants", the bunny was put out in a moveable cage surround where it could nibble at the grass it had been placed on. Hebe and Spook showed some interest in it at the time but it was the fox family who really got their juices flowing - once when I gazed through my lovely vine covered trellis I saw Daddy Fox standing on top of the cage with Mummy Fox and Baby Fox sniffing around the outside. Poor Bunny, who is quite a handsome creature with long floppy ears and a quizzical expression, was stuck in the middle hoping the wire netted cage would hold! I did tell Hated Neighbour about the fox problem but he wasn't interested other than to say "I don't like foxes in my garden".  You are wondering "What does Hated Neighbour  like in his garden then if it isn't foxes, cats, or plants?" Hated Neighbour likes drying washing in his garden, every day come rain or shine, ain't no rain hard enough, snow cold enough, to keep them from hanging washing in their garden.  Hated Neighbour also likes a ramshackle rabbit hutch, various old bits of garden tools and rubbish piled up and a shed with blue tarpaulin on it that flaps around annoying me.  That is what Hated Neighbour likes in his garden. Oh dear -  now I have gone 'off on one' and we were talking about the Bunny from Hell.

View from my greenhouse to mudflats - sob!

I have tried to keep Hebe and Spook out of his 'garden' with limited success.  They are both quite fascinated by the rabbit which is prised out of its hutch of a morning and left to its own devices running freely around the mud patch that it calls home - with the added interest of course of checking out whatever is on the washing line that day.  The cats sit on the wall psyching the rabbit out - Spook occasionally joining it on the mud flats, squeezing himself belly into the mud, eyes alight with excitement and performing that funny bottom wiggling thing cats do before they pounce on their prey.  Once I caught Hebe and Spook forming a pincer movement in a rare example of joint co-operation - I yelled before they could complete the manoeuvre.  Fed-up with constantly fretting as to whether the cats were bunny-bothering I finally left them to it. The Hated Neighbour can't be arsed to protect it against marauding foxes and I can't see my sweet innocent cats causing anything like that sort of damage.

Hebe tiptoes around in the cold

 And then one morning last autumn I looked out into my garden and there was fur everywhere - I went out to investigate and soft fur was floating in the pond, drifting across the borders and clumped on the patio. OHMIGOD! The blasted bunny's bitten the dust and some bloody animal has dragged its rabbit remains for one last final battle in my garden! I knew my sweet, innocent cats had been asleep in my bed all night but how could I prove it? I looked around for the carcass wondering how I could hide the evidence before anyone could frame them for the crime - but there was none, just the furballs.  I went up to the greenhouse and peered tentatively over the wall. There was the rabbit happily munching the two remaining grass stalks in the garden.  Later in the day, after I had accounted for all the possible neighbourhood cats who might have been fighting, I put it down to an inter-fox spat.

Spook's feeling for snow

I finally gave up worrying about Hebe and Spook and the bunny on the day when, as I exited the greenhouse, two cats, tails fat with fear, flew over the watering cans blocking the trellis and sped down the garden to the safety of the kitchen, nearly knocking me over in the process.  Fed up with their silly stalking antics the Bunny from Hell had charged them!  I looked over the wall and Bunny was looking really rather pleased with itself.    The cats cowered in the kitchen for some hours, demanding chicken cat treats to ease their angst.  I'm rather hoping this means they won't mess with the bunny again.

A short while ago I met Hated Neighbour's next-door neighbour, a nice lady with a sweet old cat who used to sit quietly in my garden until Spook, who is not good at sharing, saw her off - the cat that is, not the nice lady.  I mentioned my problems with the rabbit and she told me that she looked after it occasionally when Hated Neighbour was away and it was a cantankerous old bugger, quite violent and had bitten her on the ankle when she went to feed it! This is a bunny that can take care of itself!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Of Exe and Exocets


Of Exe and Avocets by Kathy Ramsay Carr

You can be sure that nearly all people who see an avocet will refer to it as an exocet and find themselves amusing in doing so - the Socks are no exception to this. And so it was we came to be on an RSPB Exocet Cruise on the river Exe.  The popular birdwatching cruises run all year round but from November til February is the best time to see the large flocks of avocets feeding on the shoreline of the river.  The small boat was full of birdwatchers braving the bitter cold for a view of these and other beautiful birds. We were lucky, with a welcome break in the grey gloom of winter, to have the kind of inky cloudy skies with occasional shafts of sunlight that lend themselves so well to photography.

