thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “white”

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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A little bucket of chardonnay

Here’s a poem for the ‘dining club’ ladies and all those other wonderful people in my life (you know who you are) who, with me, enjoy moments that bring together wine, cooking and friends. It’s a little frivolous –  I wrote it one day when I was really not in the mood for a Monday. Well, today is a Monday and I wish it wasn’t – but we can still dream of weekends and good times to come! Cheers, y’all. Happy days to you!

Cheers through rosy-tinted glasses...

A little bucket of chardonnay

Sun’s coming up and traffic’s calling

Over the hills and far away

Sun’s arriving and I’m feeling

Grumpy-tired as this new day

Beckons me onward into the city

Humanity, ant-like, bustling along

Obligations got to be answered

But tonight I’ll sing a different song, and….

A little bucket of chardonnay

Always takes the edge away!

A song of friendship and relaxing,

A song to warm the inner soul

A song of cooking, wine and chat,

A song for feeling once more whole

And so, my friends, to food and wine

The grapes of solace, laughter, tears

The conversation’s ebb and flow

That sorts out all those little fears

And a little goblet of soft merlot

Spins me into high from low!

So forget the business of the day

Take up your glass and fill it full

With friendship, laughter, life and love

Gifts to self, and tools to pull

Joy from sorrow, smiles from strife

Relax! It’s time for letting go

Restoring reason and its rhyme

Balancing the status quo

And a bottle shared, be it red or white

Can lift a gloom and bring on light! 

Scenery to fall in love with

I always thought I wanted to live at the coast one day, instead of in land-locked Joburg. Now, I think I was made to breathe near mountains.

At first, though, I wanted to be in the rolling green hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal, somewhere close to Durban and the prettiness of the midlands, although I hadn’t decided exactly where I would plant my feet and declare “This is it! This is home.” I pictured my (not yet born or even on the horizon at the time) children going to the sun-drenched beaches at weekends and becoming lean brown water-borne creatures, comfortable slipping in and out of the blue-green ocean as they snorkelled, surfed and dived.

Then I realised that although KZN tends to have great winters most of the time (warm in comparison to the inland temperatures), the coastline is extremely humid in summer and you spend your life dripping with sweat and battling to keep your bedding crisp and fresh. And I also embarked on a once-off scuba-diving course, when I then remembered about all the big sharks that toothily inhabit the sea, so I decided the (still not born) children didn’t have to become water-borne creatures after all and that perhaps the KZN coastline, as beautiful as it is, wasn’t quite my ideal part of the world – at least not for permanent residence.

Still in pursuit of a dream (“When I grow up I’m going to live in X part of the country”) I have now turned my attentions to the western Cape. This part of the world enticed me after I’d fallen in love with Frank and we’d become an item. For our first Christmas holiday together, we went to the beautiful Paarl, where some of his family live.

The name Paarl comes from the Dutch name for a pearl (‘parel’) and like a pearl, the town and its surrounds are really beautiful. Legend has it that a Dutch explorer in the 17th century arrived in the area during stormy weather. As the sun came out, it glistened on three huge granite outcrops on the mountain looming over the valley below, reminding the Dutchman of diamonds and pearls, and so he admiringly named it ‘The Diamond and Pearl Mountain’. In the fullness of time the diamond part got dropped and the pearl prevailed and so from beneath the ‘Paarl Rock’ grew the town of Paarl.

The pearls of Paarl Rock

Frank unconsciously translates from Afrikaans when he calls it, in English, ‘The Paarl’, adding the definite article in front of it the way that Afrikaners call it ‘Die Paarl’. I think it deserves the honour of having the definite article in front of it in English too.

And so, the beautiful town of the Paarl is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town in the long shadows of the surrounding mountains, nestling in the enfolding wine lands that are around it, above it and even in it. You can’t drive in the vicinity of  the town without passing wine farm after wine farm after wine farm: some rich and resplendent with money and glamour; others smaller and cuter and dripping with character. And characters too, of course: human, canine, equine, bovine and, um, sheep. (What are sheep again?)

