Friday, 14 November 2014

A seagull in the kitchen

But our guest of honour has to be the seagull that arrived in our back yard one blustery morning in late August.  My youngest sons couldn’t believe that it was still a young bird because it was so big, but it still had its brown feathers.  It was handicapped due to the fact that one foot was missing, but it had obviously been treated previously as it had a bandage around the bottom of the leg which was still intact, so it was able to hobble about.  It transpired that it had been rescued from some children who were treating it cruelly at the sea and brought home by some boys who were visiting for the summer, but they had obviously left and it must somehow have managed to fly from their balcony down to our backyard with the aid of the wind.  At first we were afraid that the cats would attack it at night so we used to bring it in through the kitchen to the middle courtyard and had to move Jack the tortoise into a box for the night, which he took very well until  morning when all you could hear was scratching and scraping and thumping – for such a small rock he can make a lot of noise. 

The seagull was named Moriarty after the villain in Sherlock Holmes, but my sister said he should be named Jonathan after Jonathan Livingston Seagull and my nephew considered Steven Seagal (which I considered an insult seeing as ‘our’ seagull was a far better actor which isn’t saying much – Jack the tortoise was a better actor).  We finally had a willing customer for my youngest son’s fishing sprees, and when he skedaddled off for a week, his friend came and supplied us with food for it and with my husband buying sardines it was the best fed seagull on this side of the Mediterranean coast.  It wasn’t long before we realised he could definitely hold his own with any of the cats that had the courage to stray into our backyard while he was there – all he had to do was flap his enormous wings and they all flew up the fig trees, so we left him in the backyard.  We brought in a vet (who was visiting the cat across the road!) who said there wasn’t much more we could do, and after looking up as much as we could on the good old internet, we learnt that he would eventually fly off himself when he was ready.  In the meantime he practised trying to fly which was always fine, but his landing was a bit awkward.  However I was comforted by the fact that seagulls seem to spend a lot of time standing on one leg anyway so he wouldn’t be too inconvenienced by his handicap.  Every now and again he came to the back door into the kitchen and walked right in so then I had to gently guide him back out again.  Then one morning about a month later he was gone, off to the seagull world up in the sky, and I still find myself looking up when one flies overhead and wonder if it’s him. 

A week later it was pouring rain and my youngest son told me about a little kitten that was outside the front of our house and who seemed to be an orphan.  I’ve become really good at becoming deaf to these kind of stories over the years – there are so many kittens around the neighbourhood that there’s no way we could see to all of them.  The next day I was out and when I returned home this teensy weensy little kitten was sitting by our door, but my daughter persuaded me to leave it.  However later my second youngest son asked my husband and me to let it in so we did, and that is how Kitty (I know…..SO inventive) came to stay.  She settled down into a box in the garage and was quite sickly at first but then seemed to pick up.  But to be honest, despite all the cooked chicken livers and other innards, cheese and even dried cat food donated by our neighbour, a visit to the vet,  baths and cuddles she received she never really thrived.  Five weeks later she died in her sleep, and yes, I bawled my eyes out as did my youngest.  Funny how such a small defenceless little thing can make such a big impact.


In addition to various animal guests we have also had the odd insect guest with the emphasis on ‘odd’.   There was the wasp who decided to start work on a nest just above the living room window, and who had to be removed.

 We’ve had geckos which, to my eyes, are quite cute…..until they leave their tails behind.  Then there was the night when everyone was asleep and I was in my living room minding my own business when I saw what seemed to be a big moth flying around.  It flew at me and so totally overcome by my beauty was it that it promptly fell down in a heap on the sofa.  At closer inspection it proved not to be a moth at all but a praying mantis.  It recovered from its ordeal and I sent it on its way into the night.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A mouse in the house

One morning we heard squealing from the back garden and found a lovely black and white bunny rabbit, who was so nervous and twitchy.  We think she may have been caught by a big cat, and we brought her inside, put her in a cardboard box with some lettuce and carrots and she thanked us by keeling over and dying overnight.

Another time we chased a cat out of the house who had obviously entered through the terrace door, and about a day later we heard a squealing sound from the shoe and coat cupboard under the stairs and found a little kitten.  I guessed immediately that this was why the cat had been in the house in the first place so we placed the kitten on the terrace and moved away to a distance and watched as the mother cat came and claimed her young.  She had two other kittens and we fed her and them on the terrace for a while although she would not let us anywhere near her or them, and then one day they disappeared.

Not all our guests were the feline variety – we also have had the occasional mouse that has decided to move in.  I don’t mind mice generally but really don’t like to have them in the kitchen or anywhere in the vicinity of food, and, although there are various poisons on the market not all of them are humane – one of them is a kind of glue that literally glues the mouse to the spot which I think is very cruel.  Another is a bag of tiny grains which you put on food around the kitchen and this has worked with varying success.  I have had the odd mouse that, I suspect, has peered out at me from behind or underneath a kitchen appliance and laughed at my naivety in expecting him to fall for that trick, because the food stays around….and so does the mouse.  We had one that was locked in a cupboard and we left it for days and days without food and it just would not die – I hated the thought that it was dying a slow death, and my husband decided to put it out of its misery and kill it with a broom.  Far from killing the wretched thing, the mouse escaped and my husband broke a hole in the tile at the back of the cupboard.  So much for putting it out of its misery!

