Winter is almost here at last. The days are getting shorter, the air has that sparkling, icy-misty look that only freezing winter days can produce and the countryside is finally turning green after months of brown. The reason I’m waxing lyrical about the cold weather is that winter is my favourite time of the year. In my opinion the only good thing about summer is the cricket matches. Take that away and all I’m left with is a menagerie of over heated animals all vying for the prime piece of real estate on the kitchen floor under the air conditioning duct.
In winter my thoughts turn to keeping the now decidedly chilly menagerie warm. The ferrets bring new worries as the days grow colder. They no longer lie in their cage looking like they are at their last gasp, rather they hibernate in their quilted polar fleece sleeping bag, coming out only to have dinner, seek the warmer climes of the house or, during one of Billy’s assaults on their cage, threatening to give Billy the thrashing of his life, if only he’d show some spunk and come into their cage and say that!
I have now added a hand spun, hand woven woollen table runner I made years ago during my spinning and weaving phase, to their bedding. I try to wrap the ferrets in their sleeping bag in this runner to add that extra layer of warmth. This entails going out into the freezing back yard, well after the sun has set, quietly opening the cage door, feeling around for the table runner without disturbing the sleeping furry ones and tucking them in for the night. If I disturb them Miette will come struggling out of the sleeping bag to find out what is going on in the hope that it’s Billy coming to start something. When she sees it’s only me, she’s perfectly happy to settle in for a chat. Persuading her to return to bed so I can go back into the warm house, is a lost cause. There’s nothing to be done but, return to the house and have another go in half an hour – when the night air will be even chillier. If I am very careful, I manage to tuck them in without disturbing the sociable Miette and once this little chore has been done, I go back inside with a clear conscience with only the TOD the duck and the galahs to worry about. So far I haven’t figured out a way to keep these feathered pets any warmer than they can keep themselves. Graeme assures me that the ferrets have thick winter coats to insulate them against much colder weather than any Australia can throw at them. He also says that the quilted sleeping bag with two layers of polar fleece and two layers of wool batting top and bottom, would be enough to keep me warm should I want to spend the night outside. This could be a veiled threat, but I’m too busy sorting out the cats to give it much attention.
Mum-Pus, Lancelot and Guinevere have different needs when the weather turns chilly. They spend their summer days lying on the kitchen floor within close proximity to the fridge and freezer’s cold blasts of air – always providing that Billy isn’t having an inside day. If Billy is amongst those present, the cats retire to the dining room, an extension off the kitchen with only the metal strip where the vinyl and carpet meet to indicate where the kitchen stops and the dining rooms begins, to poke their collective tongues out at Billy who’s not allowed to put one paw onto the carpet. Their winter days are spent following the sun around the lounge room carpet and cuffing any other cat who seems to have a better spot of sun. I repeatedly tell Mum-Puss that she is in dire need of parenting classes.
“No mother worth her salt,” I say to Mum-Puss, “digs her claws into one of her children because it has the softer chair or warmer patch of carpet.” Mum-Puss glares at me with her one beady eye and asks for help disengaging her claw that seems to have somehow become hooked into the body of her daughter or son.