I fell in love with all of it – instantly. Frank and I drove from Joburg to Paarl that holiday, a distance across the country of about 1 400 kilometres. We therefore came to the Paarl having first negotiated the long dry flatness of the huge Karoo semi-desert area for more hours than I care to remember. My eyes were sore with the sameness of the Karoo: miles upon miles of (to me) visual boredom that the car just couldn’t quite shake, no matter how fast Frank drove to eat up the flat, dreary landscape.

I am aware that the Karoo has its own admirers who love the place and feel their souls are quenched there in its dryness and its unique semi-desert features, which bloom beautifully and surreally in the spring. Although I would admittedly like to visit in the spring one year, I am not a desert person, and so I felt my own soul start to perk up considerably when the scenery finally, bit by bit, started to change again.

Slowly, imperceptibly, the land morphed into something once more appealing.

Slowly the horizon grew a significant hill or two.

Slowly you saw signs of water that had arrived and then stayed to nurture the plants and coax the earth out of its dull palette of browns and greys.

By the time we drove through the Hex River Valley I was overwhelmed with the sensation that the world had exploded back to life. Ponds, dams, fruit farms and vineyards: all made bright patchworks of colour in the valley and up the enclosing mountain slopes before the gradient got too steep and the vegetation gave way to purple distance.

A valley exploding with life

I felt that I was home. I felt I was breathing air that had been waiting for me, ready to nurture my body and my spirit. We stayed for three blissful, soul-renewing weeks and everywhere we went in this amazing part of South Africa, we seemed to drive through beauty.

Then reality beckoned us back home and back to work.

Today, Frank and I live with our two boys in Johannesburg, one of the main economic hubs of South Africa. For now our jobs keep us here and we live in ‘the house that sang to me’ as I drove past it one day.

We love our house. We are really lucky with its unique vista, overlooking as it does one of the two Melville ‘koppies’ (hills), which are essentially unchanged since the days of iron age man. The east Melville koppie is a closed-off nature reserve and the west Melville koppie, which forms part of our view – the children call it ‘our mountain’ – is home on Sundays to a religious sect, who arrive in their blue, green and white robes and set the mini-mountain alive with their open air singing and the throbbing of distant drums.

'Our mountain'

To maximise the view of ‘our mountain’ and our exposure to the sky, Frank has built a deck in the back garden, above our storeroom (yes, he really did build it himself, plank by laborious plank). Here we like to sit for sundowners at weekends and on public holidays when the weather is kind. To our north lies the beautiful park surrounding Emmarentia Dam, where we walk sometimes with the boys and the dog, and to our west lies the Westdene Dam, where we also visit occasionally, although we usually find a bigger attraction en route in the glasses of good wine waiting for us at the cosy restaurant of ‘Tosca del Sol’.

In front of ‘our mountain’, flanking it as it runs west to east, is a long, thin valley and riding the thermals of the valley air we sometimes see the white flocks of sacred ibis on their travels. At other times, if we are lucky, they actually fly over our heads as we sit on our deck, astonishing us with the utter silence of their wings, which in flight are almost as quiet as an owl’s. At these moments, just sitting on our deck between earth and sky is like a benediction.

Flying soundlessly overhead like a blessing

My parents live just on the other side of ‘our mountain’, about five kilometres as the crow flies. My mom (sometimes aided by my dad, and sometimes apparently hindered) looks after the children in the afternoons until I fetch them once I’ve finished work. Most days, I’m happy to report, my parents are smiling when I fetch the boys and I hear tales of the funny things that were said and done. Sometimes I see my dad walking in the area with his neighbour, Sam, as I’m en route to work in the mornings. I always stop for a brief chat and a laugh, and revel in the quiet comfort of this unexpected domestic encounter. It is another piece of the puzzle that is my charming green neighbourhood and my home.

