Friday, October 21, 2011

Dog amongst the kittens

Greycute, Griff, CandyshopOctober continues to be unseasonably warm, my vegetable casks continue to pump out tomatoes, and the kittens grow larger and bolder as they sup on the smaller rodents around the farm. I still find it a little disconcerting to be followed down the driveway or out into the paddocks by a line of cats, almost like an image from Wanda Gág’s classic children’s book Millions of Cats.

They come to visit us at the villa more often, and even rub themselves against Munson’s legs. The collision between dog and cat body language is fascinating to watch as ever; Munson I think has just decided that these foreign puppies are a bit strange, but they still smell interesting.
Grey, Milkshake & Gustav
The Munsoneers left a cardboard wine carton out on the lawn which the cats often as a warm but shady snoozing spot. I’d borrowed some binoculars and tripod from Brent to do some star-gazing but the apparatus has ended up at our kitchen window, trained on the box. Gustav stalks the kittens remotely to see which one or pair has taken up residence from hour to hour.

When I take Munson out for a walk he likes to check out the box as well – it’s only big enough for his head, so if there’s a kitten in there already they don’t always appreciate Munson’s re-enactment of some Jurassic Park scene where a T-Rex head bursts through a bedroom window.

Kittens in a box

Munson & GreycuteI’m no longer concerned about Munson being off-leash around the kittens, not least because they happily seek him out on his own turf. They’re quite used to the other dogs Tosca and Legend giving them a bit of a nibble, and deal with any over-enthusiastic play with a warning hiss. On one occasion I even saw Munson remonstrate with Legend for being too rough with them – he’s clearly carrying on his Sydney Park tradition of shepherding pups through difficult times.

Munson & Griff
In the photos above Munson has a leash because we’ve got free-range chickens about, and in this case they’re a hopeless distraction when I’m trying to get a nice portrait of him with Griff – but can I get the two of them to look in the same direction at the same time ….? Hopeless!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The measure of my cooking

Now that Gustav is here, Munson is no longer the principal beneficiary of my bachelor cooking. I’m dusting off my antique culinary skills which have not had a good work out since my first residency in Marrickville in the mid 90s. I haven’t done a roast in over fifteen years – despite kitchen successes in other cuisine,  the last lamb that came out of my oven had all the texture of a clay pot and about as much moisture.

Lamb is quite expensive in France, so I took the chance on a sale platter of cuts sourced from Ireland. Under it all was a lamb shoulder which prompted me to to use my oven for the first time in a year by re-attempting a roast.
lamb shoulder - before  lamb shoulder - after

I’m not going to boast of any special family recipe – most of the roasts I had as a kid were as dry as the obligatory Yorkshire pudding that accompanied them for Christmas lunch. I simply looked up lamb shoulder online for some clue of what to do with it, and tried the first recipe I found, which was Jamie Oliver’s incredible roasted shoulder of lamb. I didn’t use his “smashed veg” accompaniment, preferring to line the pan with an assortment of cut up root vegetables.
MunsonAfter four hours of the scent of rosemary permeating the entire hour, I extracted a fantastically moist and tender feast from the oven. The ultimate judgement comes from Munson’s “measuring stick”; I think malactite is the correct name for these.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vale Bert Pierce

My first  month in the UK was spent with my friend Stuart and his parents Bert and Shirley. They were very kind to me and Bondi as we explored the north of England while trying to get sorted out with the merry-go-round of car and insurance paperwork. The last time I saw Bert was when we stopped by Shevington in October 2007, heading south from Scotland in the last weeks of our travel odyssey. I remember Bondi waiting patiently for leftovers from Bert’s breakfast, a little ritual played out between them in the kitchen over many visits.

11907012_largeBert passed away on the morning of the 6th, a proud and generous man who I shared some great laughs with. My thoughts are with Shirley, Stuart and Susie. You are missed Bert.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Otto & Munson


Occasionally I collect the Munsoneers when the school-bus drops them off at the distant end of the drive way. Otto always insists on sitting in the back with Munson for a tête-a-tête, leaving me to have grown-up talk with his sisters.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Meeting new chicks

Goldifeathers meets the three bears

Thirteen day-old chicks were found in the back of the barn, hidden away by Broody the hen. Jean brought them over to meet the neighbours before assigning them to new quarters in Coopacabana. More news over on the Hentertainment Weekly site.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Wasps and Immortals: a weak tragedy

The wasp that stung the hand that grabbed the handle of the panLast Sunday I reached into my kitchen sink to withdraw a frying pan, and was stung by this wasp as my hand closed over it. The pain was immediate and head-rattling. I don’t think any part of the stinger was left in my palm but it was an extraordinarily effective attack, even if a pyrrhic one.

I applied some sting ointment and took an antihistamine, but I still had throbbing from the end of my pinky to my elbow for four or five hours.

I made an appointment with my doctor to get a tetanus jab, something I seem to have missed renewing since I started gallivanting around the globe in 1998. I had a kind of painful pins and needles for about three days, but it had largely subsided by the time I saw the doctor.

I hadn’t paid him a visit in nine months and some of my patient records had vanished in the meantime, so he took some of my personal history again. “And what is it you do exactly?”