Now don’t imagine for a second that Lancelot and Guinevere are the innocent parties in all this. They have far too much of their mother in them to be above such things as starting fights with mother or sibling just for the sheer hell of it. Their combative natures have led them to developed a very subtle way of letting me know it’s dinner time. For some unfathomable reason, as soon as 4.30 p.m. rolls around, the cat version of World War III begins in whatever room i amy be in. All three cats will wander through the house, in perfect friendship, searching for me. Once I've been located all hell breaks loose in the cat world. One minute all three cats are the picture of domestic bliss. Three little furry bodies intertwined in shades of black, white and grey lying on their pillows in front of the heater with not a thought in their heads except familial love. As soon as the clock indicates the dinner hour is approaching the peaceful scene is shattered with snarling, scratching and the most foul cat language you have ever heard. Heavens knows what it is they are saying to one another, but whatever it is it’s guaranteed to be R-rated! It’s times like this that I’m grateful I’m mono-linguistic. All this aggression disappears as soon as dinner is on the table (or in the cat’s case on the floor). Each cat has its own bowl and own space on the plastic place mat. Dishing out the food is an exact science. Others have tried but failed to master the intricate pattern required for all three cats to get their fair share of food while keeping peace in the feline community. I won’t go into the lengthy description of how to successfully feed the family, buy suffice to say it’s taken quite a while to perfect. Once the three tummies are full of the tinned food du jour they return to their fireside pillow, intertwine themselves once again and settle in for the night. Ah peace at last. The Spring Rock Terrors have settled down for the night and won’t return until 4.30 tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime they will keep up their strength with the never empty dish of dry cat food available to be munched at all times. Now all I have to contend with is Billy’s Winter Pass Times.
Billy, ever true to his Swiss heritage, is in his element in the winter time. This unfortunately means that while the rest of the pets are only interested in finding sunny spots around the yard or house and hibernating until summer, Billy is at his metabolic peak resulting in excess energy and mischief making. He spends his days between terrorising the chooks, stalking TOD, our drake and seeking out other less than desirable (from my point of view) ways of amusing himself.
The chook/duck chasing isn’t too bad when compared to his other pastimes. The hens are safely tucked away in their chook pen with seven or eight feet high wire between them and Billy, but this simple matter of logic hasn’t occurred to them yet. As soon as Billy begins his mad run from the back porch down to the chook yard, ears and jowls flopping as he goes, the chooks begin their crazy, panicked flight to anywhere other than where they are. Given that we have nine hens and one rooster, a fair bit of the chook pen is taken up with chooks when they are as we might term “at rest”. Therefore when these chooks (and rooster) begin literally flapping about they tend to ricochet off each other, the chook wire, hen house and the odd tree in their yard. This in turn causes them to panic further, taking fright at the sight of each other panicking and so on. It’s my belief that one day they will end up bouncing off each other and the various objects in their yard ad infinitum. Add to this TOD’s mini-panic on the outside of the chook yard and our winter back yard is definitely not a peaceful refuge for the summer haters among us.
When Billy’s other winter past time is considered though, I’d choose the panicking chooks and drake any day. With the longer nights Billy has searched for a new form of amusement that can be safely conducted from the confines of the back porch. He’s tried bowling Shadow, the Silky Terrier Type, over and sniffing her from head to tail while she’s in her prone condition. Needles to say Shadow doesn’t take this lying down – well actually she does take it lying down, but as soon as she can get up she takes her little fluffy dog revenge, bailing Billy up against the porch wall while snapping and snarling to let Billy know how she feels about his new found past-time. Billy, squashed against the wall, looking down at the little ball of fury, has all the appearance of a bully brought to book for his sins, promising never to harm undersized little dogs again.
Eventually, Billy turned to other, less risky ways of passing his winter nights. Billy has taken up singing, or in light of his Swiss ancestors, possibly yodelling. Now you’d be forgiven in thinking he’d be a baritone – what with the size of him and all, but no, Billy is a male soprano. He sits on the back porch yipping and howling to his heart’s content, happy in the knowledge that not only is he enjoying his own musical interlude, but he is bringing a little joy into the cold winter nights for his family. It’s obvious that Billy sees us in his mind’s eye sitting in our lounge room, tenderly smiling at each other while commenting on the beautiful musical tones emanating from Billy’s oversized lungs. He is so sure that we are as happy about his new-found talent as he is. When one of us goes outside to let Billy know our true feeling about his impromptu recital he turns towards us, leaves off his singing often mid yodel, and invites whichever music lover in his family who has come outside, to join in. The hurt look on his face when growled at to be quiet is truly heart rending. Maybe with a professional’s help, just maybe we could turn those teeth grating yowls to something bearable?
I’m off now to go and look through phone books to try to find coaches for Swiss yodelling.