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Possum stories

As I am stuck, immobile, under a very fat cat, allow me to tell some possum stories. Three times in my life I have encountered a possum, and all three times it played dead and I believed it.

The first time, I was about fifteen and on our small farm. I startled it, it fell over in the grass and just passed the hell out. I had a varmint gun with me but I just couldn’t shoot something limp at my feet. I am wuss.

See, a possum had been killing our chickens for days. And they don’t do a nice job of it, sometimes mutilating them without killing them outright. Gosh, was my mother mad at me! By the time I went inside and brought her out, possum was there none.

Second time, it was curled up at the bottom of a public trash can. Not my problem.

Third time, I was backing out of the garage and I went over something BIG with my right front wheel. Mind you, I drove a Miata, so everything I went over felt big. But this was genuinely a large and portly possum. Dead, natch. But it had blood trickling from its mouth, so I thought, “this time, for real!”

I was late for work, so I decided to deal with it when I got home. And yup, it was gone.

I don’t often sit around of an evening and reminisce about Possums I Have Known. Somebody mentioned possums on Twitter and it brought it all back.

Pic is from Wikimedia and the taker has kindly put it in the public domain.

No possum post is complete without another mention of the Opossum Lady.

April 20, 2021 — 8:40 pm
Comments: 8

Bantam, my ass

My littlest chicken next to my biggest. Don’t worry about her, she’s quick and agile and more than capable of avoiding surprise chicken sex from that hulking lummox.

It was a GLORIOUS day here today. Sunny, not a cloud, getting near 70F. I sat in the garden most of the day, soaking it up.

I discovered an Ipheion uniflorum growing wild. No, no…don’t worry. I’m still allergic to horticulture. I looked it up with Google Lens.

Maybe everybody knew this, but I’ve just discovered that Lens – an app most known for reading QR codes – will identify plants for you. Take a snapshot, tap the Lens button, and it makes its best guess. I used it to figure out who the survivors are in the herb garden.

Here’s the thing about our little flower friend, though. How the hell did it get there? It’s growing out of a crack in the sidewalk. Wikipedia tells me the variety was brought to the UK in 1820 from somewhere near Buenos Aires and it’s grown from a bulb. We’ve been here 14 years and we didn’t plant it.

How in the Sam Hill did this bulb get under our pavement?

March 30, 2021 — 7:55 pm
Comments: 7

Lambs!

We went looking for lambs Saturday, as it was a bit early for our local woolbabies. Uncle B knew where to go that has early lambs every year.

You’ll notice the fuzzy dude in front is on the wrong side of the fence. He was in a panic because he couldn’t get back through.

Fortunately, we spotted someone in the barn behind, so we drove up and told him he had an escapee. Forty five minutes later, we were able to go on our way. People are starved for conversation.

Same thing happened at a farm stand later that afternoon – half an hour of jawing with a stranger.

Same thing happened to me today. Someone came into the office and spent an hour reminiscing. Then my neighbor caught me outside as I came home and bang went another forty five minutes. They’ve relaxed the rules just a tad and people are tumbling out of isolation.

I have a lot of talking in my future, I suspect.

Oh, and we have local lambs! Quite big ones. They are usually born right in the field behind us, but these appeared by the dozens looking some days old, so they must’ve used a lambing shed.

March 29, 2021 — 8:24 pm
Comments: 5

The shame

Larry the Number 10 cat has been put on a diet. Visitors have been slipping him too many treats. He is fourteen, an age when gentlemen cats may incline to podge, and has been in office for a decade.

His official title is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, which started as a joke title used by journalists but was made official for Larry in 2011. He is a civil servant. He once had a scrap with Palmerston, the Chief Mouser of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, during which Larry lost his collar and Palmerston got a ripped ear. The latter has since retired to the country.

You’d probably need an FOIA to find out how many British government departments have an official cat.

Larry’s predecessor was Freya (whose tenure overlapped Larry’s) and before her Sybil (named after Sybil Fawlty).

Then ensued a ten year gap when Downing Street was catless on account of that evil hag Cherie Blair doing away with Humphrey.

