Wednesday 28 January 2009

Felis catus v Rattus norvegicus

Has one of the CFZ cats had enough of living at the headquarters in Woolsery? Helios 7 was spotted at the weekend sitting in one of the recycling bins - something that she was seen doing everyday after that - and one could only surmise that she was sitting there waiting for the collection to be taken away today. I am not sure where she thought she would be taken – perhaps to hunting pastures anew?

We have often thought that she may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but this does rather take the biscuit.

As Helios 7 has started this blog today, I thought I would also add a little bit of interesting information I learned last night from my youngest daughter concerning toxoplasmosis, which is transmitted by contact with cat faeces.

There is a parasite that lives in cats’ intestines which, believe it or not, changes the behaviour of rats. This parasite is a single cell called Toxoplasma gondii and causes the above mentioned disease. You may all have heard of the threat this poses in human beings in respect of mental alterations, and the real threat it may cause in pregnant women whereby it may contaminate the foetus and cause mental illnesses, sight deficiencies and even death.

What you may not know, however, is the very interesting and somewhat fascinating fact (in a macabre feline sort of way) that when a rat is infected with this illness, the parasite takes on an inactive form in the rodent's brain causing it to basically lose its fear of cats. In some cases, rats even start to be attracted by a cat’s smell. This, of course, is not good news for the rat, which then becomes easy prey for its predator.

The cat then eats the rat and the protozoon returns to its original host and reproduces, thus completing its life cycle.

How’s that for an innovative and cunning way of catching your dinner? Infect them and lull them into a false sense of security. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Hmm, perhaps Helios 7 knew that all along, and was hoping to take her in-built rat-catcher to new hunting grounds after all. Trouble is, I think she needs to sit with the ordinary household waste rather than the newspapers and magazines. What was I was saying about sharpest pencils?

Monday 26 January 2009

It's moa than a feeling, it really does make your eyes water

Once upon a time there were four chickens called Auntie Madge, Auntie Edie, Auntie Doreen and Little Lil. They all lived together at the Raikes Centre pupil referral unit in Gloucester. Well I say lived together – they still do. So, I guess that you could now all be asking yourselves the same question. What is the point of my opening today’s blog as if writing a childrens' fairy tale?

The answer is that I simply could not think of a suitably alternative opening line.

Anyway, as I intimated above, there really are three chickens living at the aforementioned referral unit, and are known by the names of Aunties Madge, Edie and Doreen. There is also a Columbian blacktailed cross hen called Little Lil, presumably so named as she is the smallest of her flock and Lil is, after all, a pretty good name for a chicken. What makes Little Lil so special, though, is the fact that she regularly lays eggs measuring 10cm across - more than twice the size of a normal egg. The pupils have not been able to weigh her produce as these exceed 8oz, which is all their scales can handle.

Little Lil is just six months old and has only been laying since October, but once a month she forces out an egg measuring an eye-watering 10cm by 8cm.

The story appeared in a recent edition of the Daily Telegraph and teacher Kate Farminer, 54 is quoted as saying : "We've got four pet chickens here and Little Lil is by far the smallest and also the quietest. So we were amazed when she started producing these enormous eggs – you wonder how she gets them out. The first time it happened the egg broke but the latest one was intact.

We've got another two spare so this time our curiosity got the better of us and we took a look inside. We couldn't believe it when we found another egg inside - maybe she's a Russian chicken."

The article went on to say : ‘When pupils cracked open the latest oversized egg they found a yolk, an eggwhite and another small but complete egg on the inside, like a Russian doll. Little Lil lives with three other pet chickens Auntie Madge, Auntie Edie,and Auntie Doreen. Her eggs normally measure 4cm by 7cm.The centre's three classes of children aged between four and eleven also keep pet rabbits and chickens.According to Guinness World Records, the largest ever egg was laid by a Black Minorca hen in England in 1896 and weighed nearly 12oz.’

So if that doesn’t make your eyes water .......

