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This came across my Facebook feed labelled “Earliest photograph of a cat 1880”. I know, cute…but that date sounded a bit late to me. On a Google Image Search of “first photograph of a cat”, this image appears first (Reddit) and eighth.

But there were also lots of pre-1880 photos of people holding cats which, I suppose, is technically different from a photo of a cat.

On reflection, I’m going with this photo from Harvard University’s Houghton Library as the oldest. It’s 1840-60, and the cat is blurry and almost indecipherable. That’s cats (and daguerrotypes) for you.

Things here start to open up a little on Monday, though I’ve just heard the sad news the Sussex bonfires have been cancelled. They do most of their fundraising in the Spring and Fall, you see, and who knows what our emergency services will be like in September/October/November.

Still, another almost unbelievably beautiful weekend coming up here. I hope the weather is at least bearable where you are. We keep telling each other what a different experience lockdown would have been in a miserable, wet Spring.

May 29, 2020 — 8:21 pm
Comments: 11

That it should come to this

That’s right. I’m reduced to reposting unfunny Facebook memes. I ain’t even ashamed.

We drove to Tesco’s today, but the line to get in was so long, we drove away again. Ended up at a little mom and pop store. Still a line to get in, but only about two people in it.

Uncle B was looking specifically for Rose’s lime juice, but no luck anywhere. It’s owned by the Coca Cola Company now, so he phoned them up. (He does things like that). Apparently, they got supply problems.

Damn you, COVID-19 *shakes fist*.

May 28, 2020 — 8:10 pm
Comments: 13

Nothing happened today. That is all.

This. This was my whole day.

It’s the tippy top of a lovely yellow rose, which is exactly what I can see reclined in my deckchair. It’s a fantastic year for roses – must be the ‘orrible wet Winter we had.

Oh, wait. There was also fish and chips.

May 27, 2020 — 8:38 pm
Comments: 11

How did I miss this?!?

I regard myself as generally hip to all the groovy memes, so I don’t know how this one got past me. Opossum Lady has been on YouTube for ten years, but really blew up about a year ago.

The top hit for “Opossum Lady” is a short Best Of compilation of bits of her videos by someone else entirely, which is a little sad for her but worth watching to get a taste of the delights in store.

Her actual channel is here and every video I’ve watched so far was worth my time (a threshold not crossed by many Toobs).

Her website is devoted to her dead squirrel, Pearl, who dispenses advice from beyond the grave. She also has a Zazzle store. Pearl does.

The lady goes by Georgette Spelvin, a famous pseudonym from American theater history. All anyone knows is she’s a woman of a certain age who lives in Southern California and has a bunch of rescue squirrels and possums.

I cannot believe how she manhandles those possums. In my experience, possums are nasty, short-tempered and mean. And ugly. So, so ugly.

My mother was extremely good with animals and spent her childhood out in the sticks rescuing orphans and strays. She said the one animal she could never tame was a possum. She’d get it gentled down and then a loud noise would happen and it would bite down on her thumb, hard, and be a wild animal again.

Still, Georgette informs us you can’t get rabies from a possum: their body temperature is too low to host the virus. Enjoy!

May 26, 2020 — 6:58 pm
Comments: 9

Elderly scholars LOVE this one weird trick…

Yes, it’s a talking hamburger. It’s from a neat program called Facerig that uses your webcam to replace your face on-stream with any of a number of 3D models. Live animated facial tracking. I bought it ages ago in the Steam sale for a lark.

I laughed my ass off for about ten minutes and then forgot about it.

Then I remembered it works with Zoom.

Oh, my weekly work meeting is going to be a hoot this week. Elderly British historians just LOVE talking hamburgers, amirite?

You wouldn’t believe the Rube Goldberg rig I have going to make it work, though. My ancient Logitech webcam was too fuzzy for facial tracking, so I had to hook up a GoPro and somehow tripod it directly in front of the computer (twopod, actually – there isn’t room for all three legs). I don’t even know if my mic is working and if I call Uncle B to test it I get wicked feedback because we’re in the same room.

It will work. I have faith. Because my job isn’t on thin enough ice as it is…

May 25, 2020 — 7:34 pm
Comments: 7

The Story of Pip

Okay, last one, I promise.

Just before an egg hatches, the chick turns itself around to a very particular position so it can chip away at the shell. Once it’s in place, it makes one small hole to breathe through. This is called a pip. It’s also a verb, to pip.

It’s very hard work for the little beast, and the chick rests afterwards – sometimes as long as 24 hours – before continuing to crack the end off the egg and emerge, wet and exhausted. It’s the most dangerous time in a chicken’s life and a considerable number come right up to the end and don’t make it.

I put four fertile eggs under Jenny. And finally, after staring at her on coopcam for over a month (thanks to the first six dud eggs), one pipped. I saw it when Jenny got up for a bite to eat and a poop. I was beyond excited.

A day passed and Mo hatched. Then Sam and Mollie. Forty eight hours and no more out of the first egg to pip. I picked it up and peered in the hole, fearing the worst, and out came a tiny pink beak. I almost dropped it! Back under mama and, not all that long afterwards, out comes Pip.

It was obvious what happened: she had a bald patch on her back. That means it wasn’t humid enough during the hatch and she stuck to the inside of the egg. Had to tear her way out, poor little beastie. She was otherwise a beautiful little chick, noticeably smaller than the others, a yellow fuzzball with a gray blaze across her right eye. Goodness knows what color she would have been (or whether she would have been a girl, to be fair, but I had a feeling about her).

A couple of weeks in, I was supervising an outing on the grass and I hadn’t noticed Jack the cat coming around the corner. He went for them like lightning. I scooped him up before he quite reached them (goodness knows what he would have done), but the babies had panicked and gone everywhere.

