thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the month “June, 2016”

Bunny-Beanzzz and Thuglet: Our beloved four-legged friends

Not quite 20 years ago, I became a homeowner for the first time. Quite suddenly and relatively unexpectedly, a conversation with two friends (here’s looking at you, Ziska and Suki!) took a wayward turn that led rapidly to my becoming the brand-new owner of my first property.

I could blame the lovely red wine we were drinking at the time, but in my heart I knew I was ready for a new phase of my life.

I was young, independent, single and quite energetic. It was a little nerve-wracking to realise that a significant portion of my monthly salary would now be tied up in a one-bedroomed flat, but I felt enormously empowered.

My new place offered me close proximity to my job, the gym, the local supermarket and a nearby park to cycle around. In my down time, I had plenty of space inside to comfortably read, paint and write, as well as try out new recipes to inflict on my mostly-amenable friends.

Life was good.

When I first moved in, my new home was still quite sparsely furnished – for example I possessed only two mugs at first, so more than one visitor and we had to take turns having coffee – and it required a little work and some furnishings to make it cosy and feel like home. I quickly decided that it urgently required a cat.

Painting-frame

And so two months in, I went to the SPCA looking for a kitten. Luckily for me, she was there waiting for me.

My beautiful little Bunny-Beanzzz.

Of course, that wasn’t her name at the time. Even I know that is a little eccentric.

I was introduced to a lively, plump ball of mostly-grey fluff with big yellow-brown eyes. She was like a Persian kitten but without the squished nose. I thought she was absolutely beautiful, and it was love at first sight.

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From the moment I picked her up and took her away from the SPCA, she was my brand-new baby, hardly any trouble at all. She ate well, she slept well and she knew exactly what to do with her litter tray and a small saucer of milk. Like all good babies, she had a healthy pair of lungs with which to communicate her needs when she was hungry or looking for affection. When I came home from work she greeted me with loving purrs.

She turned my new flat into my new home.

After some thought, I named her ‘Nenya’, for no real reason except that I’m a Tolkien fan, and this was the beautiful and other-worldly name of the Elven Ring of Power. I thought my new kitten was beautiful and unique, and so, in The Lord of the Rings, is Nenya on the finger of the Elven Queen. I liked the sound of the name and the way it rolled off the tongue.

And so she became my Nenya, and she grew quickly into her name.

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My Nenya grew from a little, endearingly plump kitten, who sometimes fell over when she groomed herself, into a beautiful medium-sized cat with long soft fur who did not walk but chose, instead, to perfect a graceful waggle. I swear, there are super-models out there today who could have learned a thing or two about a runway walk just from watching my Nenya leave the room.

My Nenya.

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She brought me hours of joy. She would lie with me or on me when I was reading. She kept me company when I typed up my short stories in the middle of the night. She cuddled into the crook of my body when I was in bed feeling lonely and unloved.

She was my faithful little companion who made the lonely times bearable and the cosy times better. And as time went by, she acquired a few more names.

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Fluffy-Buns (for that famous walk-away).

Princess Puff (all cats are regal when they want to be, but my little madam almost never took off her crown).

Bunny (for the way that when I held her on her back in my arms – sometimes protesting but mostly purring – her hind legs and feet were so fluffy that they looked like a rabbit’s feet).

Nenny-Buns (a combination of Nenya and her big bunny feet and her fluffy buns).

Bunny-Beanzzz (just because).

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Make no mistake, my Nenya could be a diva sometimes. I think she was probably happiest when it was just her and me. If I left her for longer than she approved of, she gave me the cold shoulder. And she didn’t speak to me for an entire three weeks after I introduced her to a four-week-old, one-eared, black and white furry orphan who came to share our space and be named ‘Vincent’.

Vincent 1

That was when Nenya had been an Only Cat for about a year, and it all changed overnight because my sister Lorna did a marvellous PR job and sold me on the story of his unfortunate start in life. (But truth be told I was a goner from the moment she said over the phone, A friend of mine found a litter of abandoned kittens near a river…)

However, as time went by, Nenya learned to adapt – mostly – to the way that her space had been invaded. In the end, she and Vincent were actually to become great friends (preferably when no one was looking).

Well, she had to. Vincent quite simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was just that sort of personality: quite chatty, in his own squeaky way, and extremely persistent. He never learned to actually miaow – probably because he had no cat-mother from such a young age.

Hello! He said in his kitten-ish way to The Diva, when he first met her. I had a horrible experience with a rat chewing off most of my right ear, but I’ve been rescued now. I’m very glad to meet you! My new human seems very nice. She even fed me some milk through a little bottle. Are you happy here? How long have you been here? Do you like it here? What’s the deal with that big scary ginger cat I heard sniffing at the door? Shall we be friends?