- Um (this is hard enough in English)

”A difficult question, no?” (he smiles)

- inactif? (a wider smile from him) un ecrivain, no … (inspiration) … un immortel!

At this he threw back his head and laughed loudly, then composed himself and bowed his head in mock-respect. I don’t think he’s going to forget my patient history ever again.

Les immortels are the forty members of the French Academy who for nearly 400 years have safeguarded the French language against English incursions. So severe is this defence, that even old French words like computer which have re-entered the common tongue via English have been supplanted with new terms like ordinateur. In French, email becomes courriel but whenever I use that word no one seems to know what it means (except perhaps in civil service contexts where les adresses e-mails  are published for the public, but no one ever responds to them). Brent tells me that mail is generally used in preference to email or courriel.

My claim to a seat amongst les immortels is quite clear (#20). It’s also less onerous than being one of King Leonidas’ Spartan immortals, although their uniforms are spunkier. Perhaps a better classical Greek reference that would have described the defenders of the language is the Chorus from Aristophanes play The Wasps. In that story, the chorus are the old jurors defending the ways of custom.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

OMG there’s more!

Munson & squeaky toy

I’ve just finished twenty, yes 20, or for older readers: XX, posts on the two weeks we spent on the Offa’s Dyke trail. Those are all below in the entries for the month of August.

But there’s more to come! We got up to a lot of different stuff in England and France before the month had ended. Then there’s September and we’re still doing things in October; I’m catching up quickly. See you on the comments pages!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

I do my little turn on the cat walk

Candyshop on the savannahBrent stopped by while taking Legend on a leashed walk of the farm to invite me and Munson along for the journey. Legend takes to the leash better when Munson is there setting an example for him.

About 150m down the road, I turned around to see one of the farm cats following us into the fields. In the evenings it’s quite common to see a little trail of loping fur following Brent and Jean into the fields to check the cattle. I wasn’t expecting to see one out in 30-plus heat following two large dogs.

Candyshop is one of the best mousers of the young quartet of barn cats, and I often see him from my terrace in the morning pursuing larger rabbits.

We only walked about a kilometre in all, with Candyshop often walking under and in step with Munson and Legend. If Candyshop walked ahead, then Munson felt compelled to walk faster so that he wouldn’t cede lead position. On the return journey you could see Candyshop’s little red tongue as he panted through the heat.

Brent, Legend and Munson  Brent & Legend 
On another occasion Brent was rolling out a hay bale into the fields and Griff, the smallest of the cats, trotted out to investigate. They are absolutely fearless whether they’re underfoot with children or cows. 
Griff having the hay carpet rolled outBrent & Munson's catnap

With the fields variously alive with cattle, humans, cats, dogs and chickens; there’s still time for everyone to catnap.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Cats and dogs come out to play

2011-09-30 Munson, Milkshake & Griff drinkingGriff and Greycute, the first tiny trainees for the on-the-job barncat work scheme arrived in May, giving me an opportunity to enrol Munson in Kittens 101

After a couple of months of impromptu classes – and two more additions to the troupe  in the form of Milkshake and Candyshop, Munson moved on to sniffing their butts while they licked his paws.
Since then we’ve had our long roadtrip away and the four mousers have grown larger and faster, and they’ve become quite blasé about having dogs around. Their unpredictability may be their greatest asset in this respect, sometimes affectionately batting at Munson or Legend’s nose, other times affecting a languid disregard for the hulking beasts a few inches away. They will also turn and hiss at minor moving violations into their personal space.

Munson, Candyshop and MilkshakeIt’s pleasing that Munson doesn’t retaliate in the latter situations – he just turns away quietly, or gently dangles a paw between them as if trying to engage in play. If Milkshake is lying on his back in the sun, he will ignore Munson until the sky has been totally eclipsed by his head, and then lift his head towards Munson to sniff or lick. If Munson isn’t responding in kind, he puts his paw on Milkshake’s belly as if he were another playground pup.

Munson and Milkshake: love amongst the tomatoes
Milkshake and Munson rub nosesLate this afternoon I found Milkshake and Candyshop exploring my potted herbs and tomatoes. I was concerned at first about Munson’s reaction to them being on his home turf. Malamutes aren’t typically territorial but I notice that Munson “respects” other dogs’ homes, perhaps conscious of the strong smell of them in the environment. So far he’s just been encountering the cats near the big house or out in the neutral zone that Tosca and Legend spend most of their time in.

However Munson wasn’t on alert, moving slowly around the cats, interested by their behaviour. Even when the two started drinking from his water bowl, he just watched and waited for one of them to move out of the way so that he could drink too.

Munson, Candyshop and Milkshake on the terrace

If one cat lost interest in him, then he didn’t follow it but turned away and looked for the other. Candyshop just lay down and started grooming his paws as if Munson weren’t there. 

This is the first time that he’s been completely off-leash around them. I don’t think my presence inhibited his behaviour – he was already mingling with them on the terrace before I noticed they were there. He’s moved up to Kittens 201 faster than I hoped for, and as all four of them pay more visits to our house, I’m looking for further improvement through simple habituation, positive reinforcement and patience. Lots of patience.