There have been times when my husband and children (bearing in mind they are almost all adults now) have decided to deal with the mouse problem with military precision and everyone takes up position beside a potential bolt-hole armed to the teeth with a broom or other cleaning utensil.  The furniture is moved carefully to coax the mouse out of its hiding place and then…..all hell breaks loose.  There’s a lot of shouting and accusations flying through the air while all the furniture is hurled around, the mouse flees for its life and vanishes into thin air and lives to terrorise us another day, while my living room and kitchen look like a tornado has hit them.

And then there’s Jack….the tortoise who is just one step up from a rock.  We acquired him from a friend whose dog had attacked it.  We had to move him out of his home in the front courtyard  when the builders came and he has been reigning supreme in the middle courtyard ever since.  He belongs to my eldest daughter and many is the time she has exclaimed at how happy or sad he is, but in all honesty to me he has the same gormless expression on his face no matter what befalls him.  We finally saw something of his personality when my nephew came on holiday and spent a lot of time in Jack’s courtyard, whereupon Jack decided to claim his dominance and rammed any foot that entered said courtyard – fine if you remembered he was there but a bit of a shock when you forgot and suddenly found your foot being gnawed off.
Jack - picture courtesy of my nephew, hence the superior photography!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Uninvited guests

When I say ‘uninvited guests’ I am not talking about those Algerians who feel it’s their God-given right to just pop in any time of the day or night unannounced.  This time I am talking about the four legged or the winged two legged variety.  I am not particularly into pets mostly because when I had children, potty training, feeding them and taking them everywhere with me, was as much as I could handle as I know my limitations…and they are many.  When I was growing up in the countryside in Ireland we always had cats, usually kittens that appeared in our garden and became pets, but they were never allowed in the house.  My dad always made a lovely cosy bed from sacking in the garage and even put a cat flap in the door to keep them safe from any snooping dogs….long before cat-flaps became a la mode. I remember once my mum feeding some little kittens in the back porch using a dropper.   But they always went and broke our hearts by getting killed in the busy road in front of our house.  Once I was hitching a lift and I passed one of our pets plastered all over the road, and had to explain to the poor misfortunate person who stopped to give me a lift, why I was sobbing my heart out – I was 18 at the time.

We weren’t ensconced in our new home here in Algeria very long when a very good school friend of mine came to visit.  Being totally cat-mad she spent a lot of her time out in the back garden enticing all the stray cats in the neighbourhood into our garden, although they didn’t need much enticing.  One of them was very heavily pregnant and I threatened my friend that if this cat had kittens in my garden I was going to post them back to her.  Our next-door neighbour very kindly made a cosy home for her so that she would have somewhere safe to have her kittens, but she decided, for some reason best known to herself, to have her 3 kittens in our back garden.  I didn’t know what to do as I was afraid for her with night coming and the other bigger cats roaming around, but I was afraid to touch her kittens in case she would reject them, so I texted my friend in England who advised me to bring them into the garage – mother and all.  This we did and she settled down well with her little ones, not leaving them at all for the first week or two and then only to wander around outside before coming back to sleep with them.  She was a Burmese cat with a haughty nature who made it quite clear from the onset that, although she had condescended to give birth in our yard, that was as far as her favour to us went – we treated her and her kittens very well and she, on her part, put up with the occasional rub from us as she walked by.  It was an amazing thing to see what a great Mum she was, how well she took care of her kittens to the point of toilet training them, and, needless to say they became dear to our hearts.  We worried about what would happen to them when we went to Ireland that year and decided that, as they got bigger, they had to acclimatise to the other cats out the back so that they could become independent.  We went on holiday to Ireland leaving them in the good care of our neighbour who promised to feed and keep an eye on them.  When we returned after several weeks they were wary of us and obviously learnt that not all humans are….. humane, which was just as well if they were to survive.  In Ramadan of that year our neighbour informed us the devastating news that they and a lot of the cats in the neighbourhood had been poisoned, and I remembered my Mum saying that this was why she didn’t like us having cats – because of the heartbreak caused when they inevitably died.  

One day I got a message from my cat-mad friend in England to tell me that she had sent me something in the post, but before I could get all excited over this unusual and exciting (in Algeria anyway) prospect she informed me that it was cat-food for the neighbourhood cats! The cats probably all thought they had died and gone to heaven. She said she didn’t want to send us chocolate because she was afraid it would melt, to which I told her we wouldn’t care – we’d eat it off the packet.  I told her that, in return, I would send back a smelly gift from the local cats, a threat I never really carried through.