Now, still on the subject of things being produced from birds' rear ends, there has been a rather interesting investigation into giant bird poo in New Zealand. I mean poo from giant birds rather than a very large deposit of poo by the way - mind you, at 15 cms in length perhaps it could be the other way round after all.

However, seriously, there is a very interesting article to be found on the Wildlife Extra website:

Take a peek for yourself and see how faeces primarily taken from species of the extinct giant moa have provided a treasure trove of information about pre-human New Zealand.

Sunday 25 January 2009

New arrivals

Yesterday saw the arrival at the CFZ of its two newest inhabitants. Our good friend, Beth - who single-handedly runs an animal sanctuary near us - brought round two common map turtles (Graptemys geographica). They are around 4 years old, the biggest being the female. Beth had been given them from someone locally who had had them since they were young, but could not look after them any more. At present they are in a large tank in our conversatory and it is hoped that we will have success in our fundraising in order that we can construct a dedicated turtle pool here at CFZ headquarters in the very near future for our growing collection.
Above is Beth setting up the tank in readiness for its new occupants.

They both have the most beautiful markings and it is all too obvious as to why they are called map turtles. I am not sure what we are going to call them yet, but I rather fancy Njord and Nerthus (Norse God and Goddess of the oceans and rivers).
The female is on the left and the male is on the right:

As you can see below, after their short journey the turtles appear to be perfectly at home in their new surroundings:

Saturday 24 January 2009

Battle metal-playing sea monsters in Derbyshire

I am undone. I discovered the other day that an opportunity to see two of my favourite bands , Amon Amarth and Turisas, will have to be mourned and missed. The reason? The festival – Bloodstock – is being held in August and, yes, you guessed it, the third weekend in August to be precise. And as many of you know, the annual Weird Weekend is held during that weekend. Hmm I wonder if I could make a cardboard cut-out of myself and seat it at the stall in the village hall and slip off, unnoticed, to Derbyshire? Probably not.

There is, actually, an interesting thing to mention about one of these bands – namely Turisas. They are named after Iku-Turso (also known as Iku-Tursas, Iki-Tursas, Meritursas, Tursas, and Turisas amongst others). Iku-Turso is a malevolent sea monster in Finnish mythology. Meritursas means octopus in Finnish, named after Iku-Turso. (However, it is more common to see the alternative Mustekala (lit. "ink fish") for the octopus).

Iku-Turso’s appearance remains unclear, but he is described with several epithets: partalainen (the one who lives on the edge, or alternatively, the bearded one), Tuonen härkä (the ox of Tuoni, Death), tuhatpää (thousand-headed), tuhatsarvi (thousand-horned). It was sometimes said that he lived in Pohjola, but that may be because Pohjola was often perceived as the home of all evil.

In some versions of the spell The Birth of Nine Diseases Iku-Turso is mentioned as the father of diseases with Loviatar, the blind daughter of Tuoni, the god of death. The Scandinavian giants thurs had the ability to shoot arrows which caused diseases in people. This, and the fact that thurs resembles Tursas, gives credence to the idea that they may be related. Some runes tell that Meritursas partalainen makes pregnant the Maiden of Air (Ilman impi, Ilmatar). She later gave birth to Väinämöinen, which would make him a truly primeval creature. On the other hand, he is also mentioned as the son of Äijö (a name usually assigned to the God of sky).

In the list of Tavastian gods by Michael Agricola, he is mentioned as the god of war: Turisas voiton antoi sodast (Turisas brought victory in war). It has been suggested that the god in the list is the same as the Scandinavian god of war Tyr (also the name of a Faroese folk-metal band by the way). However, this theory is not widely supported today. It is more likely that Tur(i)sas was the name of a disease-demon who shot sickness-inducing projectiles. This shooting motif may have been the reason as to why he was interpreted as the Finnish Mars during the 16th Century. On the other hand, it is conceivable that even the pre-historic Finns may have sometimes seen this spirit, who could bring decimating illnesses among the enemies, as a war-deity.