And yet sometimes, as we sit on the deck with a gracious bottle of dry white wine, I may inspect the label and see that it comes from the Paarl area, and it brings a little pang. While ever-conscious of counting my blessings, I look over then at ‘our mountain’ and wish, somewhat ungratefully, that it was a little bigger.

Or maybe even a lot bigger, with a long purple shadow and three glistening outsize pearls on its summit. Oh to have my cake and eat it too, and simply transplant the house. I’m sure I could persuade my parents to relocate.

Hmmmm…. maybe not!

I saw a really interesting documentary recently on six-gilled sharks. Apparently they are quite a primitive form of shark compared to the more common five-gilled sharks of all sizes and shapes that generally populate the oceans. Using the term ‘primitive’ means that most of their closest relatives are found in the fossil record, as opposed to swimming alongside. It doesn’t mean that the six gills are deficient in any way – these sharks are, in fact, perfectly functional and beautifully streamlined, like most sharks. You could argue that they must be perfectly functional if they haven’t needed to change their body shape for millions of years and have in fact outlived the dinosaurs, right?

So I googled primitive shark types and did some happy reading for a short while. I next discovered that there’s another type of primitive shark which goes one better than the six-gilled sharks: the seven gill shark, which also means an ancient lineage. Hah! How interesting. Five- plus six- plus seven-gilled sharks, all separately roaming the oceans from time immemorial. Who knew? (Well, I’m sure many scientists and marine biologists are completely aware but it was all new to me, the layperson.)

Then I came across a page that really interested me – the opportunity to swim freely with a type of seven gill shark off South African waters. The page invites the reader to experience the thrill of scuba diving (no cage) with these ancient seven-gilled sharks just off Simonstown, in the western Cape. Wow, locally! That’s just down the road from me in global terms. And although my licence has long expired, I once completed a scuba diving course, qualifying in the open waters of Sodwana Bay, off the Kwazulu-Natal coastline.

I am actually terrified of big water and not the world’s best swimmer, but back then, something made me decide to stretch myself. I was immensely proud once I’d completed my five qualifying dives in the sea, hyperventilating incident notwithstanding (another story, another time). I even had a dolphin briefly and companionably swimming with me when we went snorkelling for a short while on the boat ride out to the final dive. It was one of those amazing, awe-inspiring life experiences that is beautifully and fondly etched in my memory. Maybe, I thought, this would be a great reason to think about doing the course again and taking up scuba diving? My husband swims like a fish – oops, no pun intended! He’d absolutely love it and I knew I’d feel so much safer underwater if he was my dive-buddy. So I started daydreaming – you can see why below, where this snippet from the actual site mentions that even novice divers can swim with these prehistoric creatures.

‘Seven Gill Cow Sharks – Diving -South Africa- Sharktraveler

Set a few kilometres outside of Simonstown you can experience the thrill of scuba diving with this very unique species of Shark. Experience this prehistoric animal in its natural environment without a cage, and see why they are so popular. These animals are one of the oldest known species of shark and also a very deep water species, they can be found in all oceans but what happens here is very unique, this is the only known place in the world where anybody from a novice to an advanced diver can dive with them.’

So I was almost, haha, hooked. It sounded amazing. But just when I was thinking, “Hmmm. Interesting!” I scrolled further down the page, where it also invites the reader to ‘Take a look at the Great White Sharks also in the same area’ (also presumably with no protective cage on the dive). With a nice up close and personal photo of a large great white smiling its extremely toothy grin straight into the camera from zero feet away.

So then I thought, “Hmmmmmmm. Perhaps not!”

The give-away, for me, was the picture of the Cape fur seal – the reader is also invited to ‘Take a look at the Cape fur seals also in the same area’ – beside the pic of the great white. Great white sharks love Cape fur seals. And not romantically either.

So no. No diving with seven gill sharks, thanks very much. Instead, I’ll continue to get my shark-watching kicks from television documentaries and the safety of an aquarium. And while I give complete respect to those who do swim with sharks, I find I’m just not that brave.

But it was a happy daydream for a while.

(Here’s the full link to the page for those who are braver than me.)

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