Before Humphrey came Wilberforce (for whom Margaret Thatcher once bought “a tin of sardines in a Moscow supermarket”), Peta (a Manx cat whose real name was Manninagh KateDhu), Peter III and Peter II.

Nelson has no Wikipedia page, but he was the Chief Mouser of WWII and Churchill’s own cat whose tenure overlapped his predecessor Munich Mouser, whose tenure overlapped Peter I (they were deadly rivals). Churchill nicknamed the Munich Mouser after the Munich Agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler. What Chamberlain called him is not recorded.

And finally, Rufus of England (AKA “Treasury Bill”) who also doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, but is the earliest Downing Street Cat on record (served 1924 to 1930). He had an allowance of a penny a day.

Budgetary records, anyway. There are reports of cats in government back to Henry VIII, when Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey brought his cat to work with him.

The Downing Street Cat gets lots of press here because journalists are stuck outside #10 for long, boring stretches of time and hey look, a cat.

You can follow Larry on Twitter.

March 10, 2021 — 7:40 pm
Comments: 8

And then there’s this

Suffolk has a giant devil dog named Black Shuck who made his first appearance in Blythburgh in 1577, when it broke down the door of Holy Trinity Church, killed a couple of people, burned claw marks in the floor and scampered off. He has reappeared on the usual occasions ever since.

Seven miles away at the site of Leiston Abbey, a dig in 2014 unearthed this big boy. And by big, I mean a vet estimated it would have stood seven feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. A very big boy indeed.

Here’s an article putting the two together. I mean, honestly – if you can’t trust a site called ufoholic.com, who can you trust? And here is a less breathless account in a local paper.

The dog was buried under the site of the monastery kitchens, which would have been demolished some time after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537. Which would draw a delightful straight line from a very big dog to, decades later, a legend of a very big dog.

But the second article says indications are the dog may have been alive in the 18th C. and was buried with some ceremony. In which case, I’m surprised there isn’t a record of him in some local estate’s accounts. Further (expensive) analysis is probably way down on the county archaeologist’s priority list, which is a shame.

I think we can assume he was a very good boy.

Bonus: my first thought was a turnspit dog. But it turns out, that was an actual breed of little dog with a long body and short crooked legs. Which makes perfect sense for a dog that climbed inside a big hamster wheel and ran for a few hours a day.

The dogs were also taken to church to serve as foot warmers. One story says that during service at a church in Bath, the Bishop of Gloucester gave a sermon and uttered the line “It was then that Ezekiel saw the wheel…”. At the mention of the word “wheel” several turnspit dogs, who had been brought to church as foot warmers, ran for the door.

Queen Victoria kept a few retired turnspit dogs as pets, which wasn’t enough to rehabilitate their reputation. Poor things were considered so ugly and common they were allowed to go extinct.

February 24, 2021 — 7:32 pm
Comments: 5

And speaking of calico…

Photo by Rehman Abubakr

Been meaning to look up why calico cats are always female. Here’s the skinny: calicos are usually white, orange and black (or tabby or gray or…whatevs). About 70% white on average – that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I thought it was interesting.

The X chromosome carries the gene for either ginger or black (or a variety of non-white colors). One color per X chromosome. So only XX (that is, female) beasts can have both ginger and black.

Except those poor little bastards with Klinefelter syndrome. They have XXY, XXXY or even XXXXY chromosomes. I don’t think it creates much of a problem in cats, but it can produce the occasional a male calico.

The gene for white isn’t on a sex chromosome, but elsewhere in the genome, so any old cat can carry it.

“But wait, Stoaty, you magnificent beast!” I hear you say, “most gingers are male. How that be?”

Male gingers carry the ginger gene on their one X chromosome. Female gingers have to have the ginger gene on both X chromosomes. That makes the ratio is about 3 to 1 male to female, and I believe ginger girls must have ginger daddies.

I think ginger and black without the white is how you get a tortie, but I’ve about come to the end of my genetic education.