Friday 23 January 2009

Biggles in an adventure with stomach contents

I have received many requests for updates on the new CFZ dog, Biggles.

Training a puppy from scratch is exhausting and full of surprising successes and false hopes of success. All this information you read about having to imprint (in my case) alpha female status upon your new four-legged canine friend makes sense, but is not that easy to implement (however - and I just can't resist this small bit of sexism - a tad easier than trying to imprint alpha female status over other males in this house). I have had success in some areas but have struggled, and am still struggling, in others.

We are still finding new things when out and about – the other day I took him for his walk around the field and it started to rain. Not only that, I mistimed our perambulation to coincide with schools out, so there were mums and children walking home with that most strangest of objects (to Biggles at any rate) - the umbrella. Now, of course, Biggles has never seen such an oddity before and decided that it was foe rather than friend so greeted each one with a vocal welcome. “I am sorry,” said I over and over again. “He is only a puppy and has never seen an umbrella before.”

However, during his 24 weeks of existence on this planet he has learned to sit when asked (mostly), stay when asked (mostly) and come to you when called (mostly).

He has recently been teething and for a week was very subdued. It was like having a moody teenager in the house again! He wouldn’t eat his food, unless something tasty like hand-fed scrambled egg, and spent most of his time curled up asleep in his crate. Then, oddly enough after the CFZ annual meeting, he shed a tooth and from then on returned to his former self.

Here are a couple of more notable events in the last couple of weeks, which are, perhaps, worthy of amusing note:

The most disgusting thing he has done so far:

I was sitting at my laptop late one night (and no, nobody did the monster mash, but hopefully you are now all humming the tune) when I heard a horrible sound not unlike a baby screaming as if being attacked by something evil. I soon came to the correct assumption that it was, in fact, the CFZ cat Helios 7 that was making this awful cacophony in the kitchen. Then followed the all-too-familiar sound of a cat being sick. It seemed to go on for ages.

It is not so easy for me to make a quick escape from my seat at the dining room table as the wires from the laptop are strewn across the chair next to me from the plug in the wall, so it took me a few seconds to get to the kitchen to deal with the mess. I was not looking forward to it, cat sick is not as bad as the stomach contents that children can deposit (throwing up spaghetti for example, as was the case with one of my offspring once) but at that time of night it was an unenviable task.

So, there I found myself – standing in the kitchen searching for a large mass of cat vomit. But all that greeted me was a cat looking rather sorry for itself and a dog looking rather satisfied with itself. Yes, Major James Bigglesworth had enjoyed a rather tasty ‘mess’ supper.

The most frustrating thing he has learned so far:

Toilet training for puppies is no easy feat. Potty training children isn’t either, but at least they have the added bonus of nappies. After many weeks, Biggles has developed the habit of bashing on the back door when he needs to go relieve himself. Great you may say. However, border collies are well known for being very intelligent creatures, and Biggles certainly seems to have inherited this trait. He knows we will take him out if he asks, so he has developed the little trick of asking just to go for a general potter and sniff around the garden. Hence, several times during the day I can find myself roaming the flower beds just because he wants a breath of fresh air. There is a danger here of ‘crying wolf’ syndrome.

However, he is a sweetie and we all love him dearly. Yes, he is naughty at times, but at 24 weeks he is still really only a youngster. He piddles when he gets excited, is inquisitive just like a toddler and forgets his manners sometimes, but we are getting there – slowly.

From Milan to Yucatan

I am not one to labour a point (yeah right I hear Jon say) but since posting my blog yesterday, Jon has given me some sketches of the Owlman so that the aforementioned t-shirt can be compared more easily.

Now, if you feel like tottering down to your local store to see the piece of clothing for yourselves, I have to remind you that Topshop is the fashion store for the female of the species and Topman is the equivalent for the males of this world. You will not find the t-shirt in the former as they will probably only have t-shirts sporting fluffy bunnies or sparkly bits. No, the t-shirts adorned with monsters are found in the testosterone area.

I am tempted to ask why it is that, as a general rule - from tiny tots to adulthood - males always seem to get the best gear? Us females don't always want to dress in pink and sequins you know. But, I shall stop before I get involved and just return to my 'was always such and will always be' stance and just get on with it.

Back to the subject in hand, however. Below are the sketches so that you can see the similarity for yourselves.

The Owlman has not been seen for many years. Is this, perhaps, the start of a new spate of sightings of sorts? He could soon be visiting local pubs, fish and chip shops, and supermarkets and may even get to visit Buckingham Palace one day. He could even spread his wings further afield and visit the Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramids. Now there is a thought.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Owlman - the new Top Man

A few blog entries ago, I wrote of our excursion to Cornwall to explore the Old Church at Mawnan and the surrounding woods - the haunt of the Owlman.

We did not catch sight of him then, but perhaps now we know why. It seems that he may have grown tired of the woods around Mawnan Church in winter and has spread his wings (I could write 'branched out', but that would be too bad a pun) into retail therapy. My youngest daughter, Olivia, discovered this in Top Shop today:

OK, he does appear to have developed a third eye, but could this just be a cunning disguise?

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Bugs Bunny in an adventure with Paddington Bear

A few weeks ago, Jon had an invite from the organiser of ‘CONVENTION! Event Horizon’ at the Royal Academy to go along and give a talk on mystery animals. The whole event was billed as: “A collaborative evening of performances, films, lectures and music ........ bringing together special invited guests the event is an unravelling of several conventions into one including animal liberation, cryptozoology and furry fandom”.

OK”, I thought when I heard. “This sounds like it could be odd to say the least”. So, last Friday, off we went. We got to London at around 5.30 on Friday night, after an uneventful journey from Tiverton, and then tackled the London Underground to get to Great Portland Street, which was the nearest station to the hotel where we had been booked. Well, that is what we thought at any rate. Upon arriving at the reception desk, we were met with the kind of glance given when your bankcard is refused at the local supermarket’s check out. You know you have plenty of money in your account and that it must be some kind of bank problem, but no matter how many times you explain this to the checkout lass/lad, they look at you in a knowing way as if thinking to themselves “Oh yes, of course – I believe you”.

However, on this occasion Jon could produce emailed proof that the hotel, in whose foyer we were standing, was the one given us in said communication. A couple of calls to the event organiser and Royal Academy revealed that there had been an administrative cock-up and we had, in fact, been booked into a different hotel in the chain. Unfortunately for us, though, our ‘real’ hotel was now around half an hour away and, not being able to face another trip on the tube with suitcase etc, a taxi ride was utilised which would be billed to the event organisers as punishment for their crass mistake. Yeah, yeah I know we all make mistakes, to err is human and all that, but it is SO nice when someone else does it.

Once it was plain that it was not our fault, by the way, we were - in the end - looked after quite well by the ‘wrong’ hotel, being offered a cup of tea (and biscuits) while we waited for things to be sorted out. Having to pay for the tea and biscuits, I guess, was to be expected, but we made sure to take the uneaten biscuits with us!

Actually, luckily for us, it turned out OK in the end, because our hotel was just down the road from the Natural History Museum where we had planned to spend Saturday anyway, before heading to the Royal Academy for 4 pm in preparation for the event that night.

The Natural History Museum is a great place to spend a few hours and seems to have had a few additions since I was there last a couple of years ago. It has become more educational which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that some of the cases of preserved creatures seem to have been removed from the public domain. There were no cases of insects for example, not that we could see at any rate. These appear to have been replaced with educational pieces for children (and adults) to learn more about creepy crawlies rather than just look at long demised specimens.

Jon, by now, was having trouble getting around and his feet and legs were hurting to such an extent that we were wondering how he was going to manage the lecture that evening, and also how he was going to manage the journey home on Sunday. I think it was a combination of ill-fitting shoes and walking around more than he is used to more than anything else, but Jon being Jon was convinced that his feet were going gangrenous and that he would have to have them amputated. What is he like?

The event. Hmmm how does one describe it? I am not entirely sure. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. As an example, here is how one of the acts was introduced in the programme: “Two ways to reskin a cat – Reimarus-trumpeting bits o’lecture on animal aesthetics undermined by non-Cartesian wax-crayon gestural expressionism a la Congo the Chimp, occasional childcare, hotel shampoo-bottle on pie-tin percussion, amidst various polemical outblastings.”

Are you with me still? No? Fair enough. Yes? Really – can you explain it then please?

There were quite a few in the audience, made up mostly of young people with a smattering of older bohemiam types. But what got me, apart from those of my daughters’ ages who seemed to think that dressing up in furry animal garb (tails, bunny ears and weird cartoony head-dresses) was a really, really good idea, was that everyone’s facial expressions throughout were the same – stony-faced. I kept wondering whether they were really enjoying what was being presented before them or were they themselves thinking ‘what on earth is going on?’ Or is it the done thing to sit there in such silence – a kind of masochistic exercise they make themselves go through to prove something?

Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps I just cannot accept all this arty-farty stuff and nonsense. I do not get the point of it at all. I guess I should just accept that everyone has the right to express themselves in whatever way they choose and should just avoid such things in future – for my own sanity’s sake.

Jon was the sixth guest on, and I spent the hour and a bit before that telling him not to laugh (well not so loudly at any rate) and to stop issuing such raucous exclamations of the cursing variety (eg the occasional for f**** sake) as I did not think it would go down too well (as he was also a guest speaker) to be seen to be making fun of his co-performers. We were both wondering how he would go down amidst such ‘company’ and were, at one point, thinking of making a dash for the front door. However, surprisingly enough, the stony-faces cracked at his jokes, bodies seemed to become relaxed and there was almost a united sigh of relief heard that someone at the event was actually understandable. Even the bunny ears were waggling excitedly. All in all his talk went down very well and we had several people showing an interest in the CFZ and taking away leaflets.

Chris Clark arrived an act or two before Jon’s and when Jon had done his bit, we made our excuses and the three of us left to get something to eat. Before we left, though, we had an amble around the small art exhibition next to the event. I think the highlight of this was the piece that involved two skeletons – one chasing the other on a long platform. On closer inspection, you could tell that it was in fact Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner – brilliant.

We spent a pleasant evening at a Thai restaurant near Piccadilly Circus and left Chris to make his way home, while we went to hail a taxi back to our hotel. Just as we left the restaurant, the heavens opened and within minutes Jon and I were drenched to the skin and catching a taxi was impossible – there were none to be had as all were full of similarly drenched people such as ourselves. We eventually decided to catch the tube from Piccadilly to South Kensington, in the - as it happens - correct belief that we would be able to easily catch a taxi from there.

Don’t get me wrong, I like catching the tube. Many evenings in my youth were spent catching the Piccadilly line to Rayners Lane then changing to the Metropolitan to Uxbridge. Or switching trains to various places around the capital going to see bands. I love the whoosh of air and the smell as the train emerges from the dark tunnel, and the sounds of trains in adjacent tunnels as they trundle down the tracks. Not so much fun though, the crowded carriages standing nose to shoulder with someone who has just eaten garlic, but that is another matter.

We came back on Sunday - again an uneventful journey from Paddington to Tiverton - and were back at home by around 5 pm. Unfortunately, later on that evening Jon discovered that the stills camera card had malfunctioned and that all the photographs from the weekend had been lost. We did still have the video footage though which is at least something.

I couldn’t help thinking, “well what was all that about”, but at least the CFZ has spread its wings a bit further and can now count an attendance at the Royal Academy on its CV.