I managed to collect them all, except Pip. She was nowhere. I knew Jack hadn’t had her, so she had to be in the hedge somewhere, I just had to find her before a villain did. I settled in and listened and sure enough, two hours later, a frantic peeping. She’d worked her way back to the henhouse, but somehow got stuck between two layers of chicken wire.

Pip triumphant.

And then she really vanished. One morning, she just wasn’t there. I reviewed the video footage. She tumbled out of the nest with the others and hopped into the run. An hour later when I went out to feed them, she was gone. Not a trace, other chickens perfectly calm. I couldn’t believe it. I searched for days.

The only thing I could think was that she’d squeezed out of the run and something got her. There were a couple of tiny gaps under the edges (mice busily dig them overnight to get to any dropped bits of chicken food). I didn’t think she could get through them. I truly didn’t. But she was very small and little animals can do amazing things. No, I’m not convinced, but what else?

I was disproportionately upset. I’m still salty about it. I had spun this whole saga of “plucky chick surviving against the odds” right up until she didn’t. Once again, reality didn’t give a shit about my narrative.

Eh, enough of that. It’s the weekend! Wait, why does that matter again?

May 22, 2020 — 7:59 pm
Comments: 7

Hi! Recognize me?

Durned asked for a happy ending, so here’s one. I happened to have the monitor on and looked up to see this tableau.

Yes, that’s a stoat. And that’s good old Jenny sitting on her dud eggs. After I ran screaming out to the henhouse and ran him off, I came back in and watched the recorded footage.

She had been fending him off for several minutes. He approached her from a couple of different angles and she puffed herself up and lunged at him. I am astonished that put him off. He would have moved in for the kill eventually, but she managed to buy enough time for a rescue.

Something like that happens and you think your chickens have a story and the story has a plot and the plot makes human sense. Then a few months later, a fox headbutts your nest box, your chicken is disappeared and the illusion shatters.

Hell. I just ruined the happy ending, didn’t I?

May 21, 2020 — 7:44 pm
Comments: 14


This is Jenny. She went so hard broody one summer that I bought some fertilized eggs for her to sit on.

It takes 21 days to incubate eggs and, being an inexperienced chicken hatcher, it was 21 days before I figured out they were all duds. Three weeks of staring at the chicken cam waiting for something to happen. Which occasionally it did (like here, where Jenny entertained a mouse).

Mostly it was just a hen sighing and staring into the distance.

I felt so bad for her (and myself) I asked a chicken keeping buddy to sell me some eggs that were almost ready to hatch. I put them under Jenny and hatch they did. This is where Millie, Sam and Mo came from.

Baby chicks with a mother hen are hilarious. They move around up inside the down next to her body and you’ll see a little head poke out from just about anywhere. It’s surreal.

As they get older, they continue to sleep under her wings until eventually she’s sleeping stretched out on a giant platform of small chickens. Jenny put up with it well beyond the point she should have kicked them out. She wasn’t getting any decent sleep, so one night I felt bad for her and put her in the old pen with her buddy Colette.

Late that night, there was a terrific squawking and we ran out to find a panicky fox trapped inside the old run. I later worked out he’d knocked the bottom out of the nest box with his head (who knew they weren’t screwed on?), got into the run and couldn’t get out again.

What do? I didn’t have a gun, I couldn’t really beat him to death with a hoe and I was worried about any chickens that might still be inside. Soooo, I let him out.

There was nothing whatever left of Jenny. Not a feather. Not a toenail. Not an unpleasant stain. I honestly can’t understand how that could possibly be, but it was.

Colette was fine. Shook up, so I brought her inside for the night, but she lived another year or more.

May 20, 2020 — 7:59 pm
Comments: 6

Chicken math

I did a little poultry math last night. I’ve been keeping chickens for ten years and I’ve had twenty chickens, eight of whom are still with us.

Four vanished without a trace. Three found dead in the run of a morning. Three died after a short illness. One died of violence, very likely at the beaks of her fellow chickens. One had a sort of chicken stroke and I had the vet put her down.

That’s her in the picture: Mapp, my very first chicken. Or second. I got two at once.

Mapp was a terrific chicken and lived to the ripe old age of eight, which is old for a bantam. I am prepared to put a suffering chicken down (though thank goodness I haven’t had to, yet), but I couldn’t do for old Mapp. I think the vet was surprised to be asked to euthanize a chicken, but he did a swift and competent job.

Good old Mapp. She never walked, she ran. Laid a few eggs in Spring and then went hard broody all Summer.

Crazy bird.

May 19, 2020 — 8:15 pm
Comments: 5

Flock of eight…

Dammit. Chel wasn’t there at chicken bedtime last night. I’m out in the garden most of the day and I count them multiple times. She was there not long before, for sure. I looked high and low (literally, that’s how you have to look for missing chickens) but no luck.

Whatever happened didn’t stir up the other chickens, who alarm call (read: scream) all day long for the slightest reason. If I had to guess, I’d say she went through the hedge into the sheep field next door and something nabbed her.

There’s a very, very tiny chance she’s gone broody and is sitting on a clutch of eggs in the hedge someplace. I doubt it. Polands aren’t known for their mothering instincts (unlike Pekins, who are a real nuisance about it all Summer). Even if she did, I reckon a fox has got her by now – something knocked my cages around last night. Looking for seconds probably, bastard.

Ah, well. As a chicken keeper, you learn to harden your heart if you can. Chickens are fragile things. But that’s just it: they’re little and harmless and pretty, which makes it awful when something bad happens to them.

I love this picture of Chel, out of focus though it is. I almost went with a picture of her as a four day old chick, but that would have been plain mean, like those late-night rescue charity commercials showing film of abused animals. Hate those.

May 18, 2020 — 7:51 pm
Comments: 6