If you ever yearn to feel stupid and slow, try looking into the genetics of chicken colors. Here’s a look at the basics.

January 27, 2021 — 7:38 pm
Comments: 10

Be-catted

Sorry for inattentive today (yes, we have a Dead Pool winner – congratulations Mrs Carl). I have been under a cat. Specifically, this one – Ol’ Kneewrecker.

Also, I’ve been on Twitter. It’s as awful as you can imagine at the moment. I’m going back to chickens, books and vidya games for a while. But I did want to mention two things I learned from this election.

There are more of us than there are of them. Like, a lot more. Like, so many more that we broke their ballot-cheating mechanisms and they had to get clumsy and stupid and obvious about the steal. Will see if that has repercussions.

It’s possible to do things differently. Trump made huge inroads into Middle East peace – for example – by ignoring the old wisdom about fixing perpetually dysfunctional Palestine first. He successfully brokered multiple individual deals between nations. He deserves a lot of credit for that, which he will never get. That, and bringing soldiers home from various permanently smoldering trash fires.

I guess, for me, that’s the definition of the “Trumpism” everyone’s talking about – approaching old problems in new ways.

Someone said on Twitter that people need to go back and start running for dog catcher and ward captain, with an eye to higher and higher office. But that’s like sending your nice kid away to college and getting back a blue-haired gender studies graduate with a nose ring. The years-long process of grinding through lower office changes people, makes them into politicians. We need to find other avenues.

Trump is a strange and, in many ways, unlikeable character, but he changed me from “anyone’s better than Hillary” to an enthusiastic supporter. I’m afraid he was lightning in a bottle: a well-known celebrity with go-to-hell money of his own. If we see the same combination in play again, it’ll probably be somebody like Cher.

I’m hoping he opens a giant media company, which zooms to #1 in no time (thanks to the collapse of Fox). Then he can be in their faces 24/7.

January 8, 2021 — 8:49 pm
Comments: 22

When all else fails…

…go with a cat picture.

I feel like such a spectator at the moment. I can’t tell you how many times I half-compose a tweet and then X out of it, because I wasn’t about to say anything meaningful or insightful. I’m communicating entirely in likes.

And yes, he’s adorable. But when he wakes up, he tries to chew great lumps out of the basket. My laundry basket. Little bastard.

December 9, 2020 — 9:17 pm
Comments: 12

She did it again

Only this time, she was so high in the tree I couldn’t get her down. I had to leave her up there. It was the coldest night of the Winter so far, so I kept tiptoeing out to check on her. Then I got up at first light to check on her again.

When I got home from work in the afternoon, she was STILL up there. So I got on a ladder, used the extended loppers to clear a path, poked her in the chest with a garden hoe until she climbed aboard, and gave her a gentle elevator ride to the ground.

I feel like I’ve been beaten up. All that exertion with my arms over my head, you see.

Well, she’ll get her comeuppance. We’re entering a complete poultry lockdown in a week. Bird flu. Yes, it includes tiny backyard flocks.

It’s to minimize contact between livestock and wild birds, who spread it across nations. We’ve done a full lockdown once before while I’ve kept chickens.

It was miserable. They bitched all day long.

December 7, 2020 — 6:31 pm
Comments: 12

The stoat whisperer

Robert E. Fuller is a British wildlife photographer and painter who has built a stoat wonderland on his property. Weaseltown. Boobytrapped with cameras, naturally.

Yay, he has a YouTube channel. Here’s his Stoat Camera Playlist. Not on the playlist, I recommend the longer How I Became a Stoat Whisperer.

Also not on the list, the ones I found first: Raising a Tiny Stoat Kit, This Adorable Stoat Kit is Now so Playful, When Two Adorable Stoats Meet for the First Time and These Stoat Kits Are Ready To Go Outdoors. It looks like they all belong in a playlist called Weasel Wildlife Rehabilitation that he hasn’t made yet. Perhaps he will after he releases these two into the wild.

Eh, his bird stuff is pretty good, too.

September 2, 2020 — 8:12 pm
Comments: 3