And paintings...

Many years ago, after years of renting rooms in ramshackle shared houses, I finally bought a lovely little flat.  My first priority was to make the place my own by buying a picture - not a print or poster like those that had adorned the walls of my rented rooms, hiding 'a nasty stain that's lying there', this time a real, properly framed, grown-up, picture.  It was called 'The Road to Agrigento' and featured a landscape of greyish pinks with the silhouette of a dark, cedar tree leaning into the wind, against the distant azure blues of a warm mediterranean sea.  I went to Agrigento once and, to be honest, it was a bit of a dump.  I also bought a poster, again in greyish pinky colours with some 1920s girls seated on a verandah.  I bought it in France and believing it to be quite chic had it framed and hung proudly on my wall.  That was until I saw the same print adorning the walls of one of the motel chalets in the very down market TV soap - Crossroads.  That poster never saw the light of day again.  The 'Road to Agrigento' lasted until the Bedsock and I bought a house which we christened with a new picture chosen together.

And this leads us back to Exe and Avocets.  We needed a picture for the bedroom wall of  the Socks' new 'Country Pile' as we like refer to it. I had been looking at the work of Devon artist Kathy Ramsay Carr on various websites and was keen to see the paintings 'in the flesh' so we visited Kathy at her Devon studio.  The Bedsock and I are always drawn to seascapes and much as I have tried to move to a different  style and subject matter they are what we invariably end up with.  I think it goes back to my love of the sea, childhood memories of  magical coves, interesting shorelines with washed-up tidal treasures, the enchanting world of rock pools and rivulets winding down to the sea.  There is not a painting in Kathy's studio I don't want and we immediately agree on one small painting with smudgey purples and golds which will perfectly match our bedroom colours.

But it is a larger one that really draws me in 'Of Exe and Avocets' - we have just booked the Exe and Avocet cruise and it seems so serendipitous that it must surely be meant for us.  The Bedsock likes it too although he doesn't feel the colours will be right for our new pad but I can't bear to leave it.  Kathy kindly suggests that we 'borrow' it for a week to try it out and I am pleased because I have a strong feeling that she won't be getting it back.  Sadly, the Bedsock is right - the colours don't fit in the Country Pile, the painting does nothing for the room and the room kills the painting.  I am disappointed but it suddenly dawns on us that the inky purples, the heathery greyish pinks, the silvers and the blacks are all the colours from our living room at Sock Towers. We have been looking to replace the painting there for years but nothing has seemed quite right. Hung above the black, marble, mantlepiece, like Cinderella's glass slipper it fits - it is so absolutely right.  The painting adds to the room and the room brings the painting to life, with textures and colours I hadn't noticed before, springing out of it.

A week later we are on the Exocet Cruise, as the boat meanders slowly down river from Topsham towards the mouth of the Exe I am struck by the colours and beauty of the landscape captured in Kathy Ramsay Carr's picture.

Avocets in flight

As well as cormorants, redshanks, teal, and godwits (you can guess at our 'amusing' name for the latter) we see several large groups of avocets milling on the Exe occasionally lifting as one into flight like an exocet missile cruising just above the waters.  The Bedsock says he can't see them in the painting but there are a few slender hints of graceful white which, for me, are the avocets.

On the two hour trip we were asked to think of a name to describe a 'flock' of avocets, the words grace and ballet came up but looking at this picture of them, bobbing in a line like sychronised ducks on a fairground stall, I can only think of a 'striation' of  avocets.