Huh! sniffed The Diva, and waggled off with her famous walk-away. Not Yet. You Have Invaded My Space. Go Away I’m Bigger Than You. Huh.

None deterred, Vincent set out to make himself at home. Very persistent, our little man was. And he acquired a few nicknames of his own, also.

Vincent 2

For one, I called him The Thuglet. Because he wanted so badly to be a big bad thuggy-cat, but he was always too small (and too good natured, actually). As he grew bigger he started to tease Nenya unmercifully, like a naughty little brother (although on a cold winter’s night you could catch them curled up together, having made peace at the end of the day).

You. Are. A. Thuglet! I would shout at him in exasperation, after he’d been teasing her again. In answer he would give me a challenging stare and then stalk off, snickering, with a satisfied flick of his tail.

My Vincent.

Vincent 3

My friend Anne called him Felix, because she said he looked just like the Felix-kitty on the packets of the cat food brand of that name. (It’s true. He did. Just with a bit less ears.) He had Anne wound around his little claw. One Hello! How are you? squeak from Vincent to Anne and she was putty in his paws. Hello Felix! she would say when she came to visit. (I stopped reminding her that his name was actually Vincent. Nicknames mean you are loved.)

My Vincent.

Felix catfood

 

And finally I called him Lee-tle Man, which was to prove kind of embarrassing at times when teenage Vincent was exploring around my complex at night and I wanted him to come in and be safe from the big ginger thuggy-cat. I used to stand outside my back door with all the lights off (so no one could see me against a light source) and call, rather sheepishly into the night air, in the highest and most cajoling tones I could muster, Leeeeeeee-tle Man! Leeeeeeeeeeeeee-tle Maaaaaaaaaaan! Come inside now…. Leeeeeeeeeee-tle Man….

Eventually, when I was about to give up and close the front door, he would grace me with his presence and I promise you he was laughing at me. Some cats just know.

My Vincent.

Vincent 4

And so, in Nenya and Vincent, I acquired two remarkable cats who were to become my faithful little companions for a long, long time. By the time they met Frank, their fate was sealed: Only Cats no more. In total, during their lifetimes, they were to share their home variously with two adults, two parrots (Gadget and Miss Wings), three dogs (Frodo, Sasha and Nickelback), two children (Liam and Matthew) and a few more cats (Sisha, Feisty and Mischief), who all took up residence after them. They tolerated these changes with remarkable good humour. Well, truthfully speaking, Vincent did. Nenya was always a bit of a Diva, bless her little fluffy buns.

She did grow to like Liam and Matthew, however, basically because they refused to take no for an answer and chose early on to love her into submission. It’s hard to stay aloof when a child continues to ignore all your outraged protests and insists on picking you up and cuddling you, while telling you over and over again how beautiful you are.

So Nenya tolerated Matthew and Liam and even agreed to purr sometimes and sleep on their beds. Just, you know, to be gracious.

Vincent, on the other hand, always liked people, of all sizes and ages. The children were carrying him around like an animated Teddybear-Cat almost from the moment they could both stagger around on two legs in what just passed for walking. He really was the most good-natured little Thuglet. Very quirky. You could feed him cheese and biscuits and he would be your devoted slave for a long, long time. Or at least until the cheese and biscuits ran out. And heaven help you if there was chocolate around… Blood (yours) would be shed if you weren’t quick enough.

And so Nenya and Vincent lived in our home and our collective hearts and from the moment that they moved in with me during my single days, to the moment they both said goodbye to this earth as part of a much bigger extended family, they were loved. Enormously and justifiably loved.

Nenya and Vincent 1

I won’t go into great detail but I will just say, with Nenya gone since September 2015 and Vincent about ten days ago (June 2016), that they both succumbed to kidney failure at the very respectable cat ages of 19 (Nenya) and 18 (Vincent). About nine months apart.

When we got the terrible news of their illnesses, we medicated them for as long as was kind, and we planned their exits carefully so they could leave us as painlessly as possible when all the signs showed that the time had come.

As a family, we wept. Thankfully, and in contrast, our little kit-cats purred all the way to the end, both of them. I know they were both peaceful when their courageous little bodies finally gave up the ghosts. I know because I was there, holding them safely, and I felt their spirits depart and their earthly bodies give up something ethereal and precious.

We will bury their ashes under the Frodo-tree in our garden.

Goodbye, Bunny-Beanzzz. Goodbye, Lee-tle Man. We loved you both so much. We will miss you for a long, long time.

Nenya and Vincent

In saying goodbye to Nenya and Vincent, I realised a while ago that I have also said goodbye to a significant part of my youth. But I am so grateful – and so fortunate – to have had them both in my life for so long. It was my real privilege to call them my beloved cats.

 

 

Thank you:

A special mention to our amazing vets, Drs Anton Ortlepp and Jenni Been of the Northcliff Veterinary Hospital, for looking after Nenya and Vincent – and all our other animals – from the moment they joined the family. We couldn’t ask for better care for our beloved animals…

Thank you!

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Poetry for my dad

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I was buzzing along quite nicely in the Panda recently when I thought of my late father. For no particular reason I can think of, I suddenly remembered a poem I’d written when I’d finished my studies and was taking a ‘gap year plus’ in the UK, starting off in Scotland where I was born.

I really loved Scotland, although I never became fully acclimatised to its cold weather. But I did love the friendliness of its people and their ‘Never say die’ attitudes, and I was mesmerised by the beauty of the Scottish landscape. It spoke to my soul.

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I found myself composing a poem about it one day while I was travelling through the rural countryside. I wrote the poem in sonnet form because the format of the great poets of the past seemed somehow fitting. Many years later, back in South Africa, I shared this poem with my dad by writing it down for him (in my best handwriting) at the front of a book I’d given him for Christmas. He was really appreciative.

My dad, Ralph Gray, was always a great fan of poetry, with a particular enjoyment of the great English poets of yesteryear – Keats, Blake, Milton, Coleridge, Tennyson, Thomas Gray, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron – as well as Shakespeare of course, and also a few Irish and Scottish poets including WB Yeats and naturally Robert Burns. With all due respect, I don’t think he was necessarily as enamoured of American poets, though he did quote Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken every now and then. I think it spoke to him.

We used to chat about poetry sometimes and I remember him, quite often, pulling a few lines from his favourite poets out of the air and sprinkling the conversation with them. This generally led to some interesting moments, which makes me smile when I look back now.

In my mind’s eye I can see him, taking a brief break from whatever he was doing to enter, instead, the higher realms of beautiful language and take a short time-out from life’s obligations. Happily, of course, it made me take a short time-out also.

For example, when winter started to bite, I would wait for my dad to quote the first four lines from Thomas Gray’s The Eve of St Agnes, rolling his Scottish accent around the words with a certain glee:

“St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold…”

 

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When my dad was feeling frivolous, it was the turn of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, usually accompanied by a philosophical discussion about The Person From Porlock who interrupted the whole thing:

 

‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.’

Xanadu

And when my father was feeling a bit more sombre about life, it was the turn of the misguided sailor who went against seafaring traditions and killed the albatross which had brought luck on the journey, thereby bringing fatal and appalling circumstances to all those on board ship with him. Here is Coleridge again, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

 

‘It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

 

‘… And a good south wind sprung up behind;

The Albatross did follow,

And every day, for food or play,

Came to the mariner’s hollo!

 

…’God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the albatross.’

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As I look back on this snapshot of beautiful words that my dad so loved, I do miss him.

We all do, those of us who knew and loved him.

 

I think you would go far, today, to find someone as knowledgeable about that section of English poetry as my father (outside the academic world of course).

 

But more than knowledge, my dad felt the beauty of these words penned by those long-ago poets. And in his love of words, he bequeathed something amazing to his two daughters, who today also love words and their power, beauty and potential: to inform, make things happen and touch people.

 

As I mentioned earlier, my dad would occasionally quote Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, and as I read Frost’s closing lines now, it reminds me to keep an open, adventurous and enquiring mind. And perhaps in that way, my late dad and his poetic moments passed on to me and my sister a true heritage.

 

From ‘The Road Not Taken’:

 

‘I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.’

the road not taken

 

(And here now is the poem that I wrote those many years ago and which my dad so liked:)

Heritage

We came to look with strangers’ eyes

And found the land but stranger still

Cattle roamed deserted hills

Beneath the overhanging skies

And evergreen the legacy.

Purple heather, running streams,

The sole, wild realm – or so it seems –

Of mountains brooding, quietly.

Stuff of dreams or yet cliché

Dependent on the heart and will

Dependent on the thirsty mind

For while you pass oblivious by

The strangers, drinking deep their fill

Reclaim the birthright left behind.

 

This entry is for Linda and Ralph Gray, to acknowledge my great good luck which had them meeting each other a few decades back and ultimately giving me my Scottish heritage. And also for my sister Lorna, whose use of language is the purest and most cogent that I know.

xxxx

 

